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Offense Needs a Boost, by George

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 20, 2013, 3:35 PM

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The short term matters more than the long term in the NBA, at least when the short term happens to be the playoffs. Reputations are won and lost when the games count most, rather than during the 82-game appetizer.

Calling Paul George! Your table is waiting. Please gorge yourself – at both ends, as a matter of fact.

For the Pacers to get past Atlanta in the playoff series that begins on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it seems obvious that George will have to play from the head of the table. While they have a balanced offense among the starting unit, George – the team's leading scorer – is the one most capable of the sort of offensive explosion that could overwhelm the Hawks. He's also the one most capable of creating a shot in a crucial moment or if a possession breaks down. And, he happens to be the one most capable of shutting down an opposing scoring threat.

If all that seems unreasonable to ask of a 22-year-old with only 16 playoff games under the elastic band of his shorts, it happens to be his fate. George was good enough to be an All-Star this season, and is a candidate for the first all-defensive team as well as the Most Improved Player award. He'll have plenty of help from teammates in the postseason, but it's clearly time for him to take a major step forward.

George, speaking with reporters earlier this week, twice made it a point to single out David West as the team leader. But he did acknowledge the need for him to begin producing playoff memories.

“If I have that moment, I definitely don't want to shy away from it,” he said. “Whether I succeed or fail at it, I have to learn. I think it will be great for me moving forward.”

This postseason marks a potential turning point in George's career. He was a bit player his first two seasons, despite starting each playoff game. As a rookie, he averaged six points in five games against Chicago, hitting just 30 percent of his field goal attempts, including 23 percent (3 of 13) of his three-pointers. Last season, against Orlando and Miami, he averaged 9.7 points while hitting 39 percent from the field and 27 percent from the three-point line. In each of his first two seasons, his playoff averages and percentages were inferior to those in the regular season.

That will have to change this time around. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Reggie Miller's career was that until the final three seasons of his 18-year run, when rust began setting in, his stats were significantly better in the playoffs than in the regular season. Granted, George carries a greater defensive burden because of his superior athleticism, but he'll likely need to at least replicate his regular season offensive performance for the Pacers to advance.

“We're a different team when Paul George is going offensively,” coach Frank Vogel said.

“We're limited with our scoring when he's not giving us that punch. When he's the leading scorer we can go on a serious run.”

George's offense has been the most relevant issue to the team's outcomes this season. The Pacers were 24-16 when he had that scoreless outing at Golden State, which motivated him to alter his pre-game preparation and wound up being the turning point to his season. They went 39-18 from there until they swept the four-game Western road trip. They lost four of the final five games he played as he failed to reach double figures three times and hit just 17-of-60 shots.

Viewed another way, they were 3-0 when he scored 30 or more points, 23-11 when he scored 20 or more and 2-6 when he failed to reach double figures.

Scoring more will mean more than just shooting more jump shots, however. George was the team's best long-range shooter much of the season, but faded late. He hit .362 for the season, second among the starters to George Hill (.368), but just .258 over the final 16 games. That, along with his three-point percentage in previous playoff games, suggests he should look for other ways to boost his production – most obviously, driving to the basket and drawing fouls.

George took just 274 foul shots this season, an average of .092 per minute. Miller got to the line for 600 or more free throws twice and more than 500 once early in his career, and averaged 0.14 attempts per minute despite drifting to the perimeter more often late in his career.

The playoffs are notoriously physical, and it's no fun mopping the court with your shorts. George, however, says he's up for more contact.

“I definitely want to be in attack mode,” he said. “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 line and find guys on penetration.”

Consider that one of the main ingredients toward building a postseason legacy.

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