After playing the last 15 games in the regular rotation, Paul George is no longer just a rookie - he's a key player off the bench for the Indiana Pacers.
Yes, he's still a rookie, at different times flashing good and bad, great and ridiculous. He can make you raise your eyebrows in wonderment and shake your head in disgust, sometimes on consecutive trips down the floor.
But, the more George plays the more he finds out about the NBA game and his game. What works and what doesn't. What's smart and what's foolish. For instance, George has been almost automatic shooting from a step or two inside the three point arc.
Obviously, that wasn't the preferred shot in Jim O'Brien's offense. If you recall in summer league and in George's appearances early in the season, he struggled shooting from the floor while taking the bulk of his shots from 3-point range right away. George has learned it is better to work his way into the game by making a couple of shots in his comfort zone before extending his range behind the arc.
"I always struggle when I shoot the 3-ball before I shoot any other shots," George said recently. "That's just how it is for me. I know I'm pretty efficient with my mid-range game so anytime I can get to that area to start off it always opens up the rest of my game."
With a solidified role in the playing rotation under Frank Vogel, PG should feel more confident letting the game come to him and working from his comfort zone on out.
One thing that has been consistent is George's effort on the floor, looking to make plays at either end of the floor. He never shies away from the moment and in fact seems eager to jump in the spotlight whenever possible.
While George continues his upward trend, he's too late to be selected to play in the NBA All-Star Rookie/Sophomore Challenge game and that's a shame.
George admitted he's thought about taking part in the all-star weekend festivities.
"I hope I can, because I've been playing pretty good down the stretch here before the break," George said last week. "Hopefully I can keep improving and drop a couple of big games to help me out."
Unfortunately, George's surging play is too late to make the rookie show. According to this report, the rookie team includes: L.A. Clippers forward Blake Griffin, Washington Wizards guard John Wall, L.A. Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, New Jersey Nets forward Derrick Favors, New York Knicks guard Landry Fields, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Wesley Johnson, Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe, and San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal.
How the participants are chosen is unknown, but I would think the league initially assesses the top nine picks and then any players having big seasons from there. Blake Griffin is considered a rookie although was part of the sophomore draft class.
According to Basketball-Reference, George ranks 26th among rookies in minutes played this season. As criminal as that fact may be, since finding his way back in the playing rotation in the last 15 games, George has quickly caught up to other rookies in terms of his performance on the floor.
Plenty of rookies are struggling this year and the minutes played numbers reveal that a lot of those rookies have gotten regular spot minutes compared to PG who only played in two of 24 games after seeing some time in the first six games of the season.
So comparing George's production to other rookies is a bit tricky but he's certainly trending in the right direction. His PER number ranks fifth among all rookies, although two of those names ahead of him have played less than 100 minutes this season and players chosen ahead of George but playing worse get the nod.
The good news is that PG will just keep working and improving and taking advantage of his opportunities to play. Given that opportunity, I'm sure he'll be on the sophomore squad in during all-star weekend next year.
Using Per 36 numbers, George stacks up sixth in scoring and sixth in steals with numbers that should continue to increase with a larger role under Vogel. Again, it is too late for George to make that push, so consider this another blemish on Jim O'Brien's final days with the Pacers.
But forget the numbers, PG's game is tailor made for an all-star game where he can get out run the floor and finish with a flourish. Throw in his unflappable personality and he'd have fans eating out of the palm of his hand and that exposure would help both George and the Pacers.
Why couldn't the NBA throw the Pacers a bone and give them a chance to market one of their young stars? Seems to make sense for a team that desperately needs some exposure? Instead the Clippers get two players in the game.