George's Second Half Explosion Evidence of His Growth

by Manny Randhawa

November 12, 2013 | 12:55 a.m.

It seems impossible now, but there was a two-game stretch last season in which Paul George shot 2-for-18 from the field for four points. That included eleven failed attempts from 3-point range and just one free throw attempt in 61 minutes on the floor.

That nightmare took place on a West Coast trip that the Pacers took from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2012. Against the Kings in Sacramento, George was 2-of-11 in 32 minutes. Facing the Warriors in Oakland, George didn’t score at all; shooting 0-for-7 in a game that marked the lowest point of what would become his breakout season.

What transpired less than 12 months ago seems like eons ago today. Every night the 2013-14 Paul George walks out onto the floor, it seems as though he is reaching new heights on his way to superstardom, even at the age of 23.

An important element in George’s quantum leap has been his soaring confidence. His belief in his abilities, coupled with a level of maturity beyond his years, have catapulted him onto the national stage as his skills have exploded onto the scene in a manner reminiscent of his breakaway dunks. His confidence has transformed his mindset in ways that have thrust him far ahead of where anyone could’ve hoped in such a short period of time.

For an example of this, compare what happened in California last season with what took place on Monday night.

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George struggled in the first half of the Pacers’ 95-79 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, connecting on only two of eight field goal attempts for four points. Indiana had the lead going into the locker room at halftime, but its star hadn’t left his mark.

After the game, George reflected on how he would have reacted to this scenario a year ago, and how he reacts to it now.

“Last year I would’ve hung my head,” George said. “I would’ve let plays carry on longer than they needed to. This year, I’m not worried about it. I’ve started off plenty of times not shooting the ball well, not being in the rhythm. But I understand staying with it and taking every possession by itself and just moving on from plays. I know it’s a long game, and I’m not going to miss shots all game. I know there are going to be nights where I will, but I have to find a way to get into a rhythm by attacking the basket.”

Attack the basket is exactly what George did in the third quarter, and – not coincidentally – what had been a seven-point Pacers lead at halftime ballooned to as many as 17. George scored 13 in the third quarter alone, en route to 19 second-half points that would lift his total on the night to 23, resulting in his eighth 20-plus point performance in as many games on the young season.

For the first time this season, George didn’t hit a 3-pointer. He was 0-for-3 from long distance in the first half, so he attacked the basket. He penetrated the Grizzlies’ defense in the paint – muscling his way to the rim – drew fouls, and racked up the points. He couldn’t be stopped – going 7-of-8 from the field in the second half.

“I knew in the second half I needed to be a little more aggressive,” George said. “In the first half I had a lot of good looks that just weren’t falling. But I didn’t let that affect me in the second half. I wanted to come out and get some easy ones to get going. … I’m never going to be out there pressing to score or pressing for stats. … Now I’m just understanding how to be aggressive and how to be assertive on the offensive end. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve grown from, is when to be assertive.”

It’s abundantly clear that George is a different player than he was just a few short months ago. His budding confidence and ever-accelerating maturity is fueling an early season performance that has given rise to whispers that he could insert himself into the Most Valuable Player conversation this season.

But where did that confidence come from? How has this young star been able to cultivate that maturity? A crucial component in that development emerged from Indiana’s playoff run last summer.

“[The playoffs are] the prime example,” George said. “Going into the summer, and coming one game away from being in the Finals, and only being in my third year gave me so much optimism as far as coming back to the same starting five and the new additions to this team. I really wanted to work on my game, and I really wanted to take it to the next level and get better, and lead us to a championship.”

George has already given the NBA a glimpse of what that next level looks like, and it’s still only November. While he is the Eastern Conference’s leading scorer through the first eight games, and the third leading scorer in the NBA, there is still a learning curve for No. 24. He is, after all, just 23 and in his fourth NBA season.

An example of this process is the difficult challenge that any young player faces when coming of age in this league: shot selection. Overall, George has been efficient, shooting 47 percent from the field and a red-hot 43 percent from three-point range. But he has had games in which he’s struggled with his efficiency, particularly the two games the Pacers played last week against the Bulls and Raptors.

Against Chicago on Nov. 6, George scored 21 points, but connected on only six of 19 attempts. Two nights later, he was 7-for-21 against Toronto.

But George, providing another example of his maturity, said it’s a matter of striking a balance that will come as the season progresses.

“There are always shots that I can turn down,” he said after the game against the Raptors. “It’s still the beginning of the year. I’ll be able to pick and choose and know when I can pass up taking the three as opposed to driving to the basket and getting fouled or trying to create a play for others. I am taking some shots that I can avoid right now. That’s just me learning, being in this position, to start the year off. I’ll get better.”

Since those two games, George has shot 57 percent (17-of-30).

George added that he feels comfortable as the Pacers’ star player, a designation that perhaps found him as much as he found it, as his raw ability and potential came together when he had to step forward in the absence of Danny Granger last season.

“This is a role that I feel comfortable in,” George said. “But I’ve always been a playmaker. I’ve never stressed about getting shots or looking for my own shot. I’ve always had the ability to get guys open, to get guys shots. So, it’s just me getting back to that. But at the same time, I know I can create for my own and get any look that I want. And I feel comfortable shooting any shot that I take. But it’s just finding out the balance between the two.”

Coach Frank Vogel is fine with George making the types of decisions he has on when to be aggressive with the basketball.

“He’s just in my ear to be aggressive,” George said of Vogel. “He doesn’t mind the shots, but he’s constantly in my ear about driving it to the basket and getting shots at the rim as opposed to shooting a lot of three’s.”

George has proven that he can drain the trey with the best of them. He came into Monday night’s game leading the league with 49 3-point attempts. But he torched the Grizzlies with his inside game instead, as he continues to display his all-around ability.

The Paul George of yesterday is quickly becoming hard to remember. And at the rate his star is rising, even the Paul George of today could soon become a figment of our imaginations, because this young player is not satisfied yet.

“I want to be considered as an elite player in this league,” he said. “I’m gaining that confidence. I feel like I could be the best player if I continue to keep working hard and continue to keep honoring this game.”

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