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Stellar season helping Pacers' George rewrite his story

Game by game, Indiana's do-it-all forward is distancing himself from the gruesome injury he suffered in 2014

POSTED: Jan 22, 2016 10:31 AM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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Paul George is averaging career highs in several categories this season.

It's a part of Paul George's story, now and forever.

But that's all it is, just a part of his story.

The Indiana Pacers All-Star forward has to relive that moment, when he fractured his right leg in the summer of 2014, in his own mind, let alone every time someone brings up that fateful day.

George has recovered from it and moved on in a way that you might expect from a gritty, self-made star, a three-time All-Star after Thursday's All-Star starters were announced.

USAB Scrimmage Recap

Paul George was carried off on a stretcher after suffering a gruesome leg injury Friday night.

His triumphant return to form this season is another part of his story, the one he's rewriting in his first full and healthy season since his injury. Making it back to pre-injury form would have been remarkable enough on its own, but to come back better than ever, the way George has, is what is truly jaw-dropping.

"It's great to see him back," TNT analyst Kenny Smith said. "Not only is he playing at an All-Star level, he's probably playing better than he did prior to getting the injury."

George is averaging a career-best 23.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals while still playing at an elite level on defense.

He's also adjusting to Indiana's small-ball style that pushed him out of his comfort zone and into a role he's had to embrace as the Pacers reinvent themselves after they parted with big men David West and Roy Hibbert in the offseason.

The league has changed as well. Small-ball is all the rage, the pace-and-space style has spread from coast to coast and the Golden State Warriors have stepped into the role as the new kids on the block, the role many pundits thought George and the Pacers were lined up for before he went down.

Inside The NBA: Paul George

Pacers' All-Star Paul George joins the Inside set to talk about his resurgence after battling back from a terrible leg injury.

The job has gotten much tougher.

"It's definitely harder," George told the Inside the NBA crew. "When I was playing [before the injury] it was the transition to small ball. Teams were starting to go that way. When I got back, that's what it is, it's all small ball. I had been used to two bigs running around, running off of them, now it's like I'm running off the same guards."

George's masterful handling of that transition has been the difference between a Pacers team that could have easily been stuck in the lottery mix for a second straight season and the one that's currently in the middle of the mix for a top four spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

"I feel like we can make a push to kind of separate ourselves," he said, "because we've been playing good as of late."

For everyone who watched the game and saw the injury, and kind of followed me through the whole process of rehabbing, and to get to this point of being named an All-Star, I feel like everyone was there with me ... it's an honor to be called with the starting five, to showcase this game. It's a blessing.

– Indiana Pacers star Paul George

Tonight's matchup against the white-hot Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena (10:30 ET, ESPN) will be as good a test as there is for any team that fancies itself a legitimate playoff contender.

For George, though, it's yet another opportunity for one of the league's brightest young starts (he's just 25) to remind everyone of exactly who he is, that his story is still being written.

The injury, the comeback, the return to All-Star form and whatever comes next, it's all a part of the story, now and forever.

"There's no words," George said of the feeling of being voted in as an All-Star starter. "For everyone who watched the game and saw the injury, and kind of followed me through the whole process of rehabbing, and to get to this point of being named an All-Star, I feel like everyone was there with me ... it's an honor to be called with the starting five, to showcase this game. It's a blessing."

The Top 10 in this week's KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:

1.Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week's ranking: No. 1

All-Star Top 10: Stephen Curry

Check out the top 10 plays from Western Conference All-Star Stephen Curry!

Curry unleashed some of his best work after the Warriors' ugly loss in Detroit last weekend. In back-to-back 30-point blowouts over Cleveland and Chicago -- both on the road -- he showed why he's the reigning Kia MVP and the frontrunner for the award again. He shredded the Cavaliers for 35 points (making 7-for-12 from deep) in just 28 minutes. He followed that up with 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in the demolition of the Bulls. He committed just three turnovers during those two games. Announced as an All-Star starter Thursday, Curry and the Warriors get back to business tonight against Indiana at Oracle Arena.

2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Last week's ranking: No. 2

All-Star Top 10: Kawhi Leonard

Check out the top 10 plays from Western Conference All-Star Kawhi Leonard!

Leonard's work through the first half of this season was rewarded, appropriately, with his first All-Star nod, as a starter. The real treat, however, comes Monday, when Leonard and the Spurs get their first live look at the Warriors at Oracle Arena (10:30 ET, NBA TV). It's the showdown we've all been looking forward to, the two best teams in the league finally facing off, and the league's most unstoppable offensive force (Stephen Curry) against the league's most relentless defender, provided Leonard draws the assignment often enough. Leonard continues to impress by doing whatever the Spurs need him to (scoring, defending,e tc.) to secure wins.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Last week's ranking: No. 3

All-Star Top 10: LeBron James

Check out the top 10 plays from Eastern Conference All-Star LeBron James!

