If there is one thing the Indiana Pacers have recently been known for, it is their players’ effort, underrated skill and drastic improvement each season. Paul George, who just earned his first All-Star selection in the 2012-13 season, has emerged as the franchise’s best asset. Considering the impact he has made for the organization in just three seasons, it may not be a stretch to say that George could eclipse Reggie Miller as the face of the Indiana Pacers.
When Reggie Miller’s name enters discussions, the argument begins to center on 3-point shooting. That’s inevitable, especially with his 2,560 career 3-pointers being second only to current Miami Heat veteran Ray Allen. With Allen’s accuracy from beyond the arc being nearly identical at 40.1 percent (compared to Miller’s 39.5 percent), the debate for “greatest shooter of all-time” is hard to give to Miller. However, you can comfortably say that Miller proved to be the greatest shooter and player in Pacers’ history. According to BasketballReference.com, Miller is the team’s career leader in points, games played, field goals, 3-point field goals, free throws, assists, steals, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, and win shares. Regardless of his career averages, these accomplishments are incredible when you consider Miller’s consistent production through his 18 seasons.
Flashing forward to Paul George’s era (which began after the 2010 draft), it’s difficult to predict George’s name in the same category with the “pure shooter” reputation Miller occupied. As he has progressively improved his outside shooting since his rookie year, George’s career 3-point percentage is 35.8 percent.
— Larra Overton (@LarraOverton) February 5, 2013
This isn’t a substantial difference from Miller’s accuracy from deep and I’m a firm believer that George will become closer to a 40-percent 3-point shooter in the next few seasons. The effect that Danny Granger‘s absence had on George and the Pacers was huge on the offensive end, as they were limited on scoring options that they trusted. George was asked, and expected, to do more than he ever has, which led to his increase in 3-point attempts last season. His 5.9 3-point attempts per game is something that we saw from the NBA’s Most Improved Player, but may not see for the next few years. While George will also be considered a tremendous shooter throughout his career, that is NOT an area that will raise him above Reggie Miller’s legacy.
Looking at a broader aspect of one’s basketball skill, the question gets even more interesting. By far, Paul George is the more versatile player. Averaging 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game in 2012-13, George’s efforts exceeded any expectations that people had of him after his second year in the league. Once again, the development of his game and experience as the go-to guy for the Pacers could mainly be due to Granger’s injury-plagued season last year.
While Reggie Miller’s scoring numbers in his first three NBA seasons (16.8 points per game) were higher than Georges’ 12.9 points per game, there is no disputing that George has already proven to have the more aggressive game with a wider range of skills. Listed at 6’8″ and being a hybrid of the shooting guard and small forward positions, George greatly surprised me with his rebounding numbers this past season. Miller, listed as 6’7″, never quite added that piece to his arsenal.
Keep this is mind: Reggie Miller never recorded a season average of 4.0 rebounds or higher, nor did he ever average more than 4.0 assists per game.
Paul George just surpassed both of those in his third season.
It is too early in his career to claim that George will have six-plus seasons of 20 points per game or higher like Miller, but it is rather easy to point out that George brings more to the table with his skill set.
The Championship Evaluation
This is ultimately where most debates are settled. In Reggie Miller’s 18-year career, it may shock most fans to know that he only reached one NBA Finals. Yes, his heroics against the New York Knicks will always be remembered as one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history. What will be forgotten is Miller’s horrific performance in Game 1 of the 2000 NBA Finals. Recording a career-low seven points, Miller would go on to shoot 1-for-16 and allow his team to get off to the wrong start in the series. This has been considered one of the worst Finals performances in history, considering the caliber of Miller’s game during the veteran years of his career.
Miller would play five more seasons after the Finals loss to the Lakers, all of which never included another trip to the grand stage.
Paul George, on the other hand, looks to be on his way to not only reaching more NBA Finals, but finishing the job and winning a title. In his third season, he led his team through a tough series in the Eastern Conference Finals against the goliath Miami Heat. Not all things can go well for a 23-year old star, however, as he choked in the biggest game of his career, scoring only seven points on 2-of-9 shooting in Game 7 of the series.
Understanding that George will have a career-changing decision to make in next summer’s free agency period, it’s obvious that he has a future consisting of championships coming his way. Whether it be re-signing with Indiana, taking his talents out west to the Los Angeles Lakers, or any alternative, George will automatically give a contending team the extra push they need.
The Better All-Time Player?
We are still 15 seasons from seeing the same length of playing time for Reggie Miller and Paul George. These two undoubtedly stand as the past and future of the Indiana Pacers, respectively. Comparing the improvement that George put on display this season to the peak of Miller’s career, it is likely that George has the better statistical career due to his versatility.
Many questions about George still remain unanswered. Will he be able to pursue a 18-year career? Does he remain a member of the Pacers after next season? Can he get over the hump and win a championship?
It will be hard to replace Reggie Miller as the all-time greatest Pacer. If George leaves town, that ends the discussion for that title.
Wherever he decides to continue his career, Paul George will have a greater legacy than Reggie Miller.