How Good Can the Indiana Pacers' Paul George Be?
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For someone who is only 23 years old and just in his third NBA season, the sky is the limit.
The 2012-13 NBA season saw George display his full arsenal, averaging 17.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 4.1 APG. He showed everybody why he became an All-Star for the very first time and snagged the 2013 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year.
This comes as no surprise because George made good on a promise he made to Pacers coach Frank Vogel during their end-of-season review in 2012. Here's what Vogel had to say:
He left last year saying, "Coach, I'm going to work harder than I ever have. I'm going to come back a completely different player—just wait and see. You're going to be so impressed."
George's statement proved to be prophetic.
To analyze how better he can become, four aspects of his game from the 2012-13 NBA season will go under the radar.
Scoring and Ball Handling
With Danny Granger out for all but five games during the regular season, Paul George had to pick up the slack. His scoring average improved by more than five points per game.
Certainly, it wasn't just about George hoisting up more shots than usual. The work he put in during the offseason allowed him to create more shots in tight situations.
The highlight reel below during the current playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks shows just how far he has gone in this area. Here, he shows off his versatility on offense: mid-range jumpers, layups, three-pointers and dunks.
Notice how George (who's a right-handed player), dribbles with his left hand to create space between himself and his defender when pulling up for a mid-range jumper. He does this a split-second before his defender can even react. He didn't fully utilize this aspect of his game in the early going of his career.
The pinnacle of this highlight comes at the 1:43 mark when he recovers an errant pass from George Hill near the Pacers' baseline. Just when he was about to run out of room, he somehow recovers. With a simple crossover-and-spin move along the baseline, he manages to elude Kyle Korver for the layup. This was something he was reluctant to do in his first two seasons.
For the 2012-13 season, his rebounding total of 603 almost tripled that of his rookie year. You have to consider he only played in 61 games as a rookie. However, at the rate he played then (3.7 rebounds per game), it would have taken more games for him to at least equal his rebounding average of 7.6 this past regular season.
Simply put, he has been more assertive on the boards. As timid as he was offensively when he was just starting out, he was also reluctant to make his presence felt in terms of rebounding. It's not that he was lazy, it's just that he could have done a lot more with his leaping ability and gangly arms. As of late, it isn't surprising at all to check the postgame stats and see George finishing with at least 10 rebounds.
Credit this to the work he put in prior to the regular season and his knowledge of where the ball is going. George is not a physical rebounder by nature. He just has a nose for the ball and improved work ethic on the boards which not too many players can boast of.
Numbers tell the whole story in this aspect of George's game. As a rookie, he dished out only 1.1 assists per game. If you take a closer look, the more his scoring average went up, the more his output in terms of assists increased.
This tells us two things.
First, George has become a bigger focal point in the Indiana Pacers' offense with his improved offensive repertoire. He is using his reputation as a scorer to draw defenses toward him and then make the pass as soon as they converge on him. In other words, by picking his spots, he also uses himself as a decoy to make his teammates more involved in their offense.
Case in point is the video below. Off the steal against the Chicago Bulls, George gets the pass from David West on a fastbreak. Luol Deng and Marquis Teague, wary of George's offensive capabilities, are drawn to him like a magnet. George realizes the situation, spots a wide-open George Hill, and dishes out the assist for the easy bucket in transition.
Second, he has simply evolved into a versatile player who makes the Pacers' offense more unpredictable with his passing skills.
George had only 26 blocks and 62 steals in his rookie year. His ESPN stats indicate these totals increased to 51 and 143, respectively.
He was the only player in the entire league to finish with at least 50 blocks and 140 steals in the 2012-13 NBA regular season.
It took roughly three seasons for his impressive defensive skills to develop to what they are now. Again, the key here was the hard work George put in into sharpening them.
His high leaping abilities, long arms and great timing allow him to swat opposing shots. In terms of his defensive anticipation, it is second to none. It is a gift which he has truly refined with his work ethic.
George is a rare breed of player who knows what the offense will do beforehand. Plus, he is also great at reading opponents' body languages which allow him to steal the ball and go in for a score on the other end. Hard evidence of this is the video below which shows him taking the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and eventually scoring on a three-point play.
To conclude, Paul George is not merely a good player. He has what it takes to be a great player.
The biggest hole in his game is his turnovers (averaged 2.9 per game in the regular season). If he can work on this a bit more while continuously refining his all-around game, do not be surprised if George becomes a solid candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors and even the MVP plum in the next few seasons.
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