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George Becoming Comparison-Worthy

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

December 5, 2012

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It was just a mid-week game against a mediocre opponent during the first week of December, but it was meaningful and revealing for Paul George, who is becoming worthy of a blasphemous comparison.

He had gone scoreless at Golden State last Friday, but bounced back with the second-best scoring night of his career – and probably his best overall performance – in Chicago on Tuesday with 34 points. So what would he do when Portland came to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday? Would he remain aggressive, or begin another march toward zero as he had done following that 37-point outing against New Orleans?

Denari & Montieth: All Things Pacers 121221

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Chris Denari and Mark Montieth discuss the Pacers' big win against the Jazz, Jamaal Tinsley's return to the NBA, and the season thus far.

His answer: 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists. It not only was crucial to the Pacers' 99-92 victory, it ranked as one of the better all-around performances of his career, even if it paled in comparison to the one the previous night.

But here's the thing. George didn't rely on superstition or voodoo or dumb luck to put together two strong games. He relied on a blossoming work ethic. He had come to the Fieldhouse on Sunday evening to put up 500 shots, and despite having played a road game on Tuesday he arrived at about 2 p.m. on Wednesday to put up another 250.

"That's the routine that's really getting me going," George said. "It's working. It's getting me into a zone to where I know I've prepared myself to knock shots down. I'm not at that level yet where I can just turn it on. I have to keep working and keep getting up shots and get in the zone. The game's getting more comfortable for me."

Somewhere, Reggie Miller is smiling. George has more in common with Miller than is widely realized. Both grew up about an hour outside of Los Angeles, George to the north and Miller to the southeast. Both developed their games by playing against accomplished older sisters. Both attended college in California and were first-round draft picks of the Pacers.

We won't carry this premature evaluation too far. Miller became one of the greatest clutch shooters in the game's history, played 18 seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame, while George is still a young colt trying to establish his footing. But George has some advantages to work with, such as superior athleticism and a head-start. Consider that Miller averaged 10 points a game off the bench as a 22-year-old rookie. George, at the same age, but in his third NBA season, is averaging 15 points and shooting a better three-point percentage than Miller did then.

If George can maintain a Miller-like level of self-discipline and confront his challenges by getting in the gym, his ceiling could actually be higher than Miller's. And not just because he can jump higher. He's also two inches taller, more athletic and defends better.

It remains to be seen, however, if he can match Miller's consistent toughness, late-game poise, off-season dedication and raw enthusiasm. But still...

"It's exciting is what it is," coach Frank Vogel said. "You just watch it, and some of the shots he's making, and you say, boy, if he can ever stabilize and do this on a consistent basis, with the way he defends, you've got a special player there."

George led the Pacers in assists Wednesday, and has done so in three of the last four games. He had a career-high nine earlier this season, just two less than Miller's career-high. He also grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds earlier this season, five more than Miller's career-high. Triple-doubles should be in his future.

One of George's primary deficiencies is his lack of offensive aggression. Whereas Miller became one of the NBA's most efficient players by getting to the foul line, even if he had to fake getting fouled, George has been reluctant to drive to the basket. He did so more often on Wednesday, and wound up with four free throw attempts. That's no big deal, but twice his average.

"I want to attack more and get to the free throw line and be efficient in the mid-range," he said after Wednesday's game.

George's 37-point game against New Orleans was somewhat flukey, featuring as it did the outburst of nine three-pointers. His performances on Tuesday and Wednesday were better on the whole because he hit a variety of shots. He didn't force many, nor did he disappear for long stretches.

"He's got room to grow, but he's trying to find his way and make plays within the flow of the offense, which is key for us," David West said. "When he's confident and takes the shots that are there, that's a positive for our team."

George gave some credit for that to Vogel.

"Coach is making it easier for me by calling my number early on and getting me into a flow," he said. "That's making it easier for me to loosen up and be engaged in the games."

An engaged Paul George is coming on. It should be fascinating to see where the marriage winds up.

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