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George Searching for Consistency

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

December 3, 2012

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That 37-point outburst on Nov. 21 seems like a distant memory by now, having been followed by four progressively-worse games that bottomed out with a scoreless outing against Golden State on Friday. So what is Paul George to do?

Well, there's always shoe therapy. He was wearing a bright blue pair with yellow laces when the Pacers practiced at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday. More likely he'll depend on getting back in the gym and putting up shots, which he did on Sunday. He tweeted that fact to his 100,580 followers after getting home late in the evening: "Put up 500 jump shots. #New Routine gotta get my ---- back!"

It's always interesting to see what a wildly successful game or moment does to a player or team, especially a young one like George, who by the way is 22 years old and would be a rookie in the NBA today if he hadn't (wisely it turned out) skipped his final two years of college to enter the draft. Just like teams who build big leads early in the game almost always blow them, a player who has a game far above the norm usually falls back to earth rapidly. That's why players are judged, and paid, on their averages rather than their highlight videos. Paul George airborne after dunk

George's season heading into Tuesday's game at Chicago has averaged out to 13.5 points per game, along with 6.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists. That's respectable enough, given his supplementary role in the offense, although his field goal percentage (.385) is about 100 points short of where it should be. He's reached his statistical destinations via a wildly indirect path, however, making him a wildly unpredictable player.

He had scored in double figures in all but one regular season game, then had just six at Washington. He followed that with 37 against New Orleans, when he broke Reggie Miller's official franchise record with nine three-pointers. (Billy Keller also had hit nine in an ABA playoff game). Even on his career night, George was erratic. He hit all nine of his three-pointers in the second half, and hit all five of his attempts in the fourth period and overtime—that, from a guy who had missed all 16 of his fourth-quarter attempts of the season prior to that.

Since then, George has experienced a steady descent. He scored 15 points against San Antonio, 12 against the Lakers, four against Sacramento and none against Golden State. The good news is that it can't get any worse against the Bulls, unless he takes more than the seven shots he attempted against the Warriors.

What happened? Did those 37 points, those nine three-pointers, and that congratulatory tweet from Reggie Miller blow his mind?

"I just got into a slump," he said. "I probably had used up all the (successful) shots."

George recalled missing his first shot against Golden State after Lance Stephenson got him the ball just before the shot clock expired, requiring him to rush the shot, which set him on a bad course. "I never like to start the game off that way," he said. "I go off the feel of the game." That admission brings his mental toughness into question, but also requires a reminder that he's 22 years old.

A more detailed breakdown of George's shooting percentages reveals further youthful inconsistency. He's hitting 47 percent of his "short" three-pointers from the corners, but just 31 percent of his other three-pointers. He's hitting just 28 percent of his mid-range shots, and 27 percent of his shots within the foul lane, excluding layups and dunks. He's also far better at home than on the road, averaging 7.8 more points at the Fieldhouse.

It would seem that George could benefit by using his exceptional athleticism to get to the rim and draw fouls. He's attempted just 33 foul shots in 17 games, less than two per game. Last season, he attempted 2.75 per game. Compare that to Miller, who averaged 5.1 free throws for his career, and 7.6 in his third NBA season, when his scoring average peaked at 24.6.

Vogel, however, doesn't press that issue.

"When he tries to force things at the rim, he gets himself in trouble with turnovers," Vogel said. "He's trying to find that balance of when to attack and when to not get himself into trouble."

George admitted after his record performance against the Hornets that he had been putting too much pressure on himself to score in Danny Granger's absence, and had let the offense come to him that night. That will have to be his way out of his slump as well. He's not a high volume shooter with David West, George Hill and Roy Hibbert soaking up shots, but there will be opportunities.

"(He has to) stay patient," coach Frank Vogel said. "I have to be more mindful of making sure he's more involved in the offense, to get him some better-rhythm looks. Sometimes if he just gets shots that are the result of broken plays, it's tough to get in rhythm.

"He also has to understand that along with Roy and George Hill, he's maybe the biggest reason as to why our defense has been so strong this year. He's doing some excellent things on the defensive end. He and Roy are sort of in the same boat. They're playing exceptional defensive basketball and the offense has been sporadic. They just have to stay with it."

For George, it will come down to the fundamentals of shot-making. Taking the right shots. Not feeling too much pressure to score. Being ready to shoot when the ball comes to him. Rebuilding confidence with Sunday evening trips to the Fieldhouse practice gym.

And not counting on shoes to end a slump.

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