Indiana's Paul George was selected to his first All-Star team this year. Here is his story.
A raw, unproven product joins a mid-table, unproven team.
When the Indiana Pacers picked Paul George with the 10th pick of the 2010 NBA draft, they had perhaps an equal idea of what they were getting and what could potentially lie in store ahead. The physical attributes were clearly encouraging. A 6-foot-8 perimeter threat that could play and defend multiple positions. A 20-year-old project that was both a wildcard and a sure-shot, a risk and a guarantee. A rookie that came off the bench for the majority of his first season, but impressed enough on the defensive end to earn a starting spot in the playoffs. A young man who played less than 20 minutes a game, averaging less than eight points a contest, and failed to make a mark in his own class of NBA newcomers, falling out of the All-Rookie First Team.
An opportunity given; an opportunity cherished.
In his second season with the Pacers, coach Frank Vogel – coming off an impressive showing at the playoffs – put his faith into the young George and placed him into the team’s starting lineup. George starts all 66 games of the lockout-shortened season, and increases his production per game in nearly every statistical category across the board, including points (12.1), rebounds (5.6), assists, shooting percentages, and most importantly, minutes. Still a younger member of the squad, he had to play fourth or fifth fiddle for the Pacers behind the likes of Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert Jr., and sometimes George Hill, too. He thrived in his limited role, and stepped up in the playoffs to challenge the game’s greatest duo – LeBron James and Dwayne Wade – defending them hard all series to give his underdog team a brief glimmering hope in the eventual second round loss.
A leader falls; another leader rises.
Carrying off from last year’s encouraging playoff performance, the Pacers began this season with optimism. The development of youngsters like George and Hibbert (who was named an All-Star last year) was to align perfectly with the experience of Granger and West. Unfortunately, the best laid plans went awry. Granger – the leading offensive threat on a defensive team – injured his left knee early in the season and was ruled out for over three months. After breaking through to the All-Star level last year, Hibbert struggled to keep up the momentum and slowed down this season. The Pacers season of optimism was turning into a nightmare. But young Paul George – just in his third NBA season – found the silver lining in the dark clouds and sketched it out until the entire cloud started to look brighter.
Boosted to the team’s primary perimeter offensive threat in Granger’s absence, George suddenly became Indiana's most important player, leading them in minutes per game and answering back to lead the team in scoring – 17.4 ppg – through 44 games this season. He scored a career-high 37 points in a win over the Hornets in November, and didn’t slow down from there. With every passing contest, he's showcased new strengths in his game. His perimeter defense is still his calling card, but now, he had become the team’s go-to guy on the other end too. The Pacers – suspected to flounder after the loss of Granger – remained in the chase for the top spots in the East.
A star is born.
“I don’t want to be cocky in any ways, but I knew this is the level I could play that,” George had told USA Today soon after he was made an All-Star for the first time in his young career.
The talk isn’t of potential and upside anymore. The talk is of stardom, here and now. The 22-year-old Paul George was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team last week. His tremendous improvement rewarded, he will now focus on the second half of the season, knowing that he is right on course to achieving the goals that all young NBA players dream of. The eventual return of Granger will strengthen this team even more, and once the playoffs begin, George will be ready to shine under the limelight.
A chapter ends; another one begins.