Why Is Paul George Struggling so Badly?

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 7, 2014

It's no secret that Paul George and the Indiana Pacers are in a bit of a funk.

Dropping eight of their last 11 games, the Pacers are no longer the powerhouse that was dominating the Eastern Conference early in the season.

While fingers can be pointed in a number of areas, the main source of blame should fall squarely on George.

The 23-year-old forward resembled an MVP candidate in the early going, leading the Pacers to a 16-1 start to the year. In recent weeks, problems on and off the court have diminished his production, and the Pacers' record has suffered because of it.

So, what exactly is George's problem?


What's Gone Wrong?

George's production has slowly been on the decline since the beginning of the year. Take a look at his scoring and shooting percentage numbers per month:


The high shooting percentages George put up in November and December have quickly plummeted to sub-.400/.300 levels.

While his rebounding and assists numbers have remained solid, George's defense has also taken a hit.

Before the February 20 trade deadline, George had a fantastic defensive rating of 93.8. Since then, this number has risen to 100.3.

So we know George has been struggling primarily with his shot and defense, but why?


Teams Guarding George Better?

We might as well start with the first theory regarding George's poor play, brought to you by the man himself.

"Teams were figuring out how to slow me down," George told Zak Keefer of USA Today. "I'm just trying to learn you can't beat a whole team, and that's what I was going through."

Okay, so that makes some sense. Indiana doesn't have a lot of strong offensive options, with George being by far its best go-to guy. Opposing teams could make stopping George their No. 1 priority and force guys like Lance Stephenson and David West to beat them.

Still, that doesn't explain the poor defensive numbers as of late.

Let's keep digging.


Too Much Mileage?

George has played in all 78 Pacers games so far this season, averaging 36.2 minutes a night. Put the two together and George has totaled 2823 minutes, good for sixth most in the league. Given his activity on both offense and defense, this can all add up to some tired legs, even for a 23-year-old.

George has covered a total of 196.2 miles this year, which ranks second among all NBA players. Only Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers has racked up a greater distance.

Anyone who's played basketball before knows that tired legs lead to bad shots, which would help factor in the decline of his field-goal percentage. This could also help explain his drop-off on defense.

What about the Pacers' poor record as of late? Surely there has to be more to it than George just being a little tired, right?


Off-Court Distractions

As reported by Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star, George seems to be having other things going on in his life besides basketball.

In February, George was asked about fathering a child with a Miami stripper, which he seemed to acknowledge.

"If and when there is any legal confirmation I'm the father, I embrace it. I step up to it," George told reporters.

In March, another story surrounding George made headlines that could have potentially affected the Pacers' chemistry.

While George claimed he wasn't "catfished" a la Manti Te'o, it's clear he was swapping some less-than desirable pictures with someone online.

"The whole story, as far as me being catfished, I know the girl that sent the pictures out," George told The Indianapolis Star. "It wasn't a catfish story, it was a girl – I don't want to get into the story but I know who's behind it."

George is certainly welcome to his personal life, although when that life keeps surfacing in the media, it can rub teammates the wrong way.

"Guys have to be able to keep their personal life that – as personal. A lot of that comes with just maturity and understanding any little thing can derail what you're trying to accomplish on the floor," teammate David West told Buckner.

Ideally, these matters would have been kept private between George and the women involved. However, it appears to have had a direct effect on the Pacers' team and especially George's drop in performance.

Finally, it's all coming together.


Perfect Storm

One cannot point to a single reason for George's struggles lately.

Obviously, he's had some off-court issues to deal with in the past few months that seem like they could have been avoided.

Add that in with the fact George is one of the most overworked players on the court, and it's no wonder why we're seeing him perform the way he has. Teams can also focus on shutting him down since the Pacers have few alternative weapons on offense.

Teammates like Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson aren't doing George and the Pacers any favors, either. Hibbert has already called out players for being selfish, while Stephenson appears to be sleep-walking through April (6.7 points on 38.1 percent shooting).

The Pacers as a team need guys like Stephenson, West, Hibbert, George Hill and Evan Turner to help shoulder the scoring load so teams can't lock in on George.

At this point, George isn't going to get any rest with the playoffs right around the corner. He'll have to put the off-court issues behind him if possible and focus on preventing future distractions from arising.

Whatever the case may be, Indiana has to hope we see the Paul George from early 2013-14 very, very soon.


All stats via NBA.com/stats unless otherwise noted and are accurate as of April 7.


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