The NBA's free agency period won't officially begin until Dec. 9th, but that hasn't put a damper on any of the excitement in Indianapolis. The Pacers have already been linked with Nene, David West, Carl Landry, Paul Millsap and Rajon Rondo. As excited as I am about the possibilities for new players, the wild guessing and prolific rumormongering can be exhausting. In this lull before anything official can take place I'm channeling my excitement towards the players who are already here.
I'm thankful for so many things about the return of NBA basketball, but I'm especially grateful that Paul George won't miss a year of development. I think George was a pleasant surprise for most Pacers' fans, even those who had high expectations for him at the beginning of the season. He showed off his terrific physical tools, brought maximum effort on defense and flashed the potential for a potent offensive game.
He's young and there's no question that development is needed in several areas, but receiving daily coaching and playing in actual NBA games is the best way to get at it. So what would we like to see from George in his second season? What can we reasonably expect to see?
As part of their annual pre-season publication, Basketball Prospectus uses their SCHOENE system to identify players with similar profiles, at the same age, for each current player. They then use those similarities to help predict development. This year's edition of Basketball Prospectus isn't out yet but we can look to last year's for some clues on where George might be headed. Last year's edition had rookie Joe Johnson and rookie Andre Iguodala as the two most similar players to rookie Paul George. The projection was made before the season started, but turned out to be dead on.
The table below shows some of each player's statistics from their rookie seasons.
George played by far the fewest minutes of the three, but his numbers stack up favorably. His shooting was roughly on par with Johnson's. He was the equal of Iguodala defensively and on the glass, while maintaining a very reasonable TOV% of 13.7%. I was surprised to see that George had a higher Usage Rate and attempted more shots per 36 minutes than either Johnson or Iguodala, but they were playing alongside gunners like Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury as rookies. That may also be a factor in the difference in their passing numbers. George didn't show anything near the passing acumen of Iguodala or Johnson but that seems like a fair trade for his offensive efficiency and defensive contributions.
So what could George's numbers look like if he follows the paths of Johnson and Iguodala? Here are their numbers from their second season.
Improvements and regressions are all over the board. The only consistent impacts of a year of seasoning for both players was more minutes, more shots and more possessions used overall. If George follows the same pattern, and sees a larger offensive role next season (which is a perfectly reasonable assumption), how can the Pacers' best utilize his skills? In what areas can George improve to make himself a more versatile weapon for the Pacers?
The table below shows the numbers for George's offensive possessions last season, broken down by possession type. All the data is from Synergy Sports Technology.
|Possesion Type||% of Time||PPP||FG%||3PT%||TOV%|
|Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler||10.0%||0.78||45.2%||50.0%||20.0%|
It always amazes me who far the numbers can differ from my own recollection. I remember George being merely an inconsistent spot-up shooter, but statistically his performance was downright abyssmal. If we're looking for an area to make improvements this would be a logical place to start. George is going to have plenty of more opportunitiies to work as a spot-up shooter and he has to do better than 30.4%. That number is certainly not indicative of his ceiling as a shooter. He made 10 out of 23 three-pointers in transition situations and, other than a tendency to drift, he has solid mechanics. Becoming comfortable and confident taking those shots is a must.
The other concern is his ability to create offense. His PPP marks of 0.77 and 0.78 for isolations and pick-and-rolls are really troublesome. But again the concern is not as much ability as it is execution. I looked a little closer at his shot attempts in isolation situations with Synergy and found that 42 of those 61 field goal attempts were jumpshots. That means 68.9% of the shots George created for himself in isolations came away from the basket. Not surprisingly , he shot just 26.2% on those iso-jumpers. There's obviously some refinement to be done on his handle, keeping the ball low was a consistent struggle last season. But it seems like a more agressive mentality is just as important as skill development. I'd like to see the edge and confidence he brings to defense on both sides of the floor. I'd like him to play with the mindset that he's the best player on the floor. Whether that's true or not, it will make him play to the strengths of his game instead of fading away from them.
When looking at the more positive parts of his offensive arsenal, the numbers jive perfectly with our memories of George as a rookie. He is a terrific finisher and his most effective opportunities last season were when he caught the ball near the basket with a chance to score. Indiana may want to look at expanding his use as a cutter, getting the ball on the move with one dribble at the most before a shot is going up.
The fantasy would be for George to develop a freakish hybrid of skills on offense - the high-wire explosion of Iguodala with the individual economy of Johnson. The Pacers offense is certain to get more crowded this year with the addition of George Hill, increased minutes for Lance Stephenson, the continuing development of Tyler Hansbrough, not to mention whoever is brought in through free-agency or trades.
Much more should be expected from George than just dunking in the open court or standing in the corner for a kick-out. It may be easy to get excited about all the other shiny new toys the Pacers enter the season with, but his offensive development is going to take a lot of planning and work from George himself and the coaching staff. He needs to make sure his jumpshot is solid, his handle is tight and his confidence brimming. Frank Vogel and company need to seek a balance of situations where success is ensured and situations where success must be seized.