By all accounts, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George got off to a rough start this season. Most of that had to do with an ankle injury that caused the All-Star to miss seven of the Pacers first 24 games. Over the last week, however, the George of old has begun to emerge. He’s led the Pacers to a 3-1 mark, improving them to 13-12 on the season and into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. During the three victories, George has led the team in scoring and the outlook going forward is much more optimistic than it was just a few weeks ago.
While all three victories were impressive, the one that got people talking the most was a 118-111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Behind 37 points from George, the Pacers rallied to win. For Pacers fans, this was time for renewed excitement for a team that has been teetering around .500 all season, but for George, it was just about getting back to being a leader for the team.
Prior to their recent run, George had watched the team go 3-3 in his absence and was eager to return, but knew he needed to be 100 percent if he was going to truly help the team. After first injuring his ankle, he played three games, averaging only 17.3 points per game, shooting a woeful 33.9 percent from the floor. During the Pacers recent run, however, George’s offensive game has taken shape and he has also regained his lateral quickness, allowing him to be a good stopper on defense. In their 109-94 win over the Phoenix Suns, in addition to the 25 points and 13 rebounds he racked up, George also held the high-scoring Devin Booker to just 13 points on 6-15 shooting.
Now seemingly healthy, George’s season numbers are actually better than his career averages. He is averaging 21.8 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the floor and 92 percent from the foul line. His career shooting averages in those areas are 42 percent and 84 percent respectively. So, what does it all mean? For starters, with a healthy George teaming with Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner and Jeff Teague, the Pacers lineup looks much more formidable. Add to that the fact that of their nine remaining games in December, only two (the Chicago Bulls twice) currently reside in the top eight in their respective conferences (although six of the nine are on the road) and the Pacers have a chance to end the year with a strong finish and stake their claim to being in the playoff race for the remainder of the season.
However, until the trade deadline, or until the Pacers formally say they won’t move him, the team will have to deal with the persistent rumors that George could be traded. Regardless what happens though, even if George falls out of favor with Pacers brass, Kevin Durant will always like him.