#24 / Guard-Forward / Indiana Pacers (Rookie)
Not everyone was terribly excited when Paul George’s name was called on Draft Night. A swingman who was being compared mostly to Danny Granger? An upside project on a team that needed immediate help to erase the franchise’s worst season in 21 years? But it wasn’t even a year later that George had impressed fence-leaners and been hailed as the future of the franchise. That’s quite a jump for a 20-year old player coming into the league on a losing mid-major program.
So how do you go from "B- grade pick" to steal of the draft? To be fair, George’s potential was, and is still, largely a mystery. But instead of "will he pan out?" it’s starting to turn into, "just how good will he be?" When you are labeled by "might be the best player in the draft," it’s hard not to get swept up into it. But despite all the hype and praise, George’s rookie season was still an incredible success.
The Legend of George actually began in Summer League when George shook off his inability to even dribble the ball and bad play by capping an impressive comeback against the Celtic summer leaguers. After putting in obscene amounts of work alongside Roy Hibbert, the leaps and bounds George showcased from summer league to preseason was remarkable.
He began the season within the Indiana rotation in place of the suspended Brandon Rush, but once Rush returned, and played well, George was left fighting for scrap minutes that quickly disappeared all together. Over a six week stretch leading up to the New Year, George played just 9 minutes of basketball, far from ideal for a first rounder on a losing team.
He finally started seeing minutes, albeit, far from consistent around the New Year, with a tremendous and highlight reel effort against the Wizards, scoring 13 points, grabbing 7 boards, and knocking out 5 steals in the much needed win. This game really helped showcase George’s defensive chops. Despite being raw at times, the kid was learning and already had the best defensive tools on the team.
Despite empty defensive preaching from Jim O’Brien, George would see big minutes one night, nearly none the next. The inconsistency really held him from exploding for that breakout game Pacers fans were dying to see. Everything was a learning experience for the 20-year-old, who despite 17 points on 10 shots in a loss against Denver, was lit up by a hot Carmelo Anthony. It was a great learning experience, especially when you consider the game and its coaching into context.
Following O’Brien’s firing, George was given steady minutes in the Pacres’ Goon Squad and had his best stretch of the season, playing a big role in the second unit with highlight plays and big defensive showcases, reaching double figures in 12 of 19 games. George was promoted into the starting lineup for the season’s final stretch, and while it helped the team’s effort in clinching their playoff berth, it seemed to relegate George too much on offense. It took him out of plays for long stretches and didn’t do a particularly good job involving him or setting him up in ways that he could help the team.
It wasn’t a major issue except when nothing seemed to work, and a "well, let’s see what George can do" play seemed like the perfect diagnosis, but yet continued to shy away from him. His midrange game proved to be incredibly sublime, but it felt severely underutilized late in the season. When he was hot though, he was tough to stop, finally getting his much maligned three point shot to fall in the playoff clincher against the Wizards, scoring 23 points on five three pointers.
But while his offensive game seemed a little shortchanged, it was his defensive game that was drawing the most attention. As the postseason began, George was given the seemingly impossible task of stopping the season’s future MVP Derrick Rose, who attempted a ridiculous 21 free throw attempts in Game 1. But as the series wore on, it was George’s defense on Rose, defined by big steals, big stops, and three merciless blocks that helped become the blueprint on how to stop the most unstoppable player in the league.
So how did Paul impress?
It was hard to not take notice of how natural it seemed at times for the rookie. In addition to those superb blocks on Rose in the postseason, George fancied himself a highlight factory, with big dunks, big defensive plays, big shots galore. It seemed with the clock running down, he was more than poised to hit the buzzer beater, which he did numerous times. Some of his moves to the basket were certified "big boy" moves, leaving the defense stunned.
His .453 shooting percentage doesn’t look like much, but George shot an astounding .537 within the three point arc. His midrange jumper often seemed the surest thing next to whatever Dirk Nowitzki throws at the basket any given play. And even that 54% seemed fairly low from what he was hitting earlier in the season, when he connected on roughly 100% of his jumpers. That midrange jumper could certainly prove to be one of his most lethal assets moving forward, a devastating bail out and run stopper.
And how did George disappoint?
Most everything disappointing about George in his rookie season seems like it will be fixed in time. His poor three point shooting was curiously confusing. Don’t let his .297 fool you into thinking it was that good. But it never seemed like it was a bad shot for him to put up; it just didn’t fall for him. In fact, most of his weaknesses started coming around as the season progressed. His defense only got better, his ball handling skills improved dramatically. Whether a result of being more active defensively, his fouls grew to troublesome heights during the season’s final stretch.
The only possible concern could be in a lack of flow within the starting lineup offense. That can be possibly be solved by simply making him a larger part, but whether it was his youth leading him to play passive offensively or whether that could be a larger problem will remain to be seen.
Well, what’s next for King George?
The question is pretty simple: How good is Paul George? Can he live up to the Tracy McGrady billings with All-Defensive abilities? Is he a defensively focused Danny Granger? Something as simple as the next Andre Iguodala? Regardless of what he becomes, whether he lives up to any of his hype, there’s no denying he’s the main reason the Pacers and their fans feel good. Watching George grow, with his charisma, strong work ethic, and down to earth likability will be the main reason to tune into Pacers games.
It’s true there are no untouchable players on a 37-win team, but let’s face it: the list of players we’d considering trading George for is dwindling by the day, and it’d take something very impressive to pry him away from this team. It’s good to have a player like that wearing your team’s jersey.