Thunder forward Paul George is starting tonight for the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to Erike Horne.He had previously been announced as a game-time decision a game-time decision for the road game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves (8 p.m. EST, Fox Sports Regional). The All-Star had been recovering from shoulder soreness he originally suffered against the Denver Nuggets last week.
George has been known for some injury problems. He snapped a leg back in the 2014 preseason with Team USA, missing all but the final 6 games of the following season. He has demonstrated durability since then, only sitting a handful of appearances since then.
With the 39-24 Thunder standing in third place in the Western Conference, and only 5 games back from the top seed, the focus is entering the playoff hunt healthy. In the meantime, they no longer have to find a way to replace the 6-foot-9 star’s 28.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game should he sit again.
Here’s the roster outlook and lineup now that George is back.
Thunder Roster and Lineup vs. Timberwolves
Donovan had gone with Markieff Morris last Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers last Thursday. The move worked out well, as the 6-foot-10 forward and brother of Marcus tallied 17 points on 12 shots in the 4-point loss.
Morris has averaged 11.2 points and 5 boards in his 8-year career, spanning stints with the Thunder, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. His best season came in 2014-15, when he posted a 15.3-point, 6.4-rebound stat line with the Suns.
Morris is a below-average defender, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Teams are plundering the Wiz when Morris shows on the pick-and-roll, per Second Spectrum. He’s a disinterested rebounder, perhaps the main culprit behind Washington being on pace for the worst defensive rebounding rate since 2015. Voracious glass-eaters know they can outwork Morris.
Now with George back, the defense can return to form. ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry calls George “the most disruptive force in the NBA.”
What makes him so great? Let’s begin with the countables:
He leads the league in total steals with 98.
He leads the league in deflected balls with 161.
And, perhaps most importantly, he’s every coach’s favorite because he also leads the NBA in loose balls recovered with 95. Nobody else is even close.
Oklahoma City ranks No. 13 in the league with 111 points allowed per contest. In the last 4 games, however, that number had ballooned to 116. This is also nearly 7 points more per game than last season.
Thunder Outlook Tonight vs. Timberwolves
The defensive concerns were confirmed last Saturday in a 116-102 defeat to San Antonio. Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge racked up 27 points and 10 rebounds in the winning effort.
George’s presence doesn’t necessarily solve the interior issues, as the Thunderstill have to deal with Timberwolves center Karl Anthony-Towns. The third-year player out of Kentucky is averaging just under 24 points and 12.3 boards a game.
7-footer Steven Adams is just not getting the job done defensively, blocking 0.8 shots a contest.
With George’s offensive production back, the hope is that Oklahoma City can cover up the defense with the addition of his 28.6 points a game.