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Paul George is confident Thunder will ‘get it right’

Forward talks about playing with Westbrook and Anthony, his defensive skills and Thanksgiving

OKLAHOMA CITY – First-year Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George is an avid fisherman who recently introduced some local elementary school kids to the sport. The four-time NBA All-Star guard offered some words of advice to those novices with a fishing pole that also could apply to his slow-starting Thunder.

“Patience. Trust that it takes patience,” George said after the Thunder defeated the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, 108-91, on Wednesday night. “Fishing is not something that you go out there and catch it on your first cast. It’s patience. You got to understand that fish have a mind of their own. Sometimes it takes a little longer than usual to catch one.”

If the playoffs were to begin today, the Thunder would barely qualify in the Western Conference with their lackluster 8-9 record. The slow start has caused NBA insiders to question whether the star-studded trio of George, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony can work together in Oklahoma City. Like fish, NBA teams also have a mind of their own and no teams are waiting for the Thunder to figure it out.

George, however, would like to remind you that it is just November, with lots of basketball to be played.

“You have to understand that it’s new,” said George, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder. “As much as we look good on paper, we have to work as a team. If it was easy, everyone could do it. The only teams that play well are the ones that have played together for a while. We’re a new team. A new group. We got to go through this adversity so we have something to look back at going forward, really.

“We understand what we have talentwise. That’s the obvious. But we’re patient. We’re going to get it right. It’s too early.”

Yes, the Thunder are a work in progress and their early losses could eventually bite them in Western Conference playoff seeding. The win over the mighty Warriors, however, shows they are a potential monster. George talked to The Undefeated about the new-look Thunder, his challenge to adapt, free agency, his trade, life with Russ and Melo, his lack of respect defensively, Thanksgiving, and more.

Do you think the big win over the Warriors could be a season-changing victory for the Thunder?

It’s too early. We don’t want to get too hyped off of this. It was a great win. A great opportunity to play against the best team. We have a lot more work cut out for us. Now it’s about building. We can talk about how good we’re doing and how good we’re feeling once we are [win] streaking.

After the Thunder’s slow start, is there any superstar team from the past that you look back at to gain motivation from?

Miami didn’t start off good. [The 2010-11 Miami Heat with Dwyane Wade and fellow All-Star newcomers LeBron James and Chris Bosh opened with a 9-8 record before finishing 58-24 and advancing to the 2011 NBA Finals.] That scenario in general [was motivating]. They went to the Finals and didn’t win it that year. They started off a lot worse than people expected.

They had three of the best players at their [respective] positions with LeBron, Wade and C.B. They struggled [initially]. It’s going to take a little time.

Have you talked to anybody from that Heat team or players past or present to gain advice on how to play with two other stars?

No. Nope.

Why? Do you guys need to go through it yourself?

More so. They can relate, but they can’t necessarily be in the moment that we are in. They found their way through it. This is our turn to find our way through it.

Paul George #13 shoots a foul shot while Carmelo Anthony #7 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder look during the game against the New York Knicks on October 19, 2017 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Layne Murdoch Sr./NBAE via Getty Images

What is the best thing about playing with Westbrook and Anthony?

They create a lot of one-on-one plays and opportunities. Just being on the floor with those guys is fun. They both bring different parts of the game.

What has been the most challenging part of going from playing with one team your whole career during your first seven seasons with the Indiana Pacers to something entirely new?

It’s just strange. That’s the biggest adjustment is the change overall. We’re different. It’s a different organization. Everything is just new and fresh. The season comes around fast. The games come around fast. You’re just trying to absorb all of it. It’s really just trying to find your place.

When you learned that playing for Oklahoma City was a possibility, what first came to mind?

I was kind of shocked from just being traded in general. There is a ‘wow’ factor. But at the end of the day, I knew I was playing for a contending team and playing alongside the MVP [Westbrook] and one of the best players. I knew it was an opportunity to do something special. So, I was pretty excited. I was ecstatic about it.

How much did you have to change your game to fit in here?

I just had to adapt a bit, more so play faster. Move a little more. That was probably the biggest area where it opened up for me, getting out, running and making myself available. I’m playing with a point guard [Westbrook] who is always in attack mode.

How do you answer the question of what is next in regards to your unrestricted free agency next summer?

There is no next. I’m focused on what is now. There is no next for me right now because the now isn’t finished. The now isn’t where it should be, so there is no thought on what is next. I’m a person that stays busy with what I am doing and stays locked into where I am at. When the next comes, we will prepare for that.

Are you confident that the Westbrook-Anthony-George trio will work and have you seen enough flashes to help you feel that way?

Yeah. I am confident. We’ve started games out playing the way we should. We just need to sustain it over a full game.

Why was a change necessary for you in Indiana?

Everyone went in their separate directions. It felt like it was time. It left me with that decision. ‘Are we going to win one here? Is the organization going to get what I need to win or help me win or not?’ I wasn’t trying to play for stats. I wanted to play to win and win at a high level. It just wasn’t happening. They left me in that position.

Do you think your defense is respected? Is the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award something you yearn for?

I don’t think I get the respect. I’ve done it at a high level in Indiana. But that’s an award the media gets to vote for and chooses. I don’t think I was on that national level in terms of my defense. We had one of the best defenses in history in Indiana. I had a lot of help. A tremendous amount of help. I thought I was the best one-on-one defender early in my career. I get a chance to showcase that here.

What does Thanksgiving mean to you?

It’s just being thankful. Along with the food and being blessed with being able to enjoy a great meal with family, it’s just being thankful for another day of family gathering. In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not a good day for what it actually stands for. It’s great to get with my family that I have of my own with my daughters. It’s more of a tradition thing now that I can start with my kids.

Are you cooking?

No, I’m not cooking. My parents are cooking.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.