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Another Marker Along the Fast Lane

by Mark Montieth |

December 3, 2013

Being named the NBA's Player of the Month isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It wouldn't thrill a Hall of Famer such as Larry Bird, who won the award seven times back when it went to just one player in the league rather than one in each conference (which began in the 2001-02 season), and it won't cause Paul George to celebrate, either.

Still, only two other Pacers have won it — Detlef Schrempf in February of 1992 and Jermaine O'Neal in January, April and December of 2003 — so it's not exactly passed out like Halloween candy.

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For George, however, it's merely another marker along his warp-speed rise to prominence. Think about where he is today, and where he came from. Most NBA stars were high school sensations as sophomores. George began that season on his school's JV team. He averaged 11.5 points as a junior on a team filled with seniors. Although a star player as a senior, he was a two-star recruit who committed to Santa Clara, then changed his mind and committed to Pepperdine, then switched to Fresno State because of a coaching change at Pepperdine. He was second-team all-conference at Fresno as a sophomore, and then entered the NBA draft.

When it was announced the Pacers had taken him with the 10th overall selection in 2010, the local reaction was mostly head scratching and furrowed brows. Nobody had heard of him. How could anyone from the Midwest be expected to have known about a second-team all-conference player who had averaged 16.8 points for a team that finished 15-18?

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Now, four seasons into his NBA career, he's widely regarded as one of the game's elite players, never more so than after Monday night's 43-point barrage in Portland. He was an All-Star last season, as well as the league's Most Improved Player and a second-team all-defensive selection. He's shown such dramatic improvement this season – averaging 7.5 more points and shooting career high percentages in all areas – that there's talk of him earning the Most Improved award a second consecutive season. That would be unprecedented and highly unlikely, but it's not inconceivable.

George, however, is looking beyond that. He's mastered the art of high ambition, and backing it up.

On the day he signed his rookie contract, he said it didn't mean all that much to him. He had earned that one just by being drafted. He was focused on his second contract, the one that he would have to earn with his performance in the league. He did just that, signing an extension last summer that will pay him the near-max allowed by the league.

A year ago, heading into his third season, he stood in the practice gymnasium with his hands clasped behind his back on the day before training camp opened and calmly stated his plan to become an All-Star that season. He did that, too.

Before last season's playoffs began, he told the assembled media, “I definitely want to be in attack mode. Throughout this whole series, I want to be on the attack and get in the lane and finish at the rim and get to the (foul) line and find guys on penetration.” He did that, too, recording the second postseason triple-double in the Pacers' NBA history with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

He made another declaration on the day he signed his new contract last July. “I'm going to do everything in my will to continue to improve and continue to be the face of this team,” he said. It seems he's doing that as well. He's averaging 24.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 steals. He's one of the game's best defenders. He's playing within a team concept, usually saving his outbursts until the second half of games. And the Pacers are 16-2.

He doesn't brag, he promises. And so far he has delivered. He's also just 23 years old, and the Pacers have him locked up for five seasons after this one. That's long enough for several more Player of the Month awards, but it would be foolish to think there aren't far greater honors in store.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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