Why the Indiana Pacers Will Be Paul George's Team Next Year

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 28:  Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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As impressive as the Indiana Pacers' Paul George has been at times, there's no doubt at all that his best days are still ahead of him. The 22-year-old quickly earned a starting job in Frank Vogel's rotation, and he's proven to be one of the most versatile young wing players in the game.

His numbers don't jump out at you right away, but he improved his three-point efficiency to nearly 39 percent this season and scored over 12 points a game for a club that shares the ball and divides its shots pretty evenly.

But it would be entirely misleading to praise George on account of his shooting alone, just as misleading as it would be to classify him as just another guy who can dunk.

George initially wowed the Pacers with his defensive potential.

His length and quickness make him nuisance to perimeter shooters and a menace in passing lanes. Even if he never became an elite scorer, he could become one the league's most effective defenders.

Still, the Pacers need him to score. While this team has gotten by thus far on its combination of Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and plenty of depth, Indiana's chances of contending for titles year after year depend upon having a reliable go-to option.

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 08:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat posts up Paul George #24 of the Indiana Pacers during a game at American Airlines Arena on February 8, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downlo
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Granger has shown flashes of becoming that kind of player, but he's become a relatively one-dimensional (and less productive) jump-shooter over the last couple of years.

George is a better finisher around the hoop and has the ball-handling skills to make his way to the paint. More importantly, these skills will continue to improve in time. The second-year guard has only scratched the surface of his potential, and it wouldn't be at all shocking to see his scoring jump considerably over the next year or two.

Finally, there's something to be said for the maturity and poise the young man has shown—most recently in the second half of the Pacers' Game 2 against the Miami Heat.

After a slow start, George played an important role in the second half on both ends of the floor and proved he has the mental toughness to stay in a ballgame (via the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz):

His growth was evident in the space of one 48-minute session. Twice, he got blocked from behind when he went up softly at the rim. Then, midway through the third quarter, George stole the ball, flew to the rim and threw it down with purpose.

A bit later, he scrambled and blocked one of his idols, LeBron James, near the rim.

The kid is a good listener and a quick learner.

He also just might have the kind of fortitude the Pacers will need as they evolve into a potential powerhouse.

Don't be surprised if Paul George is up to that challenge.