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George's Routine Leading to Routine Success

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

December 14, 2012

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The routine, presumably for the rest of his career, is to be the first player to arrive at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on game days and get up hundreds of shots. If there's a team meeting three hours before the game he'll arrive five hours early. If not, he'll arrive at least three hours early.

He'll shoot about 100 floaters. Another 100 or so three-pointers. Even more mid-range shots. And he'll lift weights, too.

"I want to be great," Paul George said, matter-of-factly after scoring 28 points in the Pacers' 95-85 victory over Philadelphia Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "I want to capitalize on everything I can do. I guess that's the best way to do it."

That scoreless game at Golden State on Dec. 1 has turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to George, and for that matter to the Pacers' future. Embarrassed, he headed for the practice court as soon as the team's red-eye flight landed at 7 a.m. and put up about 500 shots. When he scored 34 points at Chicago two nights later, he was hooked.

And now look at him. That breakout has become a trend, which he plans to convert to the norm. Friday's performance, which included 5-of-7 three-point shooting, raised his scoring average over the six games since Golden State to 25 points. He's hit 19-of-32 three-point shots (.594) over the past five games.

His season scoring average is up to 16.5 points, and his three-point percentage to .424. It's early, in both the season and his career, but perhaps worth noting that Reggie Miller had a better three-point shooting percentage than that only twice in 18 seasons, and one of those (1996-97) was in the last of the three-year period when the NBA experimented with a 22-foot three-point line, rather than the standard 23-foot-9-inch line.

Time has not yet told if George can match Miller's knack for clutch shooting, particularly in the playoffs, but he did hit one of the game's biggest shots on Friday, a three-pointer with 2:01 left that boosted the Pacers' lead to six.

And, oh yeah, by the way, let's not forget: George also is the Pacers' lead defender. He was primarily responsible for Philly forward Nick Young on Friday, and helped hold him to eight points on 4-of-14 shooting, then got some time with Evan Turner in the fourth quarter.

"He's an exceptional defender," coach Frank Vogel said. "There's no other way to put it. He's going to be on the all-defensive team this year, and for years to come."

It makes for a full workday, being the go-to-guy at one end and a stopper at the other. No wonder he's gotten leg cramps the last two games, an issue easily solved by drinking more fluids after those pre-game workouts. If a young player is going to have a drinking problem, that's the one to have.

Pacers president Donnie Walsh, who drafted Miller and presided over his career, isn't ready to make comparisons to any Hall of Famers. But, he likes what he sees from the 22-year-old, who would be a rookie if he had attended college for four years as Miller did.

"Every great one I've ever seen, they have a routine the day of the game," Walsh said. "That's what he's starting to do.

"There's a saying: it's not his time. That may be true. But it's coming."

George's stepped-up discipline has been encouraged by assistant coach Brian Shaw, who got an intimate view of Kobe Bryant as a teammate and assistant coach with the Lakers. Bryant's work ethic is legendary, as is true with most superstars, and George appears determined to see what happens if he follows the same pattern.

"B. Shaw said Kobe was always the first one in, and gets his lift in and gets his shots up," George said. "I guess that's the blueprint to success in this league."

Danny Granger, who has led the Pacers in scoring the past five seasons, is expected back around the first of February, although Walsh said he expects to know more next week about a likely return date. Things will get interesting whenever it happens. George took awhile to adjust to playing in Granger's absence this season, and he'll have to adjust again to Granger's presence.

While he was willing, and sometimes eager, to defer to Granger the past two seasons, that's not true now. Asked how his role will change when Granger returns, he paused.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know. I guess it will be a tough decision for Frank."

Is he willing to step back and let Granger resume his former prominence within the offense?

"Hmmmm," George said. "Whatever I need to do to win. I won't be the same Paul George of last year. But whatever we got to do to win."

One could almost hear him saying to himself, "You're crazy if you think I'm not going back to averaging 12 points a game."

It's been fashionable the past few years to say that Granger is Robin, not Batman – in other words a second fiddle incapable of carrying a team. Could it be the Pacers have found Batman from within their own roster? Granger's thoughts on the matter are unrecorded, as he hasn't yet spoken to the media since his most recent knee surgery.

Their willingness to co-exist, along with Roy Hibbert's ability to play at a peak level (as he did Friday with 19 points and 13 rebounds) will determine whether the Pacers follow through on their pre-season plan of running with the leaders in the Eastern Conference.

Walsh is hopeful Granger and George – or is it George and Granger? – can find peace and harmony.

"I think they fit together great," he said. "Paul is going to get to the point he can create plays, and Danny knows exactly how to play off a guy. Danny can do a little of that (creating) himself, too. And, Danny can defend, too." George has supplied plenty of action and drama the past two weeks. A mystery lies ahead.

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