Oklahoma City Thunder: Chris Paul’s impact on OKC is bigger than basketball

NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Chris Paul (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
NBA Oklahoma City Thunder Chris Paul (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Chris Paul’s impact on the Oklahoma City Thunder this season has gone well beyond just basketball

On July 11, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off a blockbuster trade exchanging their star point guards in the process. The Thunder had to say a sad goodbye to longtime star Russell Westbrook, while the Rockets seemed to rip Chris Paul away from his supposed “cancerous” relationship with James Harden.

Now, Chris Paul is fitting perfectly in the city he started his career in and gelling with his young teammates. Oklahoma City is far from a championship contender, but they are in the running for a playoff seed and competing with the league’s best. For Paul, he seems to be enjoying his time with his young, new team.

Only a few games into the season, Paul bought the whole team custom suits. He even managed to get Steven Adams, who usually can be seen wearing slides and sweatpants before games, into a clean fit suit.


How did Chris Paul get to this stage, where he laughs and plays around with his teammates?

Well, It’s been an interesting year for Paul. He started out the year in Houston with star teammate James Harden. This Rockets team had high hopes as they fell a game short against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals in 2018. After leading the series, 3-2, Paul went down with a hamstring injury and his absence led the Warriors to clinch another NBA Finals berth. It was a painful offseason for the Rockets, but more so on Paul, as he still chases a championship ring.

The 2018-19 season for the Rockets is a mixed bag of emotions. On the outside, it seemed as if everything was ok in Houston and they headed toward another hopeful postseason. Things did not go their way as they lost to the Kevin Durant-less Warriors once more; this time in only six games. The series wasn’t as competitive as the latter one and things seemed off. Reports swirled in the offseason on a rift between Paul and Harden.

This beef turned to social media and multiple reports made it clear that things were not smooth in Houston. Sources claimed Paul demanded a trade, but after a confused Chris Paul replied “new to me.” The narrative was being twisted in every direction and finally ended on July 11.

Chris Paul closed the door on his run with the Rockets and looked forward to a new opportunity in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City was also having an abrupt summer after star forward Paul George requested to be traded to the LA Clippers, only a year after signing a four-year $137 million deal. Sam Presti worked some magic and turned George into veteran sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari and second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a record number of draft picks. Westbrook was dealt with shortly after, resulting in Chris Paul’s arrival in OKC.

Despite the massive roster changes, a season still had to be played and that’s where many questions arose. How would a team with three starting-caliber point guards work? Who is getting traded next? Are the Thunder going to tank? Who are the Thunder going to keep? Is head coach Billy Donavon’s job safe?

It seemed that the season was lost after a rough 8-12 to the season, but then the team began to click. Since then, the Thunder have gone 14-4 and rose all the way to the 7th-seed in the crowded Western Conference. Oklahoma City is rolling and the players are having great seasons.

Five players are averaging over 10 points per game. Second-year guard Gilgeous-Alexander leads the way averaging 19.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.2 steals. Dennis Schroder follows behind having a huge season off the bench averaging 18.4 points and then Gallinari stands next with another great season averaging 18.1 points. Paul follows behind having a great season himself averaging 16.7 points, 6.4 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.6 steals. Steven Adams is the fifth player and for the first time in his career is averaging a double-double with 12 points a game and 10.2 rebounds.

Oklahoma City’s play goes way beyond their numbers. In that beginning 20-game stretch they fell to some of the league’s top team by only a few points, including the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Clippers, and Rockets. After those tough losses early in the season, the Thunder have kicked things up and have started to beat these top teams. The Thunder beat the Clippers in George’s return to Oklahoma City, beat the Philadelphia 76ers in an overtime battle, and most recently a demolishing of the Rockets on national television in the highly anticipated return of Westbrook.

Thunder players are having career years. Chris Paul can be credited for most of it. Paul comes in as a 15-year NBA veteran that has played with some of the league’s best including Harden, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, David West, JJ Redick, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill, Paul Pierce, Lamar Odom, Kenyon Martin, and many more. One could say that’s a pretty exhaustive list of great players. Paul has been fortunate to pick the brains of some great players. Chris Paul is already one of the smartest players in the league and combine that with some of that wisdom and it can lead to some great things.

Most notably, the effect of Paul’s wisdom can be most exemplified with the rapid development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA’s number has nearly doubled from his rookie year in Los Angeles. He has quickly turned into one of the most promising players in his draft class, which is an impressive feat considering the talent in that draft with players like Luka Doncic and Trae Young. This future All-Star has his whole career ahead of him, but the jump he took in Year Two may foreshadow the massive effect he might have on Oklahoma City and in the league as a whole.

Alexander isn’t the only one reaping the benefits of Paul’s stay in Oklahoma City. Starting forward Terrance Ferguson may not be having a stellar year on the stat sheet, but he has quickly become a great perimeter defender. Guarding the likes of Harden, Ben Simmons, LeBron James, and Paul George is not an easy task, but he has done very well slowing them down to a point that helped the Thunder win or stay close in games.

Schroder is having a career year and leads the league in bench points. Aside from stats, Schroder has become a leader of the team and plays a big role in the Thunder’s closing lineup. Adams continues to grow into a top center in the league with the help of Paul. Rookie forward Darius Bazley reaps similar benefits as Alexander when it comes to Paul’s mentorship. The list could go on and on.

None of this would be possible with Chris Paul deciding to take on the task of mentoring his young new teammates. Paul had a choice to make and that would be to not invest in the Thunder at all expecting to be traded or commit to the team and see where the ride may take him. Well, Paul chose the second option and it has been rewarding not just for the team but for Paul, himself. On what can be seen as a redemption season for Paul, the league is watching as Paul proves that he can still be one of the best guards in the league.

Oklahoma City’s success will not only benefit the team but will also boost Paul’s own image. Whether he be traded this year, this offseason, or later, teams are watching knowing that Paul can be as good as any of the players in this league and is a player that will positively impact their team. In addition, the nasty rumors that spread the last offseason about the toxicity of the Houston locker room painted a not so pretty picture of Chris Paul. This season with Oklahoma City has erased almost all of those assumptions.

The Thunder locker room can be seen as the happiest it has been in a while. This mixed bag of veterans and young players are having loads of fun and winning, nonetheless. In just a season, the culture went from ‘all business’ with the Westbrook-style of leadership to ‘let’s win but have some fun with it’ due to Paul’s commitment to the team. Whether it be wearing Italian suits or photo-bombing post-game interviews, the Thunder are having fun. That culture is ever so important especially considering that about half of the rotation is on the trading block.

No matter how long Paul is on the team, his impact will last for many years. None can attest to that more than coach Billy Donavon. All hope seemed lost for a guy who failed to do much with some of the league’s best, including Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Paul George. In a contract year, Donavon’s job seemed to be on its last legs. Yet, Paul once again impacted the team.

Donavon has been out-coaching some great teams this season and won some impressive games where the Thunder were heavily outmatched regarding talent. Donavon has transformed into one of the league’s best, winning Coach of the Month in December with a Western Conference best 11-4 record. Paul’s experience and expertise have obviously been rubbing off on his coach.

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The Thunder may end up trading their most important players along with Chris Paul, but for the time being, they are here to stay. The team will continue to compete with the league’s best, prove people wrong, and have fun while doing it.

Paul will be there, leading the charge, and redefining his name in the process.