Resume: 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals (8th in league), 37.6 minutes (10th in league), 170 threes made (10th in league), 42% FG, 36% 3PT, and 81% FT… Team record in games played: 48-31 (1-1 without)… Playoffs: 19.2 points (career best), 7.4 rebounds (career best), 5.1 assists (career best), 1.3 steals, 41.1 minutes, 43% FG (career best), 33% 3PT (career best), 73% FT, 11-8 record… All-Star, 2nd Team All-Defense, 3rd Team All-NBA, Most Improved Player of the Year
Note to all of you loyal readers: At one point I actually had Paul George in my top 10. After a multiple month long mental tug-of-war—Quick tangent, can someone explain to me why tug-of-war isn’t an Olympic sport anymore? Seriously, not counting Badminton is there any past or present sport that is more representative of the Olympic spirit and the “Our country reigns supreme” mindset of the Olympics than tug-of-war?—I decided to move George down to number 18. I was afraid that after the Pacers saw so much postseason success I might have overrated George a bit. I got caught up in the narrative that Paul George was a blossoming superstar and that the now famous low five with LeBron was his moment of arrival. It may have been; but that doesn’t mean Paul George is a top 10 player.
The Pacers entered the 2012-13 season unsure of the status of forward Danny Granger, which meant it wasn’t yet determined how Paul George would be used. Coming into only his third NBA season, George was not accustomed to carrying the nightly burden and pressures of being “the man” for a team that was expected to contend in the Eastern Conference. Granger ended up playing 74 very ineffective minutes which meant the somewhat ill-prepared George was now in sole possession of the metaphorical Indiana Pacers conch, even if he wasn’t completely ready to have it. To be expected, it wasn’t the smoothest transition for George, who went from playing off the ball to spending much more time working with the ball in his hands. He was turnover prone—mainly because of his constant attempts to split double teams a la Dwyane Wade (see, Wade not only murders Miami’s spacing, but he inadvertently tried to sabotage poor Paul George)—not shooting well—his curiously low field goal percentage could be a result of his still mediocre ability to shoot off the dribble—and subsequently, the Pacers got off to a very rocky 8-8 start through the first month of the season. As time went on, George improved and became much more reliable and comfortable being a primary ball handler, specifically in pick and roll situations.
It became apparent as the season went on that George was getting increasingly comfortable with the new-found responsibility, and it makes sense why he would. If you made a check list of everything you could realistically want from your 23 year old franchise small forward, Paul George would get a plethora of check marks. Size, speed, athleticism, three point range, ball-handling, ability to get to the rim, court vision, basketball IQ, defensive prowess. Go ahead and give him a check mark in all of those categories. And while you’re at it, give him one in the Not Afraid of the Big Moment column too. Sure, he came up small in Game 7 at Miami, but Miami would’ve won the series in five if it weren’t for George. Through the first six games of the series, George was averaging 21.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, shooting 50% from the field, and 47% from downtown. He was completely unafraid of going head to head with LeBron, even as he was being bullied in the paint by him, and nearly stole Game 1 in Miami with a desperation three pointer to tie the game in regulation and three ballsy free throws to give Indiana a one point lead with less than three seconds to play.
George brought his A game against Miami. But his A game will only continue to get better. There is a very good reason why Indiana locked George up with a five year, $90 million contract extension. They know that it will be sooner, rather than later, that George will be a top 10 player in this league. He’s just not quite there yet.