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Paul George's MVP hopes were derailed by injury, but he's bounced back from worse

Paul George has come back from worse. Much, much worse.

On April 5, 2015, George checked into his first NBA game in 11 months. The Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd welcomed the then-Pacers forward back with a standing ovation. Two minutes later, he brought Indiana fans to their feet again.

George worked around a screen and pulled up from the elbow. It was his first meaningful shot since snapping his lower right leg in a scrimmage with USA Basketball in August. The ball went in.

George faces another recovery period this summer. The Thunder announced last week that George had undergone surgery to repair a partial tear in his right rotator cuff. While he’s rehabilitating his right shoulder, George plans to also undergo surgery on his left labrum. The team will provide an updated timeline for George’s return at the beginning of the season, but he might not be cleared for basketball activities in time for training camp.

“I could leave it alone and this would be a recurring thing,” George said last month. “But I want to address it now, clean up what needs to be cleaned up so it doesn't come back. And I'll be fine going forward.”

George played through both injuries in the last couple months of the season, missing a total of four games for right shoulder soreness.

While George said that pain wasn’t an issue after coming back from both stints on the sideline, his injury issues coincided with a decline in efficiency that pulled him out of the MVP race.

George’s MVP candidacy was national storyline by January. His December explosion could be written off as a fortunate month. But averaging more thanr 30 points per game in December through February, while remaining a Defensive Player of the Year candidate? That was special.

In every new city, the fans and media members wanted to know, what was it about this season?

As George and Thunder coach Billy Donovan repeated throughout the year, part of it was a new level of comfort, with both the team in general and playing alongside Russell Westbrook. Part of it was an offseason geared toward preparing for a faster-paced Western Conference – a routine that will change due this summer due to surgery.

“I thought we did a good job of playing off each other,” Westbrook said, “figuring out what is best for each of us. And I think … ultimately the most important part is off the floor, creating a friendship and a brotherhood.”

George had the best season of his career. He finished No. 2 in the NBA in scoring with a career-best 28 points per game. He also averaged career highs in steals (2.2) and rebounds (8.2).

To accompany impressive stat lines, George shed his reputation for missing go-ahead shots in crunch time by draining four game-winners this season.

Then, the partially torn supraspinatus tendon in his right shoulder held him out for games on Feb. 28, March 2 and March 3.

“I just was frustrated,” George said. “I think it came at a terrible time, especially (since) the team was rolling. We were playing good. I was holding up pretty, pretty, pretty good. I just thought it came at the wrong time, honestly. But ... I've never made no excuses on it. I was dealing with it for a long time throughout the season. It just got worse and worse as it went on.”

George declined to specify how long "a long time" was, but he said his shoulder began giving him issues before he sat out for three straight games at the end of February and the beginning of March.

As George said, the team was rolling.

OKC won 12 of its 14 games between Jan. 19 and Feb. 22. George averaged 36.1 points per game and shot 45.2 percent from 3-point range in that stretch.

After sitting out for three games, George scored 26.1 points per game for the remainder of the regular season, and his 3-point shooting dropped to 34.8 percent.

The Thunder famously stumbled to its third straight first-round playoff exit, looking like a different team than the one that breezed through January and February.

“Honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around that,” George said, “on what's the next step, the next phase for this group going forward. That's something I think we're all trying to work on internally, figure out what can we do, because this is a team that can go far.”

Individually, the next step for George is recovery.

According to George’s former athletic trainer at Fresno State, current Iowa men’s basketball trainer Brad Floy, George often progressed faster than the expected timeline in college. Fast forward to 2014, and George was back to shooting jump shots less than three months after undergoing surgery for compound fractures to his tibia and fibula.

In his first game back for Indiana, George scored 13 points in under 15 minutes. In the final six games of that season, the only six games George was able to play, he shot a career-high 40.9 percent from beyond the arc.

“It will make me stronger,” George had promised in his first press conference since breaking his leg.

He lived up to his word then. Next season is his chance to prove he can do it again.

*****************************************************************************

Thunder-A-Day

This is Day 11 of The Oklahoman's Thunder-A-Day series, assessing the OKC roster entering the offseason. Up next:

Thursday: Nerlens Noel

Friday: Patrick Patterson

Saturday: Andre Roberson

Sunday: Billy Donovan

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma City's Paul George has had surgery on one shoulder and plan to have surgery on the other this summer. It is not known whether the All-Star will be ready to play by training camp in October. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma City's Paul George has had surgery on one shoulder and plan to have surgery on the other this summer. It is not known whether the All-Star will be ready to play by training camp in October. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0b82eaf8ff74e3afa6ecba7593562eda.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Paul George has had surgery on one shoulder and plan to have surgery on the other this summer. It is not known whether the All-Star will be ready to play by training camp in October. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Paul George has had surgery on one shoulder and plan to have surgery on the other this summer. It is not known whether the All-Star will be ready to play by training camp in October. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Paul George has had surgery on one shoulder and plan to have surgery on the other this summer. It is not known whether the All-Star will be ready to play by training camp in October. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-07db757abbc606bc4cae6a5798ab2f48.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, celebrates an April win over Houston with Raymond Felton at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, celebrates an April win over Houston with Raymond Felton at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma City's Paul George, left, celebrates an April win over Houston with Raymond Felton at Chesapeake Energy Arena. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›

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