Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) dives into the Thunder’s stats: “George is averaging career-bests in points (25.5), rebounds (7.9), assists (4.4), steals (2.1), blocks (0.7), field goal attempts (19.5) and three-point attempts (8.7). League-wide, George is tied for 3rd in steals, 4th in three-point attempts, 11th in points per game, 6th in deflections (3.4) and 1st in loose balls recovered (2.3). George is shooting 44.7 percent from the field (3rd best mark in his career) and 38.2 percent from three-point range. George’s 99.0 defensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions by the opposition while George is on the floor) is the best of any starter who has played in at least 20 games this season. “(George) is being aggressive. That’s it,” said Westbrook. “That’s what he’s been doing at a high level… I love it.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on George’s dominant Wednesday night in Sacramento: “This wasn’t a 25-point fourth quarter explosion in Brooklyn, or a hyper-efficient 31 points on 10 shots against Utah. This was turning up the difficulty, putting the ball in George’s hands again and again and asking him to not just score, but create. He scored or assisted on nine of the Thunder’s 13 3-pointers, oscillating between swishes in transition and pinpoint cross-court passes to shooters in the corner. George relished in the opportunity to put his imprint on the game, even if he missed his second-unit running mate for a night.”
The Starters discuss George’s case for MVP:
Cody Taylor (Thunder Wire) on the alarming rate at which Russell Westbrook is picking up technical fouls: “Through 22 games played this season, Westbrook has already picked up nine technical fouls, which places him with the second-most in the NBA behind Andre Drummond’s 10 techs… For the first five technical fouls of a season, players are fined $2,000 for each one. The fine escalates to $3,000 for the next five technicals and then goes up to $4,000 for technical fouls 11-15. The fine eventually reaches $5,000 starting with foul number 16. Players are suspended for one game once they reach the 16th technical foul threshold and continue to receive a one-game suspension for every two technical fouls reached after (18, 20, 22, etc.), according to the NBA.”
Tom Ziller (SB Nation) on why history will smile on Westbrook: “What’s interesting is that taking fewer shots for himself hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for making plays for teammates, rebounding, or playing defense. He hasn’t turned down the volume on himself completely, just on the part that perhaps held the Thunder back the most. When you shoot less, the shooting efficiency issues decrease in importance. But because Westbrook isn’t central to the basketball conversation because he’s shooting less, that isn’t discussed much. Westbrook’s self-muting and all-around excellence should be celebrated loudly. That Westbrook is registering a triple-double in a third straight season should never cheapen his 2017 MVP — that he continues to do this while no one else in the league comes particularly close should look even more amazing. The triple-double average isn’t a paean to Westbrook’s insatiable basketball appetite or to gaming the system. It’s a symbol of a unique, brilliant talent with one of the strongest motors in the game. History will smile on Westbrook and his accomplishments. Get a head start and appreciate him now.”
Zach Kram (Ringer) on what the historically tight Western Conference means for the playoff chase and trade deadline: “A compressed range of wins bunches all the teams together—in this case, 14 teams packed into a width of seven games in the wins column—and makes for fascinating permutations in the standings each morning. A single undefeated or winless week can have an enormous impact on a team’s standing. Just this month, the Rockets fell from eighth place on the morning of December 2 to the 14th place on the morning of December 9. The Timberwolves managed the same feat from December 7-14, sliding from eighth to 14th in that span. Conversely, the Rockets and Spurs both rose from 14th to seventh within the past two weeks, while the Jazz this month have zigzagged from 10th to 14th to 10th to 14th again.”
Russell Westbrook’s holiday race against the clock:
Grant Hughes (B/R) has the Thunder fifth in his latest power rankings: “The Thunder started the week with a loss at Denver but recovered to win three straight and join the 20-victory club. Still too shaky on offense to profile as s true title threat, Oklahoma City’s league-best defense is more than good enough to rack up regular-season wins and make a top-three seed in the absurdly cramped West a possibility.Finally, the Steven Adams Euro-step is real, and it is spectacular. If you’re more of a traditionalist, his 20-point, 23-rebound game against the Kings on Wednesday was pretty cool, too.”
Paolo Ugetti (Ringer) on the Thunder’s part in the development of Domantas Sabonis: “The big man trio of Nick Collison, Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter became Sabonis’s older brothers — to the point where Adams and Kanter called him their “little brother,” and Collison referred to him as “my son.” After most shootarounds or practices, the foursome would do shooting drills followed by one-on-one matchups to work on post moves and post defending. It would get “very physical,” Collison said. “We would just talk shit to each other and have fun,” Sabonis said. “Well, it was fun some days, but some days they would beat me badly.” This was school for Sabonis, and he learned a different subject from each of his teachers. In Adams, he had a stout defender; in Kanter, a skilled post scorer; and in Collison, experience. Collison saw shades of himself in Sabonis. He also saw Sabonis’s confidence erode as he struggled while starting and attempting to space the floor as a rookie. But based on what was happening in practices, he could also envision a future where Sabonis thrived as a key player on a contending team.”
Steven Adams makes a splendid cameo in Budweiser’s new Christmas commercial: Big Kiwi makes his first appearance at the 0:23 mark.
Around the League: CP3 is out indefinitely (hamstring) for Houston…. No one knew how old Buddy Hield actually was until yesterday…. The Bucks are great and Giannis is brooding…. Recapping last night’s NBA action…. Beware of the supermax contract…. Houston is ready to trade Brandon Knight.