Button up, Paul George. Your confidence is showing.
Actually, strike that—don't. Let your impudence run wild. You have every right to believe in yourself.
Paul George: "We don't feel this team is far is better than us. We feel we match up even."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) December 10, 2013
Those who haven't watched the Pacers won't understand them. They'll know what they read, and that's it. In the text they'll see a team oozing confidence and wonder if it's for real and its hype deserved.
They'll wonder if George and the Pacers are right to believe they can contend.
"We've stated our goal as trying to earn the No. 1 seed and this team [Miami] is obviously the No. 1 competition to earn that," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, per the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman.
Don't look now, but George and the Pacers are right: They can contend. They can beat the best teams.
They can flat-out win.
There comes a time where every opinionated wordsmith must admit they're wrong. Now is one of those times for me.
Entering 2013-14, I thought George was overrated. The product of shipshape numbers and a bloated contract. His per-game stats were good, but he wasn't particularly efficient and turned the ball over at the most inopportune times.
Breaking: I was an idiot.
George is a legitimate superstar, and he's proved as much early this year, grabbing the Pacers by their jerseys and carrying them to a league-best 19-3 record.
Spectacular would only scratch the surface of the year he's having. Last year, he was good. This year, he's unstoppable:
|Season||PPG||FG%||3P%||REBS||ASTS||STLS||Off. Rtg||Def. Rtg.||PER|
This is getting awkward. It's like his improvement is speaking to me, saying: "Hey Dan, you're a fool."
Cannot argue with that. The only thing more foolish than doubting him at this point would be wearing socks with sandals.
George's numbers are ridiculous. He's currently the only player in the league averaging at least 21 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals per game. That's a stat line usually reserved for LeBron James and LeBron James alone. Yet here's George, making it his own.
Here's George, joining the company of stars far more established than himself:
Are you kidding me? George has more win shares (4.4) than Chris Paul (4.2)? One less than LeBron? Pinch me. No seriously, do it before I start going off on his defense.
A wing defender hasn't won the Defensive Player of the Year award since Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) snagged it in 2004. The next perimeter-oriented sage to win it will either be George or LeBron. That's it.
I'd be excited too if I were him, along with overly confident, perpetually smirking and always dancing, among other things. He's been that good and therefore, earned whatever bragging rights he cares to exercise.
Best of the Best
You'd be expressing endless faith in your team, too, if you played for the Pacers.
George is the best player on the Pacers, who are subsequently the NBA's best team right now. Make no mistake, that's what they are. Their schedule ranks among the league's easiest (sixth), but 19-3 starts are no joke. Indy also just took down Miami, a cause for celebration in itself.
Losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder don't mean nearly as much as road victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs. The Pacers are for real, and it shows in the numbers.
Their offense is middling, but their defense is impervious to every single offense ever enacted (hyperbole intended). Indiana ranks first in defensive efficiency, allowing 95.9 points per 100 possessions. Assuming that mark stands, the Pacers would be just the 15th team in league history to maintain a defensive rating under 96.
Defensive dominance comes with Indiana's territory, but that's insane. You can actually debate whether the Pacers are a top-five defense of all time without cackling like a hyena. Across the board, from man-to-man to rotations, traps and switches, each member of the Pacers (typically) does his job.
That kind of discipline cannot be coached or taught. That level of chemistry cannot be bought. It's just there.
Sure the offense could be better. George is the only one averaging more than 13 points per game and the Pacers still play without a traditional point guard.
But that's part of the draw. Their bench ranks in the bottom five of scoring, and they're still 19-3. George is the only headlining scorer, and still they're the Association's top team.
Best of all, Indiana is wise beyond its years.
"It's just one game," Hibbert said of the Pacers' win over Miami, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "We're going to learn from it. It's a learning experience. It's still early in the season. We have a lot more work to do."
This comes from the mouth of a 27-year-old Hibbert, who's known for issuing occasionally brash comments—only not then. Not after Indy's biggest victory of the season.
The Pacers are still so young. Only three players on their roster are 31 or older. And their franchise cornerstone, George, is 23. But they're already a contender, rivaling championship teams like the Heat and Spurs.
Wouldn't you be optimistic, too?
Put Your Hands in the Air...
And wave them like you just don't care.
This is that kind of team. Fun, but serious. Self-assured, but not cocky. Unflappable, but not passive. Young, but not inexperienced.
"This team has incredible will and heart and desire to do whatever it takes," Vogel said following their win over the Heat, via USA Today's Candace Buckner. "Whatever needs to happen for us to get a win, that's what they do."
That's certainly what they did against Miami. Trailing by seven at halftime, Indiana came storming back, outscoring the Heat by 11 in the third before delivering a death knell in the fourth.
Which team will win the NBA's Eastern Conference?
For one night, for another night, the Pacers were better than the Heat. Sure things are nonexistent in the NBA, but it could be the first of many more nights. It could be a sign the Eastern Conference's torch is about to be passed. That's the ceiling of these Pacers.
"It means a lot for us to not get too down about the game that we had in OKC (a 118-94 loss on Sunday) and come in to still focus to get a big game," West said afterward. "It says a lot about how mature this group is and how focused we are."
Says even more about their future, and just how blindingly bright it is.