What's Wrong with Paul George?

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What's Wrong with Paul George?
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Will the real Paul George—the trinity-making small-forward superstar, the one who captivated NBA audiences for the better part of three months—please stand up?

Following a blistering beginning of the season chock full of next-level anointment and endless MVP talk, George has, like his struggling Indiana Pacers, come crashing down to earth.

How hard, you ask? Here’s just a small sampling:

Indeed, Harper’s dig—while amusing—only scratches the surface of George’s post-New Year’s woes:

Bye, George
Stretch Points Rebounds FG% 3P%
October 30 - January 1 23.4 6.0 .467 .390
January 2 - March 23 20.5 7.1 .398 .339

NBA.com

A statistical regression is one thing. George’s woes, on the other hand, may have their roots in something even more tangible.

In a recent article detailing Indiana’s recent struggles, CBS Sports’ Ken Berger unearthed some telling statistics relating to head coach Frank Vogel’s reliance—some might say overreliance—on his starting five and George in particular.

To wit, George had, at that time, run 172.4 miles (the equivalent of 6.5 marathons), per stats provided by NBA.com:

To say the Pacers are no longer the dominant team that sprinted out to a 16-1 start and spent much of the season with the best record (and best defense) in the league would be an overreaction. But there is a dilemma that the Pacers may have to confront before it is too late. Indiana's Big Three of George, Hibbert and West have played in every one of the Pacers' 68 games this season. Not a single game off for any of them. This is in stark contrast to how Gregg Popovich has handled the Spurs for years. Erik Spoelstra has strategically scheduled nights off for his stars, too.

Even for a spry, springy 23-year-old with seemingly endless athletic ability, that’s a lot of wear on the tires.

Berger went on to juxtapose Vogel’s approach with that of some of his more minutes-conscious counterparts, including the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich.

Unfortunately, Indy’s skipper sees things a bit differently, according to Berger: "We keep an eye on our guys. I agree with how Coach Pop handles his team, but we have a younger team. And the veterans wouldn't sit out if you put a gun to their head."

Hyperbole aside, it might be time for Vogel to test his assumptions: With a full three-game lead over the Heat for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, the Pacers should be thinking long and hard about trading wins for rest.

While it’s impossible for Vogel to know exactly what Spoelstra has in mind heading down the stretch, Miami’s own struggles might well force the latter to consider a more cautious minutes-management program.

On Saturday we explored just how vulnerable the East’s supposed beasts have looked, with the latent assumption being that both teams could use a breather ahead of their respective playoff campaigns.

Which brings us back to George, without whose bygone brilliance the Pacers stand little to no chance of besting their bitter rivals.

We broke down George’s regression along some baseline metrics earlier in the piece. Here, we’ll look at the finer details of PG’s poor recent shooting:

George's shooting woes
Stretch 5-9 feet 10-14 feet 15-19 feet 20-24 feet
October 30 - January 1 .469 .407 .467 .468
January 2 - March 23 .351 .351 .376 .434

NBA.com

Notice the eye-popping disparity in mid-range prowess—one of the hallmarks of George’s gangbusters start to the season.

NBA defenses are increasingly being geared toward discouraging high-percentage shots—especially three-pointers from the corner—in lieu of the much-maligned mid-range jumper.

Despite having not hit above 40 percent from 15 to 19 feet out since his rookie season (2010-11), George was all too happy to comply.

For a while at least, George’s improved stroke paid big dividends for the Pacers, who, if not Spurs-esque in their flow and execution, emerged as a more-than-serviceable offense.

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Even George’s struggles at or near the rim (five to nine feet) suggest what so much of our hand-wringing on his behalf has been about: pure fatigue.

It’s hard to believe George’s start to the season was simply too good to be true—a mere basketball mirage arising out of our unquenchable thirst for champions and challengers to the throne.

Indeed, the foundation for greatness is there in the two-way prowess and athletic grace few are privileged enough to enjoy.

Perhaps, then, it’s high time we consider the most logical possibility: Even the upper limits of one of the most eminently talented players in the league are, when all's said and done, that of a human.

 

All stats courtesy of NBA.com (subscription only) and current as of March 23, unless otherwise noted.

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