Indiana Pacers 2013-14 Player Review: Paul George

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After inking a maximum contract extension, the big question surrounding Paul George this season was if he could continue to take the next step toward stardom. How successful was he during his first year playing the role of the Pacers' No. 1 guy?

Paul George / Small Forward /  Age 24

Regular Season:

80 GS, 36.2 MP, .424 FG%, .364 3P%, .864 FT%, 6.8 TRB, 3.5 AST, 1.9 STL, 2.8 TOV, 21.7 PTS

Playoffs:

19 GS, 41.1 MP, .438 FG%, .403 3P%, .789 FT%, 7.6 TRB, 3.8 AST, 2.2 STL, 2.6 TOV, 22.6 PTS

2014/15 Contract Status: $16,072,350 (Note: Amount is estimated to reflect Paul George's pay bump worth 27% of the projected 2014-2015 salary cap. When he was selected to an All-NBA team for the second time during the life of his rookie-scale contract, George became eligible for nearly a $7 million pay raise over the full-life of his 5-year maximum contract extension).

Agreeing to terms on a five-year maximum contract with the potential to be worth upwards of $90 million, the Pacers cemented Paul George's status as the guy on the Indiana Pacers for the foreseeable future. During the 2013-2014 regular season, Indiana's freshly anointed franchise player attempted a total of 1362 field goals (186 more than he attempted during the 2012-2013 season and 423 more than the next nearest starter, David West). Scoring 21.7 points and creating 8.1 points per game, PG was responsible, on average, for nearly 31% of the Pacers' offense on a nightly basis. When he was on the floor, 28.3% of the team's plays were used by him.

This was the first year that George admitted to having trained to be what he described to the Indianapolis Star as the "No. 1 guy." Making it his mission to move into the upper echelons of the league's elite, George began the season strong. Averaging 23 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 5 assists while limiting opponent's to just 91.0 points per 100 possessions in the month of November, the Pacers' star inserted himself briefly into the MVP conversation as both a lethal scorer and lock-down defender. Having only received 80,060 votes in the 2013 All-Star balloting (10th best among Eastern Conference backcourt nominees), Paul's lightning quick rise to fame made him more of a household name this go-around and helped him earn 1.2 million votes as well as his second consecutive All-Star appearance.

Following the league's midseason moratorium, PG's productivity experienced a decline along with the rest of his team's. In the absence of a consistent offensive creator, combating double-teams became a nightly challenge. With little space to operate in an already stagnant offense, low-percentage shots and inconsistent shooting plagued the Pacers' star. By March, he was posting a plus/minus of -5.4 and shooting just 37.2% from the field and 29.7% from three over a span of 18 games.

Attempting to hone his midrange jumper, practicing his attack from the elbow, and working on isolation plays, Paul George had trained in advance for the physical demands of being an elite player in the NBA.  Preparing for fame and all that comes along with it, perhaps proved to be slightly more trying. Dealing with the push-and-pull of national advertisers along with the distractions of rumors and internet gossip, George admitted to the Indy Star's Candace Buckner that stardom definitely has a "learning-curve."

Despite his and the team's second half swoon, PG's stats improved across the board during the 2014 playoffs. Logging heavy minutes and tasked with guarding the other team's best player more often than not, George's scoring output oscillated during the postseason. While consistency remains a goal worth chasing, the Pacers' star came prepared on numerous occasions to deliver when his team needed him most. Averaging a double-double against Atlanta while corralling Jeff Teague, pulling his team back from a 19 point deficit against Washington, or pouring in 37 points in an elimination game against Miami, the Blue and Gold's franchise player proved he is more than capable of being the guy moving forward.

How did Paul George impress:

According to NBA.com's Player Tracking data when filtering only those players averaging at least 34 mpg, Paul George posted the second highest catch and shoot effective field goal percentage (60.4%) amongst small forwards this season, trailing only LeBron James (65.5%). Aiming to refine his midrange shooting touch, PG's jumper became more accurate from every distance this season (3-10ft: 25% in 2013, 36% in 2014; 10-16ft: 37.2% 2013, 40.2% in 2014; 16ft >3: 36.9% in 2013, 39.2% in 2014; 3P: 36.2% in 2013, 36.4% in 2014).

Whether against single coverage or double-teams, George, unsurprisingly, was far more efficient individually when he was able to shake off his defenders. Per Synergy Sports, PG shot 44.8% on spot-ups (248 attempts) ranking 16th in the league and 61.5% on cuts (78 attempts).

Being named to the league's All-Defensive First Team, George was definitely one of the league's premier perimeter defenders this season. According to basketball reference, Paul George was the only player in the NBA to tally at least 20 blocks, 150 steals, and 470 defensive rebounds during the regular season.  NBA.com also notes that George was the only player to average at least 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Typically assigned to his opponent's best player, George allowed just 97.0 points per 100 possessions (3rd best in league) and ranked second in the league in defensive win shares (6.4).

How did Paul George disappoint:

Whether left with no other options as a result of poor spacing or simply just trying to play hero ball, it was when the ball stuck that Paul George got himself into trouble this season forcing bad shots and surrendering possessions. Ranking 52nd in the league, he scored just 0.92 points per possession on isolation plays, per Synergy Sports. Things got even dicier when he was tasked with playing the role of the pick and roll ball handler, where he scored just 0.79 points per possession and turned the ball over 18.4% of the time. Of the 224 turnovers George committed this season, 128 of them were the result of a bad pass.

Although fault cannot be placed on players for logging heavy minutes and miles, Paul George's game likely suffered to a degree from tired legs and an inconsistent bench. Fatigue should not be used as an excuse for poor shooting or mental errors, but it can be considered as a contributing factor among many. There was a lot of outside noise when Frank Vogel decided to rest his starters against Milwaukee during their horrid stretch of play late in the season, but it was likely warranted. During the regular season, PG ranked fourth in the league in total distance traveled (203.89). Through Game 4 of the NBA Finals, he was still leading the entire field in miles logged during the playoffs (52.08).

What's next:

The next time we see or hear from Paul George will likely be with regard to the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball (August 30 - September 14). As it stands now, USA Basketball has named the Pacers' star to it's 28 player-pool later to be reduced to 12. Having previously participated on the USA Select Team and at the 2013 USA Basketball Team Mini-camp, George made a good impression on at least one member of the selection committee:

If PG is indeed chosen to represent the United States in Spain this summer, expect him to continue to learn and grow from the experience of being surrounded by so many talented players and coaches. Despite what any of his advanced numbers say (good, bad, or otherwise) from this season, the most important statistic to remember when it comes to Paul George is that he is only 24 years old and still has room to improve and the desire to do so:

***

What grade would you assess Paul George for the 2013-2014 season? How would you judge Paul George's performance during his first official year as the guy?

 

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