Wednesday, April 23rd, 2013

George's Offseason Work Paved Way to Award

Scott Agness | April 23, 2013

The honors and hardware continue to pile up for third-year swingman Paul George. Tuesday, the NBA presented George the league’s Most Improved Player of the Year award at a morning news conference held in the IU Health Pavilion of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

George, who turns 23 on May 2, received 311 of a possible 1,080 points, including 52 first-place votes, from a panel of 120 sportswriters and broadcasters. New Orleans guard Greivis Vasquez (146 points, 13 first-place votes) was second and Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks (141 points, 10 first-place votes) finished third.

“I really couldn’t accept this award without giving thanks to the whole organization, the coaching staff, trainers, my teammates, the whole community and the fans,” George said.

Both George and coach Frank Vogel pointed to their end-of-season review last May as a turning point. That’s when George’s mental game and worth ethic changed – and his on-court play followed.

“He left the season last year saying, ‘Coach, I’m going to work harder than I ever have. I’m going to come back a completely different player—just wait and see. You’re going to be so impressed,’” Vogel recalled.

Vogel, who began George’s rookie season as an assistant but finished as the interim head coach, said that No. 24 has been one of the team’s most diligent workers.

“What impresses me the most about Paul George is his commitment to play winning basketball, to play team basketball,” he said. “You don’t see that in every player. Some only seek personal gain in stats which they hope result in a big contract. But that’s not George, who’s one of the most humble and friendly players in the league.”

Over the summer (and mostly out in Los Angeles), George put time, effort and work into his game. His worked stemmed from and was motivated by the Pacers’ exit in the second round of the playoffs to the Miami Heat. He wanted to be a more consistent threat, and knew one thing he really needed to upgrade was his ball-handling skills so that he could take guys off the dribble.

George also greatly benefited from playing with and against some of the world’s best hoopers on the USA Men’s Select Team, who trained with the national Olympic team. There he observed – and took notes – of what guys ate, how they worked out, and what it took for them to become some of the league’s best.

In late October, the unexpected happened when Danny Granger was declared “out indefinitely” because of a lingering knee injury. That’s when George knew he’d have to take on a bigger role for the team to be successful.

“You never want to see guys go down but the second we found out Danny was going to be out for some time, that was when I really put my mind around that I'd have to have a big year,” George said.

Everything didn’t come easy. He admittedly put too much pressure on himself in the first month.

Then there was that scoreless Dec. 1 game in Golden State, a night George will never forget. After returning from the West Coast on a five hour flight, he went straight to the gym and put 500 shots up. The next game, he scored 34 points and led the Pacers to a big road win in Chicago. That scoreless night got to him and he improved for the better.

“That built me,” he said. “That built some character and made me work harder … I needed those nights to really come to sense that you got to continue to keep working.”

George, who led the Pacers in scoring, averaged 17.4 points (+5.3 improvement from last season’s average), 7.6 rebounds (+2.0) and 4.1 assists (+1.7) during the 2012-13 regular season. He was named to his first All-Star Game and scored 17 points. On Sunday, in his first playoff game as the focal point of the team, George recorded just the second triple-double in franchise NBA playoff history.

He also becomes the fourth player in franchise history to win the Most Improved Player of the Year award, joining Jalen Rose (2000), Jermaine O’Neal (2002) and Danny Granger (2009).

As part of the honors, George was given a 2014 Kia Sorento LX SUV, which he donated to the Hawthorne Community Center in Indianapolis.

"The city of Indianapolis, our whole organizing, should be gushing with pride to have such a selfless, young rising star,” Vogel said.