Indiana Pacers: Has Paul George Already Peaked?

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George is still one of the best in the Eastern Conference, but have we already seen the best he has to offer?

The Indiana PacersPaul George just had one of his best performances of the season in a thrilling win over the Atlanta Hawks.

He scored 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting, drained six threes and even helped set up Glenn Robinson III for the game-winning triple.

It was the kind of exuberant win, coupled with two solid showings in Texas, that signals this Pacers squad is gearing up for the playoffs.

It also distracts from the creeping criticism and doubts around the league as to just how good Paul George is and can be. The conclusion is varied on his superstar abilities and how much he could change a championship contender. Has George already peaked?

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This question will dominate the Pacers’ offseason. Do they part with George and rebuild? Or do they try to retain him and contend for a title once again?

In the wake of the trade deadline, where the Pacers entertained offers from the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers among others, many got the sense that the franchise’s asking price was too high. Is George really worth all that much in this stage of his career?

Indiana Pacers
Indiana Pacers /

Indiana Pacers

Does his going to Boston make them a legit challenger with the Cleveland Cavaliers? Would his going to L.A. drastically speed up the rebuilding process there?

For one thing, it appears as though George has plateaued the past few seasons, at least during regular-season play. Now, plateau can seem like a negative word. It undersells just how consistent and important George has been for the Pacers for years.

Excluding his injury-shortened 2014-15 season, George has nearly identical stats in the past four years. He’s continually hit around 22-23 points per game, six to seven rebounds and three to four assists. Even the shooting percentages are similar.

George came onto the scene so quickly in the 2013-14 season that many expected him to have some sort of meteoric rise to the top. That hasn’t happened. In its stead, it’s been steady, great basketball.

Maybe a readjustment of our expectations of George is needed, even with all the potential he showed in those playoff series. He’s no bad player by any means. But, some of those performances suggested a future star alongside Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why is all this criticism and worry happening now? Well, there are only so few players available every year that can really change the fortunes of a franchise. George is precariously on that line.

This is the first season where so many other teams are focusing on him and wondering if he can put them over the top. So far, the assessment has been mixed. It’s hard not agree with them considering his numbers this season.

It’s extremely worrisome that George hasn’t improved much offensively from ages 22 to 26. His current field-goal percentage of 44.1 is a tad above his career average. Same with his three-point shooting percentage of 38.3.

Where it gets frustrating is the fact those numbers aren’t all that different from four years ago. Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler have developed their three-point shooting over time. George started solid and stayed solid.

Another big concern in his offensive game is his lack of playmaking. Again, excluding that injury year, George is averaging the fewest assists he’s had since his second year in the league.

He’s also only getting to the foul line 4.8 times per game, an abysmally low number for a player thought to be a franchise player.

Both these numbers indicate that, while George can still score a hefty amount of points, he’s not really doing much other than that. He’s not frustrating the opposing defense with drives to the basket, and he’s not getting his teammates as involved.

The idea that he’s actually gotten worse in these areas as he reaches his supposed athletic prime isn’t good.

However, he is just 26 years old, younger than Butler and barely older than Leonard. George has plenty of time to still improve, and it could be that the Pacers haven’t given him the best opportunity to do so.

Since the Pacers were a strong contender against the Miami Heat a few seasons ago, there’s been a lot of instability with the roster. Those teams had Roy Hibbert, George Hill, David West and Lance Stephenson. Now it’s just George left over.

The Pacers are in the midst of a pseudo-rebuilding project. They are a fine enough team that should make the playoffs, but they really only have two assets: George and Myles Turner. George seems to have taken on the symptoms of his franchise.

He’s a once- shining star seemingly destined for years of top-flight basketball now muddled in the awkward area of “good but not good enough.”

What all this comes down to are the playoffs. The Pacers ultimately kept George before the deadline because they weren’t happy with the offers. Possibly, if George goes lights out in the postseason, they can get something much better in return for him.

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After all, it’s hard to be too skeptical of George’s superstar abilities given his playoff performances.

George really first broke on the scene in the 2013 postseason, where he played 19 games and averaged 19.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. The next postseason, he would again play 19 games and increase his averages to 22.6 points and 7.6 rebounds.

Arguably, outside of James, there was nobody better in the Eastern Conference playoffs than George.

Take last season. A decent Pacers squad took a much better Toronto Raptors team to seven games. Thanks to the efforts of George, they nearly even upset them. George played the best ball of his career in that series: 27.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals.

He did it all on his best shooting numbers, too (45.5 percent from the field, 41.9 percent from three). It was a Herculean effort that reminded everybody what George could be. Too bad he hasn’t been able to stretch out those playoff games into season-long performances.

It goes without saying that this upcoming postseason will help answer whether or not George has somehow peaked at just 26. His numbers have leveled off enough in the past few years to be seriously concerned on whether he will ever shoot, rebound or pass better.

They’re still good numbers, just not the best player on a true championship contender numbers.

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If George elevates his play and the Pacers can stir up some magic, the concern should be abated. If his numbers stagnate, then everyone already knows exactly who George is and what to expect. Even if that’s the case, peaking as a legitimate two-way All-Star isn’t so bad.