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Checklist for Paul George to Thrive as Indiana Pacers' Franchise Star

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Checklist for Paul George to Thrive as Indiana Pacers' Franchise Star

Normally, I'd say that an NBA team handing its franchise star a maximum contract extension is akin to giving him the green light for his tenure with the squad. But with the Indiana Pacers and Paul George, is the swingman getting a yellow light? 

Regardless of the colorful semantics, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the two sides are finalizing a deal that will be worth at least $90 million over the course of five years. It's obviously a nice chunk of change for the reigning Most Improved Player, but it could get even nicer. 

As HoopsRumors.com's Luke Adams explained, the Derrick Rose Rule might come into play, allowing George to earn a salary worth 30 percent of the cap instead of the typical 25 percent that max players with less than seven years of experience receive.

But in order to qualify, George either has to win the MVP award, make the All-Star team as a starter via fan balloting twice or make two All-NBA teams within the first four years of his career.

Since the burgeoning star in question is about to enter his fourth season, he must either win MVP or make another All-NBA team to qualify. After all, he was a reserve in the All-Star Game and made the All-NBA Third Team in 2012-13. 

But George can't be content to settle for another tertiary selection. It's time for him to take that proverbial next step and truly emerge as a superstar. 

He can do so by following these keys. 

 

Cut Back on the Turnovers

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If George has one major weakness right now, it's his lack of care for the ball.

When he's serving as the primary ball-handler for the Pacers, he tends to dribble the rock without much awareness of his surroundings. It rises too high off the floor and creates plenty of easy opportunities for theft. 

During his breakout 2012-13 campaign, George averaged 2.9 turnovers per game with a turnover percentage of 15.2. Given his usage rate of 23.5—low for a star player and go-to guy—and his proclivity for serving as a spot-up shooter, that mark is far too high and must be reduced to a more reasonable level. 

In particular, these turnovers are stemming from two types of plays, both of which need to be avoided. 

First is the tendency to get overexcited and fail to make a relatively easy pass:

George has all the skill you could ask for, but sometimes he tries to do too much, and that results in the inability to make a simple play. Ninety-nine percent of the players in basketball can easily swing the ball over to the corner in the situation you see above, but the Pacers swingman loses focus and turns it over. 

Secondly, there are plays like these: 

Once more, it's all about getting a little careless and—in some cases—overaggressive. And to fix that, George either has to spend all of his time off doing dribbling drills or recognize when to curtail that attacking mentality. 

Turnovers don't just cost Indiana points; they also set up a counterattack that's even more difficult to stop. 

According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the Pacers allowed fewer transition points per possession than any other team in basketball, holding opponents to just 1.03 when they started running. But that's still a high number compared to other situations. 

In fact, the Pacers only allowed more points per possession to opponents afforded a secondary opportunity to score after an offensive rebound or when cutting to the basket without the ball in their hands. That's why it's so important to minimize turnovers and the subsequent fast-break opportunities. 

Even though Indiana is excellent at stopping a fast-moving opponent, it's still not a great situation to be in. "Excellent" is only relative. 

 

Improve his Mid-Range Game

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone has their own dirty little secret, and George's is that he isn't a particularly great mid-range shooter. 

According to my pure-shooting metric (full explanation here), the Indiana swingman finished with a score of minus-21.61 in 2012-13. A score of zero indicates that a player is a perfectly average shooter, so George's mark isn't impressive. 

In fact, of the 172 qualified players (24 minutes per game, 20 games played), George finished at No. 133. Here's the excerpt of the section of the rankings that he falls into: 

  • 130. John Wall
  • 131. Raymond Felton
  • 132. Kemba Walker
  • 133. Paul George
  • 134. Tiago Splitter
  • 135. Anthony Davis
  • 136. Isaiah Thomas
  • 137. Bismack Biyombo
  • 138. Nikola Pekovic
  • 139. Al-Farouq Aminu
  • 140. Dion Waiters

Do you ever want to be right next to Tiago Splitter and Bismack Biyombo in a set of offensive rankings? 

George is actually one of the few players in this portion that was a positive contributor from behind the three-point arc. He made 36.2 percent of his looks from downtown while taking a staggering 5.7 attempts per game, and that's a rather impressive combination. 

Sure, he could stand to improve the percentage, but he's still above the league average of 35.9 while shooting a high volume of attempts. Mid-range shooting is just more of a pressing concern. 

In fact, take a look at the value he added to the Pacers from each zone of the court (not including at the rim): 

If George wasn't at the rim or beyond the arc in 2012-13, it was problematic.

According to Hoopdata.com, he shot only 26.5 percent from three-to-nine feet, 34.5 percent from 10-to-15 feet and 37.0 percent from the deepest part of the two-point zone. Those numbers simply aren't going to cut it in George's quest for elite status. 

Hitting them with more frequency or taking them less often are the two courses of action, and ideally, George will adopt a combination of the two. 

 

Become as Close to a "LeBron Stopper" as Possible

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I recently broke down exactly how George can slow down LeBron James (other than what he typically does, of course), but allow me to sum it all up for you. 

It's also worth noting that while these keys are geared toward stopping the MVP (or at least coming as close to doing so as possible), they also apply to the other star wing players that George will inevitably have to guard.

The goal, above all else, is to shore up the holes in his defensive body of work. 

 

Step 1: Don't Give Up Deep Post Position

While George's defensive prowess was the driving force behind his breakout campaign, he still struggled against post-up players. 

According to Synergy, the guard/forward allowed 0.82 points per possession overall, but in the post, he gave up 0.87. Below, you can see how he ranked among all qualified NBA players in each situation: 

If he wants to become a truly elite defender—and he was better as a team defender than an individual stopper last year—he's going to have to become a more disciplined point-preventer in the post. Right now, George allows his man to establish position too close to the basket. 

It's time for that to change. 

 

Step 2: Gamble Like You're In Vegas

Not only does he have the athleticism to take risks and still recover, but George also has the luxury of playing for the Pacers. 

If he gambles for the ball and it doesn't work out, Roy Hibbert is there to pick up the slack. The seven-footer is one of the most talented rim-protectors in the NBA, and he's still getting better at his job. 

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Few players have that type of luxury to work with, and George has to take advantage of it more often. 

 

Step 3: Don't Game-Plan

This applies to every star George will match up with, not just LeBron. 

It's important to prepare, but not if you're going to stick rigidly to the game plan. Basketball is a fluid sport, and as a result, great players thrive in different facets of the game on any given night. Adaptivity is vital, or else the fixed nature of the defense will inevitably make the job awfully easy for the offensive player.

George must realize that he can adjust his style of play during the course of a contest. Then, he has to do it.  

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Technically, that applies to all parts of the swingman's game. 

 

Final Thoughts

George, still only 23 years old, has all the tools necessary to be great. He's already made an All-Star team. He's already been selected to the All-NBA squad. He's earned respect from LeBron after going head-to-head with him in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Where will George finish in the 2013-14 MVP voting?

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But now, he has to evolve, as he can't simply be content with the level he reached in 2012-13. There's potential for greatness here, and he'll emerge as the true franchise star, not just a one-hit wonder, if he follows all of these steps. 

More than likely, he'll become eligible for the Derrick Rose Rule by making the All-NBA team once more, but it's by no means outside the realm of realistic possibilities for George to compete for the MVP.

The Pacers will certainly be hoping he does exactly that, even if it'll cost them more money in the long run. 

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