Move to Power Forward Highlights Paul George's Elite Versatility

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers before the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 12, 2015 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Playing shooting guard, small forward and point forward isn't enough for Paul George.

He's now ready to take his versatile act to the power forward position.

"I'll be ready for it," he said of manning the 4 next season, per the Indianapolis Star's Dana Hunsinger Benbow. "I'm working on making that change and being prepared to play some forward this year."

George, who was limited to just six games in 2014-15 while battling a variety of injuries, most notably a broken right leg he suffered with Team USA last August, isn't randomly bragging or trying to rub his protean positional chops in the faces of you, me or Roy Hibbert. He's merely heeding team president Larry Bird's call to action.

Immediately after the Indiana Pacers' 38-win campaign ended, Bird emphasized that he wanted the franchise to get with the contemporary offensive program: 

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

One of Bird's keys for next year is playing "a little faster tempo... We’ve gotta score more points and to do that, you’ve gotta run."

Picking up the pace is associated with running small these days. Stretch forwards and centers who can shoot from the perimeter aren't just luxurious anomalies. They're now the standard.

Lumbering bigs are the outcasts. And one need only circle back to head coach Frank Vogel's indifference toward the paint-clogger that is Hibbert to see the Pacers are ready to conform, per the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner:

Candace Buckner @CandaceDBuckner

Does new scheme mean Roy Hibbert will be benched, Vogel said: "Possibly." "Roy's role will be diminished." There it is again.

OK, so, this is for real. The Pacers want to play small. It's happening.

And it's happening because of George.

The Pacers aren't looking for outside help to reconfigure their space-slaughtering lineup. Once David West ($12.6 million) and Hibbert ($15.5 million) exercise their player options, Bird will be forced to shell out $64.1 million in guaranteed salary before even factoring in the team's first-round pick (No. 11).

Next season's cap is set for $67.1 million, per DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony. Barring a Hibbert-sized salary dump, the Pacers won't have the financial flexibility to go out and sign one of those fancy-schmancy stretch forwards. 

Luckily for Bird and crew, they needn't try to spend money they don't have on a new-age power forward. George has them covered.

Listed at 6'8", he's not the ideal height for the 4 spot. Players of his size do get by, but there's a tacit 6'9" and up rule. If you're any shorter, your team isn't playing small; it's running super small.

Is George now the ideal size to play stretch 4?
Is George now the ideal size to play stretch 4?Allen Einstein/Getty Images

But this assumes George is still 6'8". 

Which, apparently, he isn't.

Back in December of 2011, when the NBA was fresh out of a lockout, the Indianapolis Star's Mike Wells quietly came to find that George grew two inches over the offseason. That means he's 6'10" at minimum now, and that means he's more Kevin Durant—in positional function, comment-section sourpusses—than undersized.

It's still crazy to think that George will spend ample, if not a majority of his time at power forward. Not four years ago, most of his minutes came at shooting guard. It wasn't until the 2012-13 season that he made the switch to small forward:

Trotting George out at power forward does indeed represent a stark change for the Pacers. Traditional lineups are their calling card. They win by slowing the pace, not pushing it.

They kill with you size, not speed.

Still, because of George's skill set, this ranks as a good move. Dan Feldman touches upon why for NBC Sports:

He’s strong enough to defend players there, especially as the league goes smaller. And he could switch on any screen.

Offensively, he’d spread the floor with his shooting. He’d have opportunities to drive against slower-footed players, which would be just lethal. And his passing would be a real asset from the four.

It might be a little bumpier for the Pacers to adjust overall, because they’ve gotten so used to their style of play. But the upside is high in large part because of George.

Even in today's NBA, where outside shooting is more common among frontcourt talents, George will remain a mismatch for most 4s. He's cleared 36 percent shooting from beyond the arc in each of the last four seasons, and in 2013-14, his last healthy crusade, he drilled a scintillating 43.3 percent of his spot-up treys.

George's experience in other roles is also something to which most of his new peers won't lay claim.

Having spent most of his career as a shooting guard and small forward, he's not dependent on others; he knows how to create his own shots. Nearly half of his made baskets went unassisted in 2013-14. The laterally limited Kevin Loves and Jared Sullingers won't be able to guard him off the dribble.

More than that, he, like Durant, has established himself as a preeminent point forward. The Pacers haven't fielded a true point guard in the starting five since Darren Collison called Indiana home in 2011-12. They've instead relied on George Hill, Lance Stephenson (now of the Charlotte Hornets) and George himself.

In 2013-14, George posted the second-highest assist percentage among every Pacers player to log at least 600 minutes, behind only Stephenson. He had a helping hand in 17.9 percent of all made baskets when on the floor.

Combine that with his career-high 21.7 points per game and 36.4 percent clip from deep, and he joined an incredibly special club.

Here's the list of every forward to average at least 21.5 points, shoot 36 percent from long range and maintain an assist percentage of 17.5 that season:

  • Kevin Durant
  • Paul George
  • LeBron James
  • Kevin Love

Some company.

Each of the other three superstars is among the most versatile forwards in the game. Durant and James, most notably, shimmy between the small forward and power forward spots, and typically do so to positive consequence:

PER By Position for LeBron and KD (2014-15)
Kevin Durant28.730.6+1.9
LeBron James25.532.4+6.9
Source: 82games.com.

It's reasonable to assume George will experience a similar uptick in his player efficiency rating. During his limited time at power forward in 2013-14, he posted a PER of 50, up from the 21.7 he notched at small forward, according to 82games.com.

Small sample sizes and yada, yada, yada. But you get the point.

George, at this point, is the Eastern Conference's version of KD.
George, at this point, is the Eastern Conference's version of KD.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

There's a strong chance, if not an inevitability, that he performs even better because of how drastically different the Pacers offense will look. Scroll through game footage of their offense this past season, and it's easy to see how the addition of even one rangy floor-spacer will significantly—and positively—impact their clunky point-piling machine.

Exhibit C(logged):

Credit: NBA.com.

Exhibit G(alumphing):

Credit: NBA.com.

Exhibit L(ogjammed): 

Credit: NBA.com.

Deploy West at center and George at power forward, and the Pacers will forge more operating room in the half court.

Run small, and they'll have five-man combinations more apt to getting out in transition.

The offense won't be perfect, not with the other limited personnel they have in place. But it will be better—an upgrade over the 23rd-ranked attack from last season, the one that played a part in them missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

And that improvement will be made possible by George, the superstar who came in as a shooting guard but is now so much more.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball-Insiders.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale. 


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