The New York Knicks make a lot of sense for Paul George in free agency.
It was a deal, no doubt, that was supposed to greatly benefit the Thunder.
Yet the Knicks hold a winning record (11-10) while the Thunder are three games below .500 (9-12), and if the Thunder ultimately fail to turn it around and/or make a playoff run, impending free agent forward Paul George and the Knicks would make for a great marriage come free agency.
Heading into the regular season, the Thunder were under the microscope of many critics. After acquiring George from the Indiana Pacers and Anthony from the Knicks to team up with MVP point guard Russell Westbrook, the expectation was that the Thunder would be a legitimate threat to make it to the NBA Finals.
While they have beaten the Golden State Warriors on their home floor, the Thunder have, collectively, been playing and producing like a below-average basketball team.
Offensively, the big three of Westbrook-George-Anthony have gotten their fair share of points. Westbrook is averaging 22.4 points per game, George is averaging 20.5 and Anthony is averaging 19.7 a night. However, despite the trio’s scoring output, Billy Donovan‘s squad is 24th in points scored (102.3).
The one surprising aspect of this team’s play has been its defense. Surrendering the 27th most points in the association, the Thunder defense has been its biggest asset — which was not expected.
The Thunder are 9-12 and in a heap of trouble. And with George hitting free agency at year’s end, he may opt to head elsewhere if this team can’t flip the script. When it comes to potential destinations, the Knicks would be a great landing spot for George.
After executing the Anthony trade, the Knicks were looked upon as a rebuilding team. However, at 11-10, they have been surprisingly competitive and appear to have, in a way, jumpstarted their rebuild.
While he needs to garner consistency, Kristaps Porzingis has embraced being the focal point of the Knicks’ offense. Averaging 25.8 points per game, while also posting 2.1 blocks per game, Porzingis has adjusted well to being the Knicks’ go-to man. In addition to Porzingis, the Knicks have received encouraging production from Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina and the two players they got in return for Anthony (Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott).
While many criticized the $71 million signing, Hardaway has come into his own as a go-to scoring option in his second stint with the Knicks. Putting forth 17.8 points per game, Hardaway has been a focal point of this team’s offense. Whether it be attacking the rack, hitting the outside jumper, or finishing in the paint, Hardaway has been a welcomed addition to Jeff Hornacek‘s offense.
Ntilikina has provided the Knicks with a defensive spark plug. While his 1.4 steals per game don’t jump off the screen, the rookie point guard has played swarming one-on-one defense, while defending the perimeter at ease; he’s also been a selfless player, setting up his teammates and finding them in all the right places.
Both Kanter and McDermott have manned valuable and crucial roles in Jeff Hornacek‘s rotation. Kanter, averaging a double-double (14.1 points, 10.4 rebounds), has finished in the paint, played much better defensively and hit the boards on both ends. His energy towards the game, no matter the score, has been an encouraging and beneficial presence in the Garden.
McDermott has come off the bench and been a perimeter threat. Shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc, and finishing off fastbreaks, McDermott has been a valuable piece to the Knicks’ offense attack; he’s also held his own on the defensive end. While he’s never been adept at shutting down his matchup, McDermott hasn’t been blown by ball handlers or committed fouls at will; the improvement is there.
The Knicks have exceeded expectations 21 games into the season. Will they be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference? It’s certainly a possibility, but it’s also not out of the question they could miss out.
Regardless of whether the Knicks finish the year with say 43 wins and make the playoffs, or fall apart and fail to crack the postseason, George makes all the sense in the world for this team and vice versa.
On one hand, there are the Knicks who have a number of intriguing and improving players (Porzingis, Hardaway, Ntilikina) in the midst of what has been, so far, a successful season. With Porzingis as the team’s focal point, and Hardaway as a secondary scoring option, adding George would give the Knicks the versatile, frontline scorer they need to be an Eastern Conference threat down the line.
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On the other hand, there’s George. While the idea of playing with Westbrook and Anthony was meant to be George’s chance at playing for a championship, the three scorers have been unable to find success with one another so far. Westbrook has the alpha dog mentality, George has never been a secondary option — since he rose to stardom after Danny Granger‘s decline — and Anthony has never been a player who defers — and he hasn’t made any substantial changes to his game.
Is George a superstar? Probably not, but his talent and skill set is not up for debate. He can play in isolation, has improved his outside game over the past three seasons (he shot 37.1 percent from beyond the arc in 2015-16, 39.3 percent in 2016-17 and 40.0 percent so far this season), and is one of the best wing defenders the NBA has to offer.
Over the duration of his career, George has been one of the better defenders in the NBA. He takes on opposing teams’ best frontline scorer, is a great help-defender and an underrated pick pocketer. This season, George is averaging an NBA-best 2.8 steals per game and for his career has posted 1.7 a night.
If the Thunder crumble into a million pieces and find themselves watching the western conference semi-finals from the leisure of their living room, George could bolt. While leaving in free agency would seem like giving up, or taking the easy way out, it wouldn’t be the first time a star left a roster full of big-name players.
Going into the 2012-13 season, the Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be the team of the century. The signing of Steve Nash and acquisition of Dwight Howard to a roster already featuring Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol made for one of the NBA’s most talented starting five’s. But they didn’t play up to expectations, winning just 45 games and being swept in the first round of the playoffs. Howard then signed with the Houston Rockets in the offseason.
Stars have left situations and teams that were supposed to lift their careers’ to the next level. Teams and players take chances, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. George could find himself in Howard’s position, looking for a fresh start and a team with young legs. The Knicks are just that team. The need for a two-way wing exists and his impact on their roster would be astronomical.
A core consisting of Porzingis, George, Hardaway and Ntilikina alone would be a very enticing and promising bunch that could quickly rise in the Eastern Conference.
The Thunder are a mess. The Knicks are on the rise. If the volcano explodes in Oklahoma City, George could come crawling to the Big Apple; he would be a great fit and have the opportunity to man a significant role alongside Porzingis.