Another Achievement for PG
January 23, 2014
Paul George can check another item off his to-do list.
First, the Pacers’ driven swingman set out to prove everybody wrong by making it to the NBA. He achieved that goal when the Pacers drafted him in 2010. At the time, the Pacers’ selection of George, a relatively anonymous player out of Fresno State, had fans shrugging their shoulders, unsure of the type of player they were getting.
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But George quickly made a big impression on the league. Last year, he became the first player in his draft class to be an All-Star and he’s now taking that a step further.
In his fourth year as a professional, George is an All-Star starter. The NBA announced Thursday that fans voted for George to be one of five starters for the Eastern Conference in the 2014 All-Star Game, which will be held on Feb. 16 in New Orleans.
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“It’s special, it’s a blessing, especially coming from where I come from,” George said. “A lot of guys come into the league and they already have a name and an image, and fans already are following them and already know about their game coming into the league. For me to have nothing really, it’s love to the true fans that I have.”
George, who the league has begun to feature in more and more commercials and has national interview requests piling up, becomes just the third Pacers player to be voted in as an All-Star starter and the first since Jermaine O’Neal in 2006 (though he missed the game due to injury).
“It means a lot because that means the fans are really watching us as a team,” he said. “For us to have the No. 1 record in the league, and playing at a high level, I think the fans are starting to follow us as a whole and I think that’s the biggest thing with me being a starter. Now, we have additional fans who are pulling for us.”
Fan support hasn’t been limited to home games, where the Pacers boast a league-best 21-1 record. Away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, fans in blue and gold garb have caught the eye of George and his teammates.
“I’m starting to see a lot of Indiana jerseys, Indiana t-shirts, sweaters, beanies, everything,” he said. “It’s a different feeling now when we’re on the road. We feel like we have a little fan base when we’re playing on the road now."
George received the second-most votes of any Eastern Conference player, trailing only four-time NBA MVP LeBron James. Though being a starter is typically a popularity contest, George is a fresh, personable talent in this league, and he’s earned every bit of it.
George, last year’s Most Improved Player, is the best player on the best team in the NBA. He’s elevated his points per game average by nearly six points to 23.3 and he’s shooting better than ever before: 46 percent from the field, 39 percent beyond the arc, and 87 percent at the free throw line. He’s not just an offensive talent, but also one of the best two-way players in the game.
Like the fans, coaches around the league have taken notice of the now two-time All-Star.
“I don’t think anyone knew he’d be this good,” Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said earlier this season.
Said Boston’s Brad Stevens: “He's one of the top five players in the NBA, easy. Maybe top three. I can't believe how good he's gotten.”
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George, who signed a five-year contract extension in September and is the face of the franchise, becomes just the third player selected to multiple All-Star games as a Pacers player. Reggie Miller made five All-Star appearances and O’Neal was voted in six consecutive years (2001-07).
Like Miller, George played in his first All-Star game during his third season. But Miller didn’t make it back until five years later. George’s teammates, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert have both played donned the East All-Star jersey only once, though Hibbert, a heavy favorite for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award, is expected to be voted in as a reserve by the conference coaches.
George, once an unheralded player out of Palmdale, California, should be one of the biggest attractions at this year’s All-Star Weekend — especially after his 360-windmill dunk last week. The NBA has already reached out to the 23-year-old to gauge his interest in participating in All-Start Saturday. Though it’s unlikely that he joins in on the festivities, mainly because he’d prefer to take advantage of the brief break in a season which he expects to last until mid-June, George hasn’t made a final decision.
What he will have is the comfort of his own coaches beside him. Due to Indiana’s success, Frank Vogel and his staff have the privilege of leading the East squad.
“It makes it that much more of a special trip and event for us,” said George. “Coach Vogel is my man since I came in here and it’s a special bond between me and him and I’m glad he’s going to be there with me.”
George has already come a long way in such a short time. He’s a young, budding star that has a charming personality and a hungry drive for success. With George at the helm, the Pacers are in good hands.
“We’re back to being one of the elite teams, a team that has a legitimate chance to compete to win it all and he’s the centerpiece of it,” added Vogel.
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