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Player Review: Paul George

by Mark Montieth |

June 11, 2013, 12:30 PM

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Age: 23
Years Pro: 3
Status: Will receive $3.3 million next season in the fourth year of his rookie contract
Key Stats: Averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals during the regular season. Averaged 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals during playoffs.

Maybe in the long run it will prove to be a good thing for the Pacers that Paul George's season ended with the resounding thud of a seven-point performance in a Game 7 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. If the barely-turned 23-year-old proved anything this season, it's that he knows how to rebound from disappointment, and that game dampened an entire season of accomplishment.

Thus, he enters the offseason with a prod to continue pushing the rock up the mountain that represents his potential, a mountain that rises higher than for any player in the history of the NBA Pacers. Asked in the post-Game 7 locker room what he intends to work on this summer, George wasn't short of answers.

Related: Paul George End-of-Season Q&A »

His post-up game. His ballhandling. His shooting, from all over the court. His leadership. And, perhaps most of all, his conditioning. He hadn't expected to be the go-to guy this season, but Danny Granger's injury forced him into that role. That made him the go-to guy on both offense and defense, a hefty load for a player who didn't turn 23 until May 2.

Next time, he'll be better prepared for it.

“Now I know how it takes and how I need to train to get to that level.” he said. “So this summer will be a lot of conditioning stuff.”

George is capable of doing most things on the court, so the load will always be greater for him. To whom much is given, much will be required, right? George is the Pacers' most gifted player, and his attributes include a work ethic, so he'll be facing demands for seasons to come. He played in the All-Star game and was an All-Defensive second team and All-NBA third team selection, and was voted the NBA's Most Improved Player. On the day he received his trophy for MIP, he declared his intent to win the Defensive Player of the Year award someday.

Anything else?

“I feel I can lead a team to a championship and be the league's MVP,” he said during the playoffs.

OK, that, too.

George declared his intent to become an All-Star the day before training camp opened, but offered few hints of what was to come in exhibition play. He started the season slowly, too, as he was caught off-guard by Granger's decision to take himself off the active roster the day before the team flew to Toronto for the season-opener.

He did score in double figures, although usually in modest fashion in each game until he had just six points in a game at Washington on Nov. 19. That led to his first warning shot to the league two nights later, when he tied a franchise record with nine three-pointers (in 13 attempts) on his way to 37 points in a win over New Orleans.

He slipped again at the end of the first Western Conference road trip, scoring six points at Sacramento and then going scoreless the next night at Golden State. He was a combined 2-of-18 in those two games, not to mention suitably embarrassed.

He had a long talk with rookie teammate Orlando Johnson on the red-eye flight home, then headed straight to Bankers Life Fieldhouse upon landing at 7 a.m. In over 2 ½ hours on the practice court, he put up 501 jumpers with the help of a shooting “gun” that automatically kicks back rebounds, and hit 375 of them. Two nights later, Chicago happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as George scored 34 points on 14-of-25 shooting at the United Center.

It's not much of a stretch to say a star was born that night. The zero sum game at Golden State inspired a career-breakthrough, as George changed his game-day preparation habits from that point forward, arriving earlier and putting up more shots. He had scored more than 20 points just once to that point, over the first 17 games. He did so 29 times over the remaining 64 games.

George would put up his first triple-double against Charlotte during the regular season, and then another in the first playoff game against Atlanta. He would average 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5.75 assists over an undefeated four-game Western road trip late in the season. He would defend Atlanta's Josh Smith to distraction in the first round of the playoffs, and then do the same for New York's Carmelo Anthony. He couldn't do much to control LeBron James in the conference finals, but did beat him off the dribble and throw down a memorable dunk in Game 2 in Miami, not to mention throw in a 30-foot 3-point shot that forced overtime in Game 1.

Not a bad season for a guy who would have been a rookie if he had stayed in college all four seasons.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel has dubbed him a “superstar.” That's a matter of opinion, not to mention semantics, but George is widely regarded as a future star, a player who can excel at both ends, and do a bit (or a lot) of everything.

He's not a finished product by any means. He had just four points on 2-of-10 shots in the closeout victory at Atlanta, and then that seven-point outing in the final game at Miami. He is turnover prone, committing 2.95 per game in the regular season and 3.95 in the playoffs. His shooting percentages dropped from the 2011-12 season, to 41 percent overall and 36 percent from the 3-point line.

Those are wrinkles to be ironed out by experience and maturity. George has grown an inch since he was drafted with the 10th pick in 2010, and now his game has plenty of time to grow. One can only imagine where he peaks if he maintains his work ethic. The occasional failure is worth it, if it helps keep his senses sharp.

“I'm comfortable in this league, and I'm confident in this league,” he said after the season-ending loss to the Heat. “This is just the beginning.”

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