Why Paul George's Superstar Ceiling Is Higher Than Carmelo Anthony's

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2013

If you were starting an NBA team today and had to choose between Carmelo Anthony and Paul George as your franchise's cornerstone, who would you pick?

Your natural inclination might be to go with Anthony, a six-time All-Star and the league's 2012-13 scoring champion.

Yet Paul George, at only 23 years old, has a much brighter future ahead of him.

While George may never match Anthony's elite scoring ability, his well-roundedness will more than compensate for that potential shortcoming.

Anthony, to put it bluntly, is more or less a one-trick pony. When he has the ball in his hands, he's much more inclined to focus on scoring rather than surveying the court for an open teammate.

As noted by ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh, Anthony finished with fewer assists (8) throughout his entire six-game second-round playoff series than LeBron James did in just Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals (10). That single-mindedness is a significant detriment to Anthony's chances of ever winning an NBA championship as a team's No. 1 option.

Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert explained to Haberstroh that James' versatility is what makes him such a nightmare for opposing defenses.

"It’s kind of putting me in an uneasy situation because you have LeBron coming at you at 100 miles an hour and he can take off from anywhere," Hibbert said following Game 1 of the conference finals. "What do you do? Do you try to stop him or do you worry about that pass? "

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The Pacers' big man didn't mince his words when describing the major difference between James and Anthony.

"Last series, you didn't have to worry about guys making plays like that," he said. "Carmelo is just coming straight at you, it's easy to deal with."

Knowing that Anthony will likely have tunnel vision en route to the basket, all Hibbert needs to worry about is verticality when he jumps to defend a shot. James, on the other hand, presents a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't conundrum for defenders.

Based on his breakout 2012-13 season, George appears to be far more in the mold of James than Anthony.

The 23-year-old averaged 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game for the Pacers throughout the postseason. Considering his per-game regular-season averages of 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists, his playoff statistics can't simply be chalked up to a small-sample-size anomaly.

George's breakout year didn't come easy, though.  With Danny Granger sidelined by knee troubles, George struggled as the Pacers' No. 1 offensive option early in the season, shooting only 39.2 percent from the floor during November.

After being held scoreless against the Golden State Warriors on December 1, however, George began to turn things around. He exploded for 34 points on 14-of-25 shooting in an 80-76 win over the Chicago Bulls three nights later and never looked back.

Over the course of the regular season, George shot just under 42 percent overall. If he's going to be the Pacers' top offensive option moving forward, he'll clearly need to boost his shooting percentage to the mid- to high-40s (at least) for Indiana to remain a championship contender.

With that said, Anthony only holds a slight advantage over George in the shooting efficiency department. Carmelo's true shooting percentage (.560) and effective field-goal percentage (.502) from the regular season trumped George's (.531 and .491, respectively), but again, this past season was George's first as his team's main offensive weapon.

The disappointment of coming so close to an NBA championship should only fuel George to continue improving during the offseason. It's not unrealistic to expect him to make a sizable leap in terms of shooting efficiency during the 2013-14 season.

He'll also need to significantly cut down on his turnovers to propel the Pacers back to the conference finals. After averaging roughly one giveaway every six possessions in the regular season, he turned the ball over nearly one in every five possessions throughout the playoffs.

Anthony holds the clear advantage over George in that regard. He averaged fewer than one turnover for every 10 possessions in the regular season (setting a career-low turnover rate), and gave the ball away roughly only once every 12 possessions in the postseason.

Turnovers plagued the entire Pacers team this season, which ended up being their undoing during Game 7 of the conference finals against the Miami Heat. George needs to rectify that weakness with a bevy of ball-handling and passing drills during the offseason, plain and simple.

While Anthony puts George to shame in terms of turnover rate, he can't hold a candle to the young Pacers star on defense. Despite only being three years into his NBA career, George has already emerged as one of the most fearsome wing defenders in the league.

He's still prone to inexperienced mistakes, which LeBron exploited at the end of Game 1 in the conference finals, but those miscues are rarely due to lack of effort.

Anthony, contrastingly, continues to face questions about his defensive intensity. An NBA scout told ESPNNewYork.com that "at times, [Anthony] just gives up on plays a little bit, as opposed to being locked in all the time."

Could Anthony improve as a defender and a passer? It's possible, but 10 years into his career, it's not likely that he'll make major strides in either department.

George, on the other hand, still stands to improve his game significantly as he approaches his athletic prime in the coming years.

That's why George, not Anthony, is the superstar forward you'd want to build a team around.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics come from Basketball-Reference

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