It's like he told TNT's Craig Sager after the Cavaliers' bounce back win over the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday night: "we've worked too damn hard to be throwing up red flags" after that humbling defeat to the Golden State Warriors on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There was sniping in the locker room after that loss and a "clear the air" session the day after, a session that no doubt began and ended with LeBron venting his frustrations about his team's shortcomings against the champs. If LeBron's response (22 points, 12 assists, five rebounds) counts for anything, we should all consider the message delivered and received.

4. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week's ranking: No. 4

All-Star Top 10: Kevin Durant

Check out the top 10 plays from Western Conference All-Star Kevin Durant!

Durant was voted in as a starter for his seventh All-Star Game Thursday night, and given the way he has performed of late, it would have been a travesty for him to miss out on that first five status. Durant's averaging 26.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 10 games so far this month. He's in the midst of his most efficient season as a pro, with both he and fellow All-Star starter Russell Westbrook working as well together as they ever have. Durant's currently on a streak of 29 straight games scoring 20 or more points, the sort of wicked run that you might expect from a four-time scoring champion.

5. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Last week's ranking: No. 5

Butler Dominates Sixers

Jimmy Butler scores a career high 53 points along with 10 rebounds and six assists to lead the comeback victory for the Bulls.

Butler should have been a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star team as there's no disputing his worthiness. But he'll have to settle for making it Toronto next month as a reserve. He's done yeoman's work for a Bulls team that's been smothered, at times, by drama or injuries, and often times both. Butler's refusal to allow the Bulls to stay down for long has been perhaps his most effective contribution to the cause this season. He's the leader of that pack, whether everyone else in that Bulls locker room is ready to admit or not.

6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week's ranking: No. 6

All-Star Top 10: Russell Westbrook

Check out the top 10 plays from Western Conference All-Star Russell Westbrook!

Those concerns folks had a few years ago about Westbrook being more shooting guard than point guard seem ridiculous now, given the way he's performed this season. Westbrook has had 15 assists in three of his last seven games and is currently working on a run of four straight games with double-digit assists. He's as unique an all-around force as Stephen Curry, his backcourt mate in the Western Conference All-Star starting lineup, is a scoring machine at the position. Westbrook is averaging 18.5 points, 11.1 assists, 8.2 rebounds and 2.3 steals this month.

7. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Last week's ranking: No. 7

Green Notches Eighth Triple-Double

Draymond Green records a triple double scoring 11 points with 13 rebounds and ten assists versus Portland.

Green didn't make the cut on the fan vote for the All-Star starters, but he should only have to wait a week before finding out he's officially an All-Star. The reserves will be announced next Thursday. In the meantime, Green can continue going about the business of helping the Warriors devour the opposition. Even with his modest scoring numbers (14.5 points per game on the season), Green's overall impact (9.5 rebounds, 7.4 steaks, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals) remains undeniable. The Warriors simply would not be able to play the way they do without him.

8. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Last week's ranking: No. 8

Paul Carves Up Heat

Chris Paul leads a balanced attack with 15 points and 12 dimes, Cole Aldrich steps up with 19 points and seven rebounds as the Clippers take it 104-90.

You couldn't do much more than what Paul has done to lift his team up since Blake Griffin went down with his quad tendon injury. His work this month (21.8 points, 11.4 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.6 steals) pushed the Clippers back into the mix of the Western Conference and league elite, while also serving as reminder that he must be included in any conversation about the league's best point guard. Paul was spectacular in Monday's overtime win over the Rockets (28 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, six assists and a block) and Thursday's loss to the Cavaliers (30 points, nine assists, three rebounds, three steals and a block).

9. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

Last week's ranking: Not ranked

All-Star Top 10: Paul George

Check out the top 10 plays from Eastern Conference All-Star Paul George!

George has cooled off from his spectacular start to this season, but still earned his third All-Star nod of his career and second as a starter. Considering where he's come from since his nasty injury in the summer of 2014, his comeback is as good as anything we've seen in recent years. George is averaging a career-best 23.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals while also excelling as one of the league's best perimeter defenders. George's return has also meant a return to the playoff mix for the Pacers, who are a vastly different team now than they were where when he suffered his injury.

10. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

Last week's ranking: No. 9

Drummond Solid vs. Pelicans

Highlights form Andre Drummond as he scores 19 points and grabs 22 rebounds in the Pistons loss.

Drummond's free throw issues are epic -- he set a NBA single-game record with 23 misses on his franchise-record 36 attempts in Wednesday's win over the Rockets. It's enough to drive Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy over the edge where the Hack-a-Drummond strategy is concerned. But even with his dreadful work from the line, Drummond continues to do the rest of his work at an elite level. He collected his league-leading 37th double-double (19 points and 22 rebounds to go along with four steals) in Thursday's loss to Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Next five: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors; James Harden, Houston Rockets; Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat; DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors; Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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