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Outsider’s Perspective: Oklahoma City Thunder are no fluke, Paul George on pace for best season of his career

An interview with SB Nation’s Matt Ellentuck in advance of tonight’s OKC-New Orleans Pelicans matchup.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans square off in New Orleans on Wednesday evening in their second matchup of the season. For more on the game please check out our game preview here.

In our Outsider’s Perspective series we go deep into each Pelicans opponent by gathering various contributors and editors from around the basketball community. Today we have SB Nation reporter Matt Ellentuck. You can find him on Twitter at @mellentuck.

Matt walks us through the rise of the Thunder in the Western Conference. Paul George’s career year, and the impact of a few guys not named Russell Westbrook. That alone should tell you how different this Thunder squad is from the ones of old. We also go over the pending return of Andre Roberson. Hope you enjoy the latest installment of Outsider’s Perspective.

  1. The Thunder are currently first in the Western Conference as they’ve battled through injury and a slow start to begin their first handful of games. What’s been the biggest factor in their climb up the standings? They appear to be a deeper team than most originally believed?

The Thunder were always better than their record last season, and their rise now doesn’t surprise me too much. I don’t think they’re the best team in the West, but should finish in the top-4 or so. The biggest impacts, in my eyes, have been Paul George and Steven Adams. George is playing much better than a season ago, especially on the defensive end, which is crucial given Andre Roberson’s injury. And Adams is quietly having his second All-Star caliber season. I wrote about how brilliant he is on Tuesday.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

2. Paul George is quietly on pace to finish with the best season of his career. He’s currently averaging a career high in rebounds, assists, points, steals, and blocks per game while averaging the least amount of minutes he’s played in over four years. Outside of Westbrook missing a few games, what’s been the biggest factor in George’s fantastic play to start the season.

George’s ability to jump passing lanes — a big reason for his career-high in steals — has been huge for OKC, especially without Roberson in the lineup on the defensive end. Also, on the other end, George is taking more shots from deep, which should only help the contribution he makes on offense. This could be the best season of his George’s career if it continues, and it won’t be because he’s doing much differently, but he’s doing things more efficiently.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

3. What will Andre Roberson’s return mean to the Thunder?

Adding another defensive presence will be key for OKC, even if he comes off the bench. We know the shooting struggles Roberson has, so his minutes may have to fluctuate game-by-game, but his return is important to maintain a deep rotation.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

4. What’s the biggest misconception about the Thunder?

That they’re a two-headed beast. Steven Adams gives this team a Big 3. Adams is currently also averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, steals and points per game.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

5. Give us an outside perspective on the Pelicans.

The Pelicans are a borderline playoff team that should have its sights on the future. Keeping Anthony Davis a must, and after this season, retaining Julius Randle seems to be a priority. The pieces have to come together soon for New Orleans, or else they’ll set themselves back an eternity should AD leave Jimmy Butler- or Kawhi Leonard-style. Keep. Him. Happy.

That was our time with Matt Ellentuck and we hope you all once again enjoyed it. Enjoy the game tonight and as always Geaux Pels! Be sure to check out our next installment over the weekend as the Pelicans get ready for the Miami Heat Sunday.