USA TODAY Sports
NBA observers can nit pick over tired assessments of the Pacers talent all they want but the fact remains that the team presents two All-Star caliber options this year.
There's a common narrative in place for the Indiana Pacers that they are a good team that plays well together but don't have the star or stars to compete with the elite talent in the NBA. Danny Granger is their best player and while he's a solid NBA scorer, he's not a superstar. Gotta have a superstar to be taken seriously.
That story has changed drastically over the past couple of months but I still read analysis of the Pacers tinged with those stale thoughts from last May when the Pacers fell to the Miami Heat. I also see it surfacing in analysis of All-Star reserve options.
Look, there is no doubt the Pacers started the season without their best player (Granger) and had to adjust. But as we sit here in late January, the Pacers are no longer playing without their best player...or players.
Paul George has emerged as a legitimate offensive threat that must be accounted for while playing defense better than any wing player in the NBA. PG has made some of the league's best offensive threats work extremely hard for anything they get.
David West has been a consistent force on the block, making everything run better when he's on the floor. When a key bucket it needed, West is always an option to find a way to free himself for an open look.
So why do the Pacers, with the third best record in the East have to settle for one or none All-Stars? Heck, the Celtics have two players starting the ASG and they are currently an eight seed in the East with a sub-.500 record.
David West deserves a nod, although I'm sure he'd rather take the time to rest. If I had to choose just one, for practical reasons I'd go with George. For starters, he's played at an All-Star level so is derserving. Plus, his game continues trending up and when you consider the future of the franchise, he's the face that pops up. Having that face in the ASG at age 22 would be huge.
And again, he's earned the honor.
Unfortunately, there is no stat for when PG gets down in a deep defensive stance, with his 6'11 wingspan unfurled only to see his man pass on the effort it would take to try to attack. We need a number for forcing a "nevermind" pass.
Consider some of the numbers PG forced against elite talent of late.
- Rudy Gay scored 14 points on 22 shots in the Pacers win over the Grizz on Monday. Combine that with Gay's game in Indy and the Memphis swingman scored 25 points on 39 shots over two games. There were times on Monday when Gay appeared to have this song going through his head as he squeezed off shots while feeling George's presence.
- On Friday night, James Harden was held nine points under his scoring average, needing 19 shots to score 17 points. PG grabbed five steals while laying 31 points with seven three-pointers on the Rockets.
- Against the Knicks, PG hounded J.R. Smith all night. To his credit, Smith hit some amazing shots and ended with 25 points, but he also needed 29 shots and was flat out worn out by game's end. PG had six steals to go along with 24 points and 11 rebounds when he wasn't chasing Smith.
- In the Pacers' win over the Heat, PG played every second LeBron James played and outscored the Heat star, 29 to 22. James turned the ball over seven times and used 20 shots to get his points. Not sure how some define superstar, but PG was the best player on the floor that night.
Now admittedly, the Pacers aren't the easiest team to catch on TV and their poor offense/high-octane defense surely doesn't entice many neutral observers. But it has been a beautiful thing to watch as the young talent for the Pacers continues to grow and emerge with David West continuing to lend a guiding hand while averaging over 16 points and 8 rebounds per game.
The combination of George and West have changed the game in Indy, not to mention the story lines for the team which should result in an All-Star invite times two. But fear not, if no one notices the pair at the All-Star break, they will in the post-season.