In August of 2014, an exhibition game took Paul George away from basketball. On Sunday, following a tribute to his self-professed mentor's storied career, another exhibition game showcased his immense talent. But before he was pouring in 41 points and breaking the record for most three-pointers made in an All-Star game, he was fielding questions about his grueling journey back from injury and Kobe Bryant's legacy, which is why Paul George shared a personal exchange between himself and his idol with the assembled media at All-Star weekend in Toronto.
"Recently we sat down and had a talk and (Kobe) was like, "Man, you being a big guard...I think it's important now for you to take these guys to the post and learn how to operate and how to score in the post. He told me that's one thing, in the playoffs, that (he) and Jordan became great at...is scoring from the block and being one-step away from the rim."
With the lion's share of his field goals categorized as either mid-range shots or above the break three-pointers, George is almost exclusively a face-up player. On the year, the three-time All-Star has not even averaged one post-up possession per game. And that's for good reason. The two-way player is in the 15th percentile on that particular play type. Check out how he compares to a few other prominent small forwards.
|Name||Post-up Possessions||Points Per Possession (PPP)||Post-up FG%||Percentile|
A relative stranger to the low-post, here are a few reasons why George should heed Kobe's advice and work to become more comfortable with his back to the basket.
It could help lower his turnover percentage:
Get this: Committing a career-worst 3.7 turnovers per game, Paul George is giving the ball away at a higher rate than 27 of the NBA's starting point guards. Tightening up his handle and resisting the urge to split-screens might help him better protect the basketball, but increasing his number of possessions from the block could eliminate some of his bad passes, which account for more than half of his total turnovers.
Rather than trying to jam passes between multiple defenders or make cavalier behind-the-back passes from wing to the elbow or the top of the key, George, if double-teamed or covered by a more imposing defender, would be making the shorter, and likely safer, pass to open shooters from post position.
Indiana's star is at his best coming off screens and dropping easy passes to hard crashing rim runners. It is when he is tasked with initiating the team's offense off the dribble out beyond 30 feet where he gets himself into trouble. Relocating him to the block on occasion would alleviate some of this burden as well as the team's risk.
It could result in more trips to the free throw line:
Having not attempted a single hook shot all season, George relies heavily upon being able to shoot over the top of smaller defenders on the rare occasion he plays with his back to the basket.
On this elbow touch against Miami's Justise Winslow, he takes a few dribbles to back down his opponent and then turns over his left shoulder to create space before draining the fadeaway.
As was the case here, Indiana's star manages to earn a trip to the free throw line in spite of his penchant for turnaround mid-range jumpers. On a measly 39 possessions, George has drawn shooting fouls at a higher rate on post-ups (25.6%) than he does off screens (9.7%) and cuts (20.0%). Over a larger sample size that percentage could hold, if he develops a counter move (i.e. spinning baseline to a power move or hook shot) and fights his tendency to fade away from defenders.
It could help mitigate some of the highs and lows:
Paul George's hot shooting has become a November tradition of sorts. Then, as the season wears on and the miles start to add up, the two-way star has to weather the storm as he battles physical fatigue as well as multiple defenders.
Below shows how much his catch-and-shoot field-goal percentage has oscillated from month-to-month this season.
Unsurprisingly, the Pacers are 12-11 in games this season when Paul George shoots below 40 percent from the field. Familiar with shooting slumps himself, Kobe advised his protege about the importance of being able to score closer to the rim.
"In the playoffs, jump shots come and go; but, if you can learn how to work from right here, it can kind of unlock and open up everything," George said of his mentor's words of wisdom.
Larry Bird expressed a similar sentiment in a recent Q-and-A with Pacers.com's Mark Montieth.
"It looks to me like he struggles sometimes because he don't have certain parts of...he don't have a post-up game. Maybe we're not setting good enough picks for him. Maybe he's not moving off the ball enough. When it comes easy like it did for him at the beginning of the year, you think it's going to be like that all year. Since he's our key scorer, guess what? The other team's going to shift everything toward him. It makes it a little tougher."
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Of Kobe's words of wisdom, George said they were something he would "cherish." He later told Sage Steele live on SportsCenter that he hoped to get some time to "work out with him" and improve my game. Two summers ago, the now three-time All-Star reunited with former Laker Mike Penberthy to improve on shooting after cutting and on the catch. This summer, perhaps another Laker, the one who's work ethic former associate head coach Brian Shaw once used to motivate the then No. 24 wearing George, will be the one to help Indiana's star find his way on the block.