Why Paul George Will Emerge as a Top NBA Superstar During 2013-14 Season

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Why Paul George Will Emerge as a Top NBA Superstar During 2013-14 Season

Armed with one of the NBA's most complete two-way games and brimming with confidence after a breakout postseason, Indiana Pacers star Paul George is going to take the league by storm in 2013-14.

But to hear George tell it, he's going to do it by assuming control of his own team first.

George recently told Michael Pointer of the Indianapolis Star:

This whole summer, I really trained being the go-to guy and the lead guy for our team. Last year, we still had Danny and did not know the results (of Granger’s injury) coming into the year. I had a role that I had kind of prepared for and trained for. This year, it was more about training to be the No. 1 guy and lead this team.

The 23-year-old stud has every right to believe he's capable of taking on alpha-dog status on one of the NBA's very best teams. After all, he proved he could handle the pressure last year when Danny Granger's absence left the Pacers with what looked like a gaping hole on the wing.

In just his third season, George was forced into a role he admits he wasn't prepared to handle. Things worked out pretty well, though, as he led the Pacers to within a single game of the NBA Finals.

This season, he's hoping to do even more.

Players say they're ready to take their games to the next level all the time; George isn't unique in his preseason confidence. But what he has that most other would-be stars don't is the recent track record to support his claims.

 

Offensive Chops

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Offensively, George's numbers weren't spectacular last season. His 53 percent true-shooting mark ranked 29th among small forwards, per ESPN Insider (subscription required), and he had some pretty serious issues with turnovers. In fact, as Grantland's Zach Lowe noted, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel actually forbade George from the risky move of splitting defenders as a pick-and-roll ball-handler because of George's penchant for giveaways.

But the somewhat inefficient shooting and the turnover woes had a pretty simple underlying cause last season.

As George told Pointer, he wasn't initially ready to be the Pacers' primary offensive threat a year ago. His usage rate jumped from 18.2 in 2011-12 to 22.4 last season, and many of the extra possessions George had to control were difficult ones. As the shot clock wound down, it was George who ended up with the ball much more often than he had in the past.

USA TODAY Sports

A poor off-the-dribble shooter, George wasn't cut out to create space and fire off a high-percentage jumper. In addition, he hadn't ever filled the role of a facilitator before.

Maybe I'm being too generous with him, but it certainly seems reasonable to chalk up George's problematic offensive efficiency to the added responsibilities he had to shoulder last season. Fundamentally speaking, there's almost nothing wrong with George's shot. And as he continues to hone his understanding of the nuances involved with the pick-and-roll, he'll iron out his biggest flaws.

Plus, there's plenty about George's game that is already fully formed, not to mention worthy of the superstar label he's chasing.

An elite finisher, George has converted at least 63 percent of his looks at the rim every year, according to Hoopdata.com. His handle is excellent for a 6'8" player, and it should go without saying that his athleticism is off the charts.

Basically, there's no offensive tool that George lacks, but some areas are more developed than others. Based on the growth he showed during the course of last season, there's no reason to doubt that George will soon become a complete offensive player.

 

Defensively Dominant

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Whatever rough edges George has on offense are conspicuously absent from his defensive game. Put simply, he's only a hair's breadth behind world-class stoppers LeBron James and Andre Iguodala in terms of defensive versatility on the wing.

Terrific length, great feet and an advanced understanding of the team concept make George a nightmare on D.

Synergy Sports (subscription required) rated him in the top 20 percent of all defenders last season, which is incredible considering George had to handle the opposing team's best wing on a night-to-night basis. It's also critical to note that George's defensive numbers were consistently excellent in virtually every situation.

Synergy rated him as substantially above average against isolations, pick-and-rolls, post-ups, spot-ups and every other measurable play type in the database.

George is defensive versatility personified.

And on the boards, his length and instincts make him an elite rebounder as well. Among small forwards who logged as many minutes per game as George did last season, only LeBron James and Kevin Durant had higher rebound rates.

 

The King's Blessing

Part of becoming a superstar in the NBA involves being accepted by the players who already occupy the league's upper echelon. If what happened during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals is any indication, King James himself has already signed off on George's worthiness.

The low-five James and George exchanged in Game 2 was a sign of real respect, and even though James is a generally magnanimous superstar, it was still pretty shocking to see him acknowledge George's arrival so publicly.

If there's a club for the NBA's elite, it's safe to say that James is willing to sponsor George's membership. In fact, we may have actually witnessed James teaching him the secret handshake.

 

Stardom Deserved

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

There aren't many players in the NBA who willingly tackle the toughest defensive matchups, lead their team's offense, and do both for a legitimate championship contender. But the ones that do those things, like Paul George, are rightly labeled superstars.

He'll remind everyone why he deserves that classification when the 2013-14 season tips off.

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