Photo Credit: Hyku, Flickr.com
With the announcement that Paul George had made the 2012-13 NBA All-Star team, the young Indiana Pacer established himself as one of the brightest young stars in the league.
George, who is just 22 years old, has had a breakout season in Indiana while Danny Granger has been sidelined with Injury. The change in George’s game this season has been drastic, statistically as well as visually. The 6-10 swingman has been the star on a team challenging for a homecourt advantage in the playoffs and looks to be relishing his opportunity to be the go-to guy on the team.
It may seem premature to bring up George’s name with the truly elite in the NBA, but his versatile, two-way game is one of the most impactful in the league and with former stars underperforming or franchise players yet to step on the court due to injury, it could well mean that George is among the very best in the league at this stage of the season. Before you draw a conclusion on George’s ranking, let’s break down the different aspects of his game and dive a bit further in to why he has become so impactful.
Scoring: Averaging more than 17 points per game, George has fast become a versatile offensive weapon capable of playing inside as well as utilizing a dangerous outside shooting stroke. His 3-point shooting, where he ranks among the league leaders in makes and attempts, has single-handedly won the Pacers games this season, dragging them back from deficits or completely putting teams away in a hurry.
George has sunk multiple 3-pointers in all but 19 of his 47 games so far this season. He set a career high with 37 points, including 9-of-13 from 3-point range, in a win over the New Orleans Hornets. His huge height and length advantage over the vast majority of wing defenders allows George to shoot at will straight over the outstretched hands of his opponents. His shooting form and release point make his jump shot nearly impossible to block.
He is a sensational finisher in transition and is one of the best athletes in the league. His previous appearance in the NBA dunk contest and his regular appearance on highlight reels are a testament to his aerial ability and his creativity. The development of his post game and mid-range jumper is next on George’s agenda, but both have also seen a steady improvement.
Rebounding: George has taken another huge step in his game with his ability on the glass, where his contribution of 7.7 rebounds per contest has been a surprising addition to the Pacers this season. With a solid starting frontcourt of David West and Roy Hibbert, as well as serviceable backups, the result of George’s surge up the rebounding ranks would appear to be based more so on ability than underachievement from the frontcourt.
George’s great length and jumping ability allow him to quickly move from his perimeter defensive assignment and into the paint to collect the board in a split second. He prevents a large amount of long rebounds ending up back with the opposition after long jump shots by swooping in and cutting off the ball before it reaches the perimeter. His ability to put the ball on the floor and his speed on court allows him to grab the board and quickly head into offensive transition.
Playmaking and off-ball offense: Without a true point guard handling the offense in Indiana, George shares playmaking duties with combo guard George Hill. With an improved handle and ability to keep the ball low when on the move, George has become extremely capable of getting around defenders or into the paint with a series of dribble moves. This ability to break down the defense helps to produce his near four-assist-per-game average.
He is a capable entry passer into the post, where Hibbert and West do most of their offensive work. The long-range shooting ability forces defenses to stay locked in on George and allows the Pacers’ two big men to work one-on-one. George is an active offensive player, moving exceptionally well without the ball, getting to his spots and setting himself for catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Defense: This is the area of George’s game that starts to separate him from other players in the league. Despite his number of minutes and his offensive responsibilities, George has worked to become one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. He ranks sixth overall in the league in defensive rating, where all five players above him are paint-anchoring centers. In fact, he is one of just five wing players in the top 20.
His ability to guard multiple positions, switch on picks-and-rolls and cover for teammates makes him an absolute pest to an opposing offense. He has the second-highest defensive win shares rating behind Chicago Bulls’ Defensive Player of the Year candidate Joakim Noah. George’s length makes him a terror in the passing lanes where he uses his speed and long arms to force opposing guards into turnovers. He is in the top 10 in the NBA for both total steals and steals per game.
His aforementioned rebounding ability is a huge plus to the Pacers defense overall. While the big men box out and lock down the paint once a shot goes up, George swoops in to take care of any long bouncing balls before the opposition has a chance for an offensive board. Having a third high-quality rebounder in their starting lineup is part of the reason the Pacers have been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA thus far this season.
There is no doubt that George still has a lot of untapped potential left in his 6-10 frame. His rare combination of athleticism, shooting, length and defensive instincts are a rare combination usually reserved for only the best players in the league. While there is no debate that there is still a large gap between the Pacers’ new star and the likes of the LeBron James’ in the league, the fact is that George’s overall impact on the game is far greater than many more well-known players around the league.
When you take in to account offensive output, defensive capabilities and contribution to team success, the list of players who compare to George shortens dramatically. Despite Granger’s absence, it must be noted that the supporting cast in Indiana is a strong one. They are well coached, have a solid defensive anchor and consistent performers. They are, however, a team built around having a dominant wing player, a role which had been filled for years by Granger. Despite not yet reaching the scoring output of Granger, it could easily be argued that the overall impact that George has had on the team this season is greater than that of their veteran star.
The best players in the league possess a versatility to their games that allows them to impact their team’s outcome despite having an off night in a particular area. If the outside shot isn’t falling, they go inside and draw contact. If they can’t get it going offensively, they lock in on D and grab you double-digit rebounds. George is one of those rare players that could potentially have an impact in any aspect of a game.
In a season where some of the league’s best players have yet to step on the court or others who have missed significant time due to injuries, George has grabbed his opportunity with both hands and has not looked back. His selection as an All-Star is a just reward and shows that opposing coaches are fully aware of just how much of an impact the 22-year-old has on a game’s outcome. The general public may take some time to catch up, but with a high chance of seeing some high-flying antics in Houston, it won’t be long before George is a recognizable name as a star in the NBA.
When you take into account every aspect of basketball at its core, each individual skill and overall impact to a team’s success, George has to be mentioned among the very best the league has to offer. He is not a franchise-changing MVP candidate, but there are fewer than 10 of those in the league. Compare his overall performance to the rest of the league and depending on how you personally assess the “best” players in the game, George should not look out of place on any top 20 list.
Fact is, with youth on his side, a dedicated attitude to improving himself and phenomenal natural ability, talking about Paul George on a top 20 list is likely just scratching the surface of what could blossom into a long-term, All-NBA level career.
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