By now, we've heard all the reasons why Paul George shouldn't play the four: he's out-sized, out-wingspanned, out-bruted, and out-rebounded; a prime candidate for wear and tear, and re-injury risk.
But what about the reasons why he should make the switch? Other than Larry Bird and Frank Vogel, few seem willing to strike up that conversation, which is what drew my interest to Andrew Sharp's pro-PG-4 commentary for Grantland. Sharp went well beyond the low-hanging fruit of, "Because the Pacers want to go small," to explain his affection for George's transition:
Why should anyone be excited about Paul George playing power forward?
Because watching George try to carry the offense at small forward was nearly as painful as watching the Pacers try to be a contender with Roy Hibbert. If this shift were just about optimizing the Pacers' roster to play small with Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey, the logic would be much harder to defend. But no. This is about the Pacers weaponizing Paul George.
It makes sense that George would be cautious. Hearing "power forward" conjures images of Zach Randolph, and nobody wants to imagine a night against Z-Bo, especially someone coming off a broken leg. We're still learning about what smaller players can handle. Most players aren't as injury-prone as Dudley, but the concern over wear and tear is reasonable. Vogel will have to be careful about managing George's minutes at the 4. But even if there will be nights when George's job gets a little bit more complicated on defense, the uptick in his quality of life on offense could make the whole thing worth it.
At small forward, George struggled to create off the dribble — especially in the playoffs. He still got his numbers, and his defense made him an All-NBA candidate regardless, but his game could look ugly as he tried to assert himself, and the Pacers offense wasn't much better. When his favorite move — long, contested pull-up jumpers — wasn't working, he had few other options in the half court. That's when it got painful watching George try to be MVP.
Frankly, it's hard to disagree. While more than willing to shoulder the load, George hasn't always looked proficient as a primary playmaker and scorer on the wing. As mentioned above, his handle is shaky and his drive-and-finish game average-to-mediocre. Because of those flaws, he too often settles for long twos and contested threes. Playing more 4 won't correct all of that, but it could certainly help as Sharp noted:
This is where we end: People may see this as a case of Larry Bird asking too much of his best player, but really, this is the same kind of divine lineup intervention that made Dirk Nowitzki unstoppable. It's also the change that someone like Carmelo Anthony never got in his prime...
...With no Hibbert or West down low, he'll have more space than ever to attack the rim. It makes his biggest weakness — creating in the half court — less likely to slow him down. It makes his strengths — size that 3s can't handle, speed that 4s can't handle, shooting, finishing at the rim — more dangerous than ever. It's not that he'll be playing out of position to suit his teammates; he'll be playing the position that best suits his skills.
Admittedly, Sharp's analysis is tilted in favor of offense, but it's not as though he ignored the potential problems on defense. In fact, he acknowledged them frequently throughout the piece. The overall point was that the offensive advantages far outweigh the defensive disadvantages, which is exactly what Bird and Vogel are betting on as they commence smash-mouth deconstruction.