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Player Review: Paul George needed help

The two-way star’s frustration was palpable, but it was also understandable.

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Bird’s ill-conceived attempt to improve the team’s offensive efficiency with multiple ball-dominant scorers and paint-bound bigs was presumably done with the intent of lessening George’s two-way burden. Instead, his team’s unsuccessful attempt to outrun opponents, without the benefit of consistent off-ball threats, rebounding, or sound defense, ended up producing the exact opposite result at the worst possible time.

"As I told Larry, I always want to play on a winning team,” George told ESPN’s Marc Stein while discussing his future with the Indiana Pacers on ESPN Radio’s Meet the All-Stars back in February. “I always want to be part of a team that has a chance to win it [all]. That's important.”

How did Paul George impress?

So important, in fact, that his fantastic play in the post-season almost made the reality of the Pacers investing a combined $28 million in Rodney Stuckey, Monta Ellis, and Al Jefferson sting that much more. While George was averaging 28.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists, one of those three names was no longer with the team, another was being blatantly ignored by the defense, and the other never managed to get off the bench. That hurts, but it also puts what he was able to do against the Cavaliers for four games into better perspective.

Recall, first, that Cleveland ruthlessly alternated between treating Monta as either a convenient hiding place for Kevin Love or a welcomed opportunity for LeBron James to roam. Here, following an offensive rebound, Love opted to abandon the non-shooting shooting guard in the corner — where he shot 28.2 percent thru 82 games — to load up on Paul George.

This, along with Indiana’s bigs being slow to flash the paint, poor rotation decisions, and C.J. Miles struggling to connect from three (31%), forced the four-time All-Star into needing to take and make more tough shots to keep Indiana’s sweep competitive.

How did Paul George disappoint?

Roster flaws aside, George needs to find a way to redistribute his field goal attempts. On the season, almost 40 percent of his shots came from mid-range. Leaning so heavily on his in-between game creates a dual-problem: One, it means fewer looks from behind the arc, where he was one of only six forwards in the league to shoot better than 39 percent (minimum five attempts per game), and it isn’t likely to result in him making more trips to the charity stripe. Put simply, it’s hard to draw fouls without attacking the rim. Notably, George only attempts 2.7 shots in the restricted area per game, significantly fewer than James Harden (5.2) and Russell Westbrook (7.4) — the league’s leaders in free throw attempts.

It would also help his cause with officials if, instead of purposefully trying to draw contact, he more routinely tried to score through contact.

Here, George’s steps are noticeably measured. Because he’s expecting the whistle to blow, he ends up spinning the ball wildly off the glass.

Whether he realizes it or not, this particular source of frustration was more within his control than his team’s leaky defense.

Switching was a nightmare, but when Jeff Teague and Myles Turner couldn’t contain the 1-5 pick and roll, George would have to sag off of his man into the paint to help. If he couldn’t recover fast enough, he would end up surrendering a wide-open three.

Such was the case, below. Teague couldn’t contain Kyle Lowry’s dribble penetration, which forced Turner to hedge and prevented him from being able to recover to the roll man. George rotated over to Jonas Valanciunas, but doing so left Serge Ibaka open on the wing (splash).

It was moments like these that oftentimes produced the so-called lazy moments like these. Where appearing listless and drained by his team’s early-game deficit, George allowed Rajon Rondo to grab not one, but two offensive rebounds while he made minimal effort to box out.

George’s frustration with the defense doesn’t excuse these sort of possessions, but it does explain them.

What’s next?

Paul George’s All-NBA status will decide whether the four-time All-Star is eligible to become $70 million richer and could therefore impact his willingness to remain with the Indiana Pacers. Money talks; however, as last season proved, so does roster construction.

"We talked about a lot of different things. In every scenario he talked about being here. That’s important," Kevin Pritchard told the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor. "He wants to win. Picking up Lance late in the year made us a better team and got us into the playoffs. We want to win. We want successful teams year in and year out, and that has to do with Paul. He wants to win, the Pacers want to win, we’re on the same page.”

They better be. Because if Pritchard can’t get him the help he needs, waiting to see if he makes an All-NBA Team next season will likely be too little to late.

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