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Paul George joins rare air in the NBA

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Paul George greets Raymond Felton after a victory over Utah. (Photo by Sarah Phipps)
Paul George greets Raymond Felton after a victory over Utah. (Photo by Sarah Phipps)


The Thunder’s Paul George is a finalist for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. George also is a finalist for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

That sounds amazing, and it is. But it’s not terribly rare. It’s happened now 24 times in the 37 years since the defensive award was established, and if there had been a Defensive Player of the Year Award in the 1960s, safe to say Bill Russell would have been an annual top-three in both categories. He was a five-time MVP and finished second twice and third twice.

It’s not rare. It’s just rare air. Such an accomplishment places George among the greatest players of all time.

Since the defense award was born in 1983, only two players have thrice finished in the top-three of both the MVP and defensive player of the year voting. You can get one rather easily. Yep, Michael Jordan, in 1988, 1992 and 1993. The other is not so easy to ascertain. David Robinson, in 1991, 1992 and 1994. Tim Duncan sort of pushed his mentor to the shadows of Spurs greatness, but Robinson was a fabulous player for a long time. Among the candidates for most underrated NBA superstar ever.

So Jordan and Robinson thrice each, and Kawhi Leonard (2017, 2016), LeBron James (2009, 2013), Kevin Garnett (2003, 2008), Hakeem Olajuwon (1993, 1994) and Alonzo Mourning (1999, 2000) twice each. We sometimes forget how great Mourning was, too, though his prime was not as long as some of the other all-time greats.

The rest of the list is a who’s who of the NBA over the last 40 years, and some of the all-time greats didn’t even make the list. Magic Johnson. Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant. None finished in the top-three of defense voting.

Here are the other players who have made top three in both:

2018:

Paul George, 2019.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, 2019.

Anthony Davis, 2018.

Dwight Howard, 2011 (we forget how good Howard once was, before he turned into a cartoon character).

Dwyane Wade, 2009.

Duncan, 2001 (probably deserved more).

Gary Payton, 1998 (the only point guard ever to be named defensive player of the year).

Larry Bird, 1983 (a great player, no doubt, but one of the three best defenders in the league? I’m skeptical).

So that’s phenomenal company for George. On the list with Davis and Duncan and Payton.

George won’t win MVP and isn’t likely to win defensive player of the year. He’s up against Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert, and the latter is a defensive force of historic value.

But the Thunder knows George’s value, too. He was the second-leading scorer in the NBA, and he played superb defense all over the court, often guarding the opponent’s best player, regardless of size.

George had a great season in 2018-19. And he’s been rewarded for it, even if there’s no trophy to boot.

Related Photos
Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) greets Raymond Felton (2) as he walks off the court following the NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) greets Raymond Felton (2) as he walks off the court following the NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0179ef1c366fdae22d992b35c44349fd.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) greets Raymond Felton (2) as he walks off the court following the NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) greets Raymond Felton (2) as he walks off the court following the NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Paul George (13) greets Raymond Felton (2) as he walks off the court following the NBA game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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