OKLAHOMA CITY — This has happened to Paul George before.
The Thunder star, who got off to a hot first few months of the season, has cooled ever since returning from the All-Star break. George, however, has been prone to month-long shooting slumps throughout his career.
The five-time All-Star has shot 37 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range in 15 games since Feb. 24. His 49 percent true shooting, a measure of efficiency which accounts for free throws and 3-pointers, is well below his season-long number and the league average. He hasn’t hit a triple since a rare hot shooting night in Boston three games ago. He’s missed 13 straight from deep over that span.
“It might just be the scheduling...Game 60 through game 70 is just a grind from that point on,” George said.
George called this particular stretch a “brutal” one. But at least his inconsistency is consistent. Slump months are part of a career-long trend.
The 2016-17 slump month was a February when he shot 39 percent from the field. The 2015-16 slump month was December; 2013-14’s was March; 2012-13’s came over a 16-game span from Mar. 15 through the end of the season. (He missed all but six games of 2014-15 because of a broken leg.)
George didn’t shoot better than 40 percent during any of the slump months and posted an unimpressive true shooting of either 50 or 51 percent during each of them.
The odd part, of course, is the inexplicability of it. And questions have continued into this most-recent down period.
“It’s not like I’m sitting there saying, ‘Geez, Paul’s being guarded completely differently’ or ‘His shots that he was taking early in the year are now completely different here late in the year.’ I just don’t see that,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “The ball hasn’t gone in the basket…He’s got to work himself through that.”
It's true. George has sunk only 31 percent of 3s when a defender is four-or-more feet away from him during this year's slump month, according to Second Spectrum's tracking data. He was finishing 45 percent of those looks, which continue to make up about 80 percent of his 3-point attempts, prior to the crash.
George may be prone to long dry spells, but they rarely accrue in the same ways. This year’s has developed with his jumper going on vacation, whether that’s from 3-point or mid-range, where he’s knocked in only 30 percent of attempts over the 15-game stretch.
It brings back memories of the fall and winter, when George called it “ironic” that he was in the midst of his best-shooting season, even though he was dealing with what he referred to as tightness in his right forearm.
“Just been stretching it. Stretching it like crazy, massaging it like crazy, icing it like crazy, whatever it is to just release that muscle from having that tightness,” he said.
But the reasons behind the slump months all varied.
The 2016-17 slump month occurred because he wasn’t getting to the line quite as much while he experienced a slight dip in mid-range and 3-point shooting. The 2015-16 one was due to his percentage around the rim diving and his mid-range shooting plummeting to 30 percent, even though his long-range accuracy remained at 36 percent. The 2013-14 one was because he made only 49 percent of layups and dunks — and again, didn’t hit 3s. The 2012-13 one was due to one of his worst ever slumps from beyond the arc, when he knocked in only 25 percent.
No common threads — other than inefficient play sprouting out of seemingly nowhere.
George’s shooting always returns. Even during the slump months that ended seasons, he got hot during the playoffs. And he’s consistently been an impact postseason performer.
But the Thunder are experiencing their first George slump month. And for now, all they can do is wait for it to end.
“He’s gotten himself through it,” Donovan said. “It’s not like he doesn’t have a body of work to fall back on…So as long as we’re getting good shots and taking good shots, he’s taking the right ones, I feel good.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.