Pundits rank Westbrook, George new duos higher, but are they better apart?

Russell Westbrook, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Pundits are ranking former OKC Thunder duo Russell Westbrook and Paul George higher with their new duos – but are they better apart?

The funny thing about trades is how dramatically one player can impact a squad in an entirely different way than they did their previous team. For example, if you were asked last year to name the top duos in the NBA odds are OKC Thunder superstars Russell Westbrook and Paul George would be on the list. But, that’s Thunder Nation, so of course, the prevailing thought process would be to add Russ and PG.

However, this thinking certainly wasn’t universal. In fact, articles, podcasts, and TV segments showed the pair was seldom among the top five duos listed.  Flash forward to this year and not only are both Westbrook and George on every single top five list they are frequently listed as second-ranked or best duo. Or rather they and their new superstar partner are listed. Granted, it’s understandable given their new pairings.

With Westbrook joining James Harden it equates to two Most Valuable Players of the last three years. The duo knows each other from before they were teenagers and played three seasons together on the OKC Thunder. Factor in widely cited offensive guru Mike D’Antoni is calling the shots and it’s easy to understand why this pairing is getting the nod.

Conversely, there are some who point to The Brodie’s inability to hit from the perimeter at a league average. Those critics will cite the issues with spreading the court in Mike D’s favored multiple perimeter shots per game offense. However, supporters of the duo will point to a quicker pace, more player and ball movement and the potential for two of the best assist and drive men in the NBA freeing up space and shots for their teammates.

As far as George and Kawhi Leonard there is a sound argument to be made they are the two best two-way players in the NBA. Although Leonard has never won the regular season MVP he’s got two Finals MVPs to his credit – from two different teams. Additionally, Leonard has back to back (2014-15, 2015-16) Defensive Player of the Year credits to his name.

Both Leonard and George are above average perimeter scorers and both can create their own shots with the former being almost impossible to stop. George doesn’t have the hardware, but he’s been in the mix including a top-three candidate in both categories last season.

That finds the pair landing atop most pundits lists for the best duo. However, like Westbrook and Harden this duo also comes with some warnings. For example, passing and assists aren’t either player’s best attribute. Unlike Russ and James this duo has no on court reps in with each other as they never even played on an All-Star team together nor an Olympics.

Arguably the most glaring concern is health. While Leonard states he plans to play in all 82 games this season after his infamous load managed season, the jury remains out. Removing his nine-game 2017-18 season from the mix, Leonard has averaged 65 games per campaign and only played over 70 games twice (74 in 2016-17 and 72 in 2015-16). George demonstrated more resiliency, but he’ll begin this season riding the pine as he recovers from two offseason shoulder surgeries.

More from Thunder News

The other duos consistently making this top duos list are Kevin Durant (who won’t play either all of or most of next season), Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (again, Thompson will miss most of next season), and the combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Given the fact only two sets of those duos have any true mileage together (Westbrook/Harden and Thompson/Curry) its interesting other combos aren’t making the cut. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are a natural fit for consideration. Likewise, the record and run the Nuggets made last season coupled with their age should land Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in the mix. Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris (and/or Ben Simmons) could also factor. The MVP Giannis Antetokounpo and Khris Middleton will be motivated to climb higher this season. And, it might not be top of mind but champions Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam aren’t just going away.

Additionally, if pundits are going to consider a trio of duos without previous time together others have an argument as well. For example, Mavericks Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum and the dark horse no are discussing Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley.

The fact is, there are several duos who could feast this season and I’m sure others will rise to stake their claim as the best NBA combo.

It’s just amusing that Westbrook and George are suddenly considered to be in matched with better partners who’ll move them higher up the ranking list. Over the course of the season, the accolades for the best duo will be revisited multiple times. That said, obvious questions arise about the new pairings. What if George isn’t in the running for any major awards? What if neither the Clippers or Rockets measure up to expectations? Could that mean not enough time was afforded to the Westbrook – George partnership in OKC?

For what it’s worth my personal opinion is Steph and Klay remain atop the heap and while I can see LeBron and Le-Brow being a factor it’s the pairing of Mitchell and Conley who I think will surprise. Ultimately, the proof will be in the results.

dark. Next. How Paul and Westbrook each change their offenses

As for the OKC Thunder, Sam Presti will engage in finding his next super duo between trades and his multiple draft picks. He’s compiled grand duos before and trios and quartets. Here’s hoping he rediscovers the same magic touch in this new era of OKC Thunder basketball.