From August 8-10, Paul George held his annual Summer Skills Camp in Southern California. While there, he took the time to be interviewed by the Los Angeles Daily News. Throughout the course of the interview, George reflected on the experience the Pacers gained by making it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, by stating, “We learned our lesson. We have to be beasts. We understand how to get it done, now. It's all about experience. Most of our team, it was the first time in the conference finals. We just needed to do a couple things different." George also touched on what areas of his game he would like to improve this summer. The young Pacers star told the Los Angeles Daily News that he is currently working on his midrange game during the offseason. Statistically, RealGM shows that George shot only 34.5% from 10-15 feet last season. In comparison, he shot 37% from 16-23 feet and 55.9% from around the rim. When taking a closer look at George’s shot chart from the 2012-2013 season on nba.com/stats, fans will notice that he shot below the league average in 5 of the Hot Spot Zones inside the 3-point line. George was comparable to the league average in 2 of those Zones from midrange. Notably, the Pacers player was only above the league average in the Hot Spot Zone that extends from beyond the left elbow to the 3-point line.As the stats and shot chart suggest, George working on his midrange game will not only improve his individual game and efficiency, but will also give the Pacers another weapon to work with on offense.
It is not surprising that Paul is, once again, using the offseason to improve various facets of his game. When he received the Most Improved Player Award in May, the story was told in which Paul boldly walked into Coach Vogel’s office and promised to come back as a more versatile player in the 2012-2013 season. George kept his promise. He averaged career highs in points (17.4ppg) and rebounds (7.6rpg). He recorded 150 steals and 40 blocks – the only player in the league to do so. He also led the league in defensive win shares (6.3), which resulted in him placing 8th in the DPOY voting. He was chosen as a first-time All-Star, and he was selected for the Second All-Defensive Team and Third All-NBA Team.
George does not want to stop with merely winning MIP or competing against the Heat in the ECF. He has loftier goals. The Pacers star has been quoted as stating, “I think I can play at an MVP level. I think that’s very much within reach.” According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Paul has already formulated a specific list of skills on which he would like to improve: efficiency from midrange, attacking from the elbow, isolation plays, and, of course, conditioning. Nevertheless, if George wants to truly contend for MVP next season, here are some other areas of his game that he should consider refining or improving:
1. Consistency: Consistency is a must-have for any aspiring MVP. It is an area that George himself has noted as needing improvement for him to take his game to the next level. In fact, he has been quoted as stating, “For me, it’s all about being consistent and having that aggressive mindset.” To his credit, after an off-game, George always seems to bounce-back with a memorable performance. For instance, on December 1, 2012 he came out flat against Golden State and went scoreless for the entire game. In his next performance in Chicago (against a division rival), George put out a monster effort and recorded 34 points. Another example of his resiliency came when he scored just 6 points against the Washington Wizards and followed it up with nine 3 pointers against New Orleans in the next game. Nevertheless, even with those special bounce-back games, MVP candidates cannot have the type of performances George had in Oakland or Washington. Paul cannot be ineffective or go scoreless if the Pacers are going to advance to the NBA Finals. The East definitely is not easy as George’s position. Night-in and night-out he has to face elite talent. Whether it is LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, or Jeff Green, there are no nights off at the swingman position in the Eastern Conference. More attention will be paid to Paul and the Pacers now that he has been an All-Star, and his team advanced to the ECF. If Paul wants to be considered seriously for MVP honors, lead the Pacers to the Finals, or have the terms “young,” “budding,” or “developing” stop preceding the word “superstar,” he must first begin with being more consistent. He needs to find a way to replicate those solid all-around performances in Chicago, New Orleans, or Atlanta (when he recorded his first playoff triple double). If he does so, George will be making a lot more all-star appearances, and his name will be near the top of the MVP ladder.
2. Tighter Handles: One of George’s goals in the 2012 offseason was to come back as a better ball handler. To a certain extent, he accomplished his goal. He is more than capable of playing the role of a point-forward. He can create his own shots off the dribble. He can adeptly create space between himself and his defender. Nevertheless, he could still stand to tighten his handle. George has often recalled the time he spent practicing splitting screens between two chairs in his home when he was growing up. Now, as an NBA player, he, at times, tries to split screens too much or does not make the right basketball decision. Unfortunately, because his ball handling skills still need some refinement, his attempts to split-screens or cross-over defenders can result in unnecessary turnovers. During the 2012-2013 season, Paul committed a total of 233 turnovers. Of those 233 turnovers, 76 were ball handling turnovers.
3. Taking Care of the Ball: As the aforementioned statistic indicates, George gave up the ball fairly often last season. Due to added responsibility, being the primary scoring option, and the absence of Danny Granger, the ball was in Paul George’s hands more than any other season in his young career. As such, he committed a career high in turnovers. In the 2011-2012 season, George gave up the ball 116 times. In the 2012-2013 season, that number doubled to 233. Of those 233 turnovers, stats indicate that: 130 were the result of bad passes, 76 were ball handling turnovers, 26 were offensive fouls, and 1 was categorized as other. George had an assist to turnover ratio of just 1.4. In comparison, LeBron James had an assist to turnover ratio of 2.4. Although George increased his ppg and apg in the postseason, his turnovers also went up from 2.9 turnovers per game to 3.9 turnovers per game. Unquestionably, it is an asset to the Pacers that George is a more than willing passer and that he is a versatile enough player to create his own shot, shoot from the perimeter, and attack the rim. However, he needs to cut down on his turnovers, if he wants to be considered as an MVP candidate or help the Pacers advance deep into the postseason (as a team, the Pacers ranked 7th in the league in most turnovers per game behind only the Rockets, Suns, Nuggets, Thunder, Pistons, and Warriors).
No one can doubt Paul George’s willingness to improve or his work ethic. Coming off a semi-final loss to the Miami Heat in the 2011-2012 season, George promised he would come back as a more versatile player. He did. George said his goal was to become an All-Star. He was one. Now, George believes that with the return of Danny Granger, playoff experience, and the shrewd offseason additions of Luis Scola, C. J. Watson, and Chris Copeland that the team is positioned to compete for a championship. With hard work, determination, and dedication, he pictures himself as someday being in the conversation for league MVP. Some of his teammates scoffed when he was a rookie and he told them that in three years he would be an All-Star. Three years later, he was introduced as an All-Star Reserve in Houston. So is it far-fetched to believe that if George tackles his list of offseason objectives and, perhaps, improves other areas of his game including consistency, tightening his handle, and taking better care of the basketball that he could be named league MVP? Not to him. With Paul George, the sky is the limit. He knows there is always room for improvement. This summer, he will start with improving from midrange, attacking from the elbow, practicing isolation plays, and maintaining his conditioning. Next summer, maybe he will have a new contract, accomplishment, or accolade to show for all the tireless work he puts in perfecting his craft.