Paul George Finding Comfort in Uncomfortable Role with New-Look Pacers

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterDecember 8, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC -  NOVEMBER 24: Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers looks on during the game against the Washington Wizards on November 24, 2015 at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. 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 Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS  Unfair as it might be just to assume, physical recovery should happen—from the ugly injuries, too.

With the very best medical advancements and the experience elite athletes have in healing and believing in their bodies their whole lives, a fallen superstar in his mid-20s has every reason to bounce back and get his body working again.

To come back and be as dominant as Paul George has been this season is different.

That's winning the mind game in blowout fashion.

Shortly after George's right leg snapped during a Team USA scrimmage on Aug. 1, 2014, he got his mind past the why-me frustrations and sadness over letting his Pacers teammates down, even expressing confidence on Twitter before entering surgery that very night.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers smile after Bryant hit a three-point basket with time running out in the fourth quarter of the basketball game at Staples Center November 2
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

But if you're a star with a previously clean bill of health, you imagine coming back and playing the same way, continuing the career arc you always envisioned. George solely patterned himself after childhood hero Kobe Bryant and saw himself as the next incredible individual gunslinger who was unguardable off the dribble in the half court.

If George had never gotten hurt, his vision was to be so great that no one would ever dream of shaking up his position—like Bryant.

The Pacers decided, however, that Bryant's time had passed in more ways than one. Indiana, much like the undefeated Warriors they host Tuesday night, decided to play smaller, faster and move the ball quicker and sharper.

The abacus way of isolations on the wing, George sizing up his defender, would be replaced with modern spread-floor NBA systems.

Accepting that went far deeper than a new playbook for George. Accepting that meant he had to bury the dream he had for himself, the clear image he'd continued to use to fuel his recovery.

So George, 25, not only had to work his way back into form, he had to shift gears and adopt a new vision.

You heard the rumblings before the season about how George wasn't too jazzed about Larry Bird and Frank Vogel's intentions to move him to power forward. The discomfort was completely logical. It was a plan preventing him from executing a direct line back to what he once was.

If George, deep down, felt entitled to coming back his way, though, he never would've been able to do what he has been doing in the Pacers' new offense. He had to be humble enough to form a new vision for himself, one that others saw for him...and saw being best for his team.

Mentally, George had to be strong enough to come back and be the same but different.

INDANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 6:  Frank Vogel and Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers talk on the bench against the Miami Heat on November 6, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or us
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Fully healthy players have balked in the past about positional realignment. Stan Van Gundy had to sell Rashard Lewis hard on being bumped up from small forward to power forward in Orlando. The result was a spot in the 2009 NBA Finals.

For the record, Vogel also stayed open-minded about it, recognizing the value of George's prodigious defensive gifts against perimeter players and now more often employing skinny, 6'6" C.J. Miles as Indiana's power forward in post defense.

Thus George is likely to be assigned the task of trying to contain the amazing Stephen Curry show.

That matchup is, in many ways, the new mirror image for George—no matter that he's 6'9" to Curry's 6'3".

George (averaging 27.6 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 8.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals through Monday) has more than doubled his three-point shooting output and is hitting 45.4 percent from deep.

He is the key to Indiana's version of the Golden State offense, but as with Curry, it doesn't all start and end with one guy in Indiana.

Curry and George both stand among the who's-who group of 13 headliners leading the league in usage rate (percentage of the team's offensive possessions used), all generally around 30 percent: DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Curry, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, George, Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin, Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 5: Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers shoots against the Utah Jazz during the game on December 5, 2015 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downl
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

More telling is "clutch" usage (neither team ahead by more than five points, less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter or overtime): Old-school ball dominators such as James (53 percent) and Harden (47.5) hold the ball the way George dreamed of and Bryant used to (44 percent in his final championship season, 2009-10).

But the Warriors and Curry (40.2) and the Pacers and George (39.7) keep going with the team flow.

At 12-7, the Pacers aren't nearly perfect at it, but they are only a half-game behind Cleveland atop the Eastern Conference. Of course, George is still adjusting, as almost half his shots (48.7 percent) remain pull-up jumpers, and he's shooting just 38.1 percent on those.

But the progress is obvious.

The great comeback is even more obvious.

Kudos to George for understanding and embracing that his return to glory could happen differently than he pictured.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.