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Paul George: A Step Ahead of The Rest

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 23, 2014

He always seems a step ahead of the rest, doesn't he? A little ahead of schedule? The first Pacers player to do this, the first Pacers player to do that.

I don't know if Paul George was born premature, but it wouldn't surprise me. The guy keeps getting things done quickly. Early, even. Last year, he became the youngest Pacers player ever selected to an NBA All-Star team, at the age of 23. Now he's the youngest to become an All-Star starter, at 23, courtesy of the fan voting announced on Thursday.

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George is the first All-Star starter since Jermaine O'Neal in 2004. O'Neal was voted a starter in 2006, but missed that game because of injury. O'Neal was 24 when he started in '04. George doesn't reach that ancient, past-your-prime, barely-hanging-on landmark until May 2, but which time he'll probably apply for early membership in the AARP and begin looking for a retirement home.

Prior to O'Neal, the last Pacer to start in an All-Star game was Reggie Miller, who didn't make an All-Star team until he was 24, and didn't start until he was 29. Twenty nine! George can't imagine being that old yet. One can only guess what he might have accomplished by that time.

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Danny Granger has an idea. Speaking in the locker room following the Pacers' win over the Los Angeles Clippers last Saturday, George's former mentor laid it out as plainly as he could. “He has crazy talent,” Granger said. “Crazy. MVPish talent. He's going to be MVP in one of the next three years, I promise you. We all see that.”

MVP? Maybe, maybe not. LeBron James and Kevin Durant might have something to say about that, but the point is that George is on a fast track like no other Pacers players before him. Hard to believe now, but as a rookie in the 2010-11 season, just three years ago, he only played in eight of the Pacers' first 29 games. He was on the inactive list for 15 consecutive games. It wasn't until the end of that season that he became a starter. He averaged 7.8 points that season.

Two years ago he competed in the dunk competition over All-Star Weekend, and finished third. He still thinks he was robbed on that one.

Last year he played in the All-Star game. Scored 17 points in 20 minutes, and had two rebounds, four assists and three steals, too. Was on the floor at the end of the game, and had the Eastern Conference team's best plus-minus rating (+9).

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Now he's starting. At the age of 23. At this stage of his career, Miller was a second-year pro on his way to averaging 16 points per game, still a season away from making an All-Star team.

George excels because he responds to challenges and examples. Last season, that scoreless game at Golden State in December altered the arc of his career, motivating him to change his pre-game preparation. This season, that eight-point game against Washington on Jan. 10 set off a run of five games, including Wednesday's loss at Phoenix, in which he's scored 31, 25, 36, 23 and 26 points. Hanging around LeBron and Kobe while practicing against the Olympic team a couple of years ago taught him some things about preparation and discipline, and now he has Miller in his ear. Or, at least, willing to be there.

George and Miller hooked up via telephone before the Pacers began their playoff run last season. Their careers will always be linked because of their similarities on and off the court. Both grew up an hour outside of Los Angeles, comfortable with the Hollywood scene but not part of it. Both had older sisters who could beat them one-on-one at a young age. Both come from stable families. Both have exceptional work ethics. Neither shrinks from the pressure moment. Both want greatness for themselves.

George's Rising Star Could Surpass Miller's: Part I | Part II

Miller had the greatest career a Pacers player has ever had. That's another source of motivation for George.

“I don't want you guys to take this out of context,” George said following the Pacers' win over the Knicks last week, a game Miller attended as the color analyst for TNT. (George, by the way, has interest in a broadcasting career as well.)

“At the end of the day. I want to say I was the best Pacers player who ever played here. He set the bar high. That's out of respect. If I get to that point, and the next up-and-coming guy is ready to take it, I'm all for it. But I just want to challenge him for it. It's another bar that I can set and be happy to accomplish.”

The bar has been raised high for George, but he keeps reaching it. Ahead of schedule. At 23, and now a two-time All-Star team member and a first-time starter, it still feels as if he's just getting started. He might not play until he's 39 as Miller did, but he should many seasons ahead to continue surpassing Pacers milestones.

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