What Paul George Could Learn from LeBron James

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 6, 2014

Paul George is really good at basketball. LeBron James is really, really good at basketball.

Can you imagine what would happen if they combined forces? I might have to come up with an adverb other than "really" to describe the amalgamated player's superiority at the sport.  

Don't worry, though, because I'm not referring to some monster that would result from combining the bodies and skills of the two superstars and throwing a headband on top to cover up the inevitably receding hairline. Instead, I'm just wondering what would come to pass if George were actually tutored by his fellow superstar. 

According to Basketball Insiders’ Jessica Camerato, the Indiana Pacers swingman admitted that he would love to learn from the Miami Heat standout, even though they're burgeoning rivals in the midst of a season that seems sure to pit them against one another in the Eastern Conference Finals: 

It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level. I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to—not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season—but maybe in the summertime.

LeBron and Kevin Durant have worked together in the past, so why not LeBron and George?

After all, there's a lot the 23-year-old could learn from his desired mentor. 


How to Take Advantage of the Post

If there's any one area in which LeBron has a major advantage over his counterpart from the Pacers, it would be working with his back to the basket. And yes, this was a significant weakness for James just a couple years back. 

However, a substantial amount of time and effort has gone into the renovation of James' post game, and the results have made him into an increasingly effective offensive superstar. Before we get into the comparison of these two forwards, just look at how much the reigning MVP improved over the last few seasons: 

Post-Up Weakness No More
Year% Plays UsedPoints Per PossessionNBA Rank
Synergy Sports

First he started making his back-to-the-basket game more of a priority on the court, mostly through the help of Hakeem Olajuwon. Then he brought the efficiency back up to speed, and the result has been an absolutely dominant force throughout the 2013-14 season. 

James' finishes around the rim don't just stem from transition and drives to the hoop, but also when he works out of the post and dazzles opponents with his quick spins and unbelievably effective moves. 

George is a competent post-up player, but he doesn't make this area of his game a priority: 

LeBron vs. George in the Post
Player% Plays UsedPoints per PossessionNBA Rank
Paul George5.20.71113
LeBron James14.91.135
Synergy Sports

While he Indiana swingman might not be the physical behemoth James is, it would still behoove him to receive the ball on the blocks and practice taking advantage of his height. After all, he's generally listed at 6'8", but his frame seems to tower over that of most 6'8" players. 

According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), George is actually worse out of the post than he is in any other situation. That triple-digit NBA rank pales in comparison to every other category, particularly isolation work (No. 30), spot-up shooting (No. 12) and coming off screens (No. 26). 

The Fresno State product is already a dominant offensive force, but he can't reach LeBron's level on that end of the court until he becomes even more of an all-around standout. 

"He is the best post-up player in the league, really," an anonymous scout told SportingNews.com's Sean Deveney in early January, referring to James. "You used to be able to get him to take jumpers in the post, but now he is smarter, he is able to get by you and get himself an easy basket. It's a nightmare. He is that much more efficient."

A few years ago, that would've been a laughable statement. Posting up and shooting jumpers were LeBron's primary weaknesses.

But that's changed rather drastically. George doesn't need advice on how to make his perimeter shooting better, but he could use some help in the other category. 


How to Create for Teammates More Effectively

George sometimes gets credit for being one of the vaunted point-forwards in the NBA, but that's more of a misnomer than anything else. 

During the 2013-14 season, he's averaging only 3.5 assists per game, as he's placed much more of a priority on creating for himself than setting up others. George has consistently displayed great court vision, but sloppiness and an inability to deliver the ball often rule the day. 

Last year, the primary problem was the height of George's dribble. The ball bounced so far up in the air that defenders could easily swipe it away from him, especially when he drove to the hoop through the teeth of the defense. 

That's been remedied this year—partially, at least—but the 23-year-old standout still gets careless with the ball far too often. LeBron can see the turnovers rack up as well, but at least he's creating looks for everyone on the court with ridiculous levels of frequency. 

Once more, let's turn to the head-to-head comparison: 

LeBron vs. George passing the rock
PlayerAPGAST%Assist Opportunities Per Game
LeBron James6.431.811.8
Paul George3.517.47.2
Basketball-Reference and NBA.com's SportVU data

It's not even close. 

When trying to analyze what makes LeBron such a special player, it's pretty much impossible to point to just one aspect of his game. His scoring is spectacular, his defense is divine and his passing skills are pretty sensation. But when compared to the rest of the players at his position, it's the distributing that stands out. 

Which other forward can do this? 

Or this? 

George certainly can't, and he'd benefit greatly from some pointers.

Truth be told, he'll never possess the same type of instincts and ability in this facet of the game, but he can at least maximize the talent he currently possesses. As mentioned above, he does display stellar court vision more often than not. 

Indiana doesn't exactly have the easiest time generating offense, and it would greatly aid the team's point-scoring efforts if there were an elite distributor controlling the ball on the wings. 


How to Handle the Pressure

Mentoring doesn't all have to take place on the court. 

A few years ago, LeBron was on the verge of being considered one of the greatest playoff let-down artists of all time. He'd failed to steer the Cleveland Cavaliers to a title during his time calling The Q home, and he'd completely disappeared against the Dallas Mavericks during the 2011 NBA Finals. 

Then it all changed. 

LeBron thrived during a crucial elimination game against the Boston Celtics then dominated against the Oklahoma City Thunder to earn his first dance with the Larry O'Brien Trophy. One year later, he staved off the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and won his second Finals MVP trophy against the San Antonio Spurs. 

And the narrative shifted. 

His playoff flops were overblown in the past, but the general public still refused to accept that he could be a postseason legend as well as a regular-season one. That's changed in a big way since then, to the point that it's now surprising when LeBron doesn't come up in the clutch. 

On the other hand, we have George. 

The Pacers superstar has never really failed to thrive when the pressure cooker is turned all the way up. In fact, he did everything he could to carry his team to the promised land in spite of LeBron's heroics during the penultimate series of last year's postseason. 

However, there's a big difference between coming up big and actually winning. The former is irrelevant in the eyes of the public when it doesn't lead to a title, or at least a victory when discussing a smaller portion of the season, and a few more campaigns without actually hoisting up the trophy won't do wonders for George's reputation. 

Recently, the two-time All-Star had a chance to beat the Golden State Warriors with only 0.6 seconds left on the shot. He missed, and NBA.com's Manny Randhawa had this to say: 

The 23-year-old will watch film of that shot over and over again so he can make it the next time; a sign of maturity to be sure. George has often spoken of reaching the rarified air of the two men who have set themselves apart as the best of the best in The Association, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And George’s ability to take – and make – the crucial shot with the game hanging in the balance is part of the climb onto the mountain those two occupy. (Sorry, didn’t mean to make any sort of allusion to Mt. Rushmore; let’s not open that box again.)

LeBron has simply been in that situation more often than George, and he has experience with both success and failure. But he's also learned that the superstar doesn't have to be the one taking the shot. 

If you asked me who I wanted taking the game-winning attempt, and I had my choice of every player in the Association, I'd have to roll with Kevin Durant. After all, it's advantageous to have the league's best scorer taking the crucial shot. 

However, I'd rather have the ball in LeBron's hands with the game on the line, simply because he offers more elite options. The reigning MVP is essentially a basketball robot programmed to make the best play possible, whether that requires him shooting or passing, and that's what he can teach George when the seconds are ticking down to triple zeros. 

Whether or not James actually helps George is up in the air. It's hard to see him trying to increase the skills of his biggest in-conference rival, even if they're connected by the bond of friendship and share mutual admiration for one another. 

But as good as George already is, he would have a lot to learn. 


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