Player Review 2014: Paul George
by Mark Montieth | firstname.lastname@example.org
June 11, 2014
Years Pro: 4
Status: Signed extension last fall that keeps George under contract through the 2017-18 season, with a player option for 2018-19.
Key Stats: Averaged 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Shot career-best .864 from the free throw line. Averages improved to 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in the postseason.
The tendency might be to regard Paul George's season as a disappointment. The “regular” part of it ended in decline, and the “post” part of it ended in disappointment in the closeout game in Miami -- aside from garbage time, which turned out to be the entire second half.
Yet in the bigger picture, George advanced his career another significant step, and appeared to learn some painful lessons along the way. And, yes, he's still young, as he has steadfastly been ever since joining the Pacers in 2010. Criticize him all you want for failing to be all he wanted to be this season, but he remains their best and brightest hope, and if anyone is going to lead them to an NBA championship, he's by far the likeliest candidate to do it.
PHOTO GALLERY: George's 2013-14 Season »
George remains an enigma, but then what just-turned-24-year-old isn't? He's capable of outstanding performances, offensively and defensively, but he hasn't often produced them at the most critical times. He is a far better athlete than Reggie Miller ever was, already a better player than Reggie Miller was in many ways, but he hasn't shown Reggie Miller's consistency and thirst for the clutch moment. But then when Reggie Miller was 24, he had played in just two NBA seasons and exactly zero playoff games.
More than anything, George needs maturity, which will come whether he wants it or not. And the season just passed provided all kinds of challenges that should help bring it at a fastbreak clip.
First, the positives. He was voted to the first All-Defensive team, was third-team all-NBA, and a starter in the All-Star game for the first time. His scoring average (21.7) was 4.3 points better than the previous season, his field goal percentage (.424) was improved as well, and his free throw percentage (.864) and steals (1.9) were career highs. He also improved his numbers, virtually across the board, in the playoffs, when he averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals.
Plenty to like there.
But there were negatives, too. Signing a five-year contract extension last summer that will pay him a reported $90 million beginning with the 2014-15 season, followed by a fast start to this season, thrust him into a world of elevated expectations and attention. He was in the early league MVP conversations, he popped up on magazine covers, he appeared on a network television talk show, and he began devoting more off-days to fulfilling obligations for commercials and endorsements. All of that proved to be a distraction that impacted his play.
Through Jan. 25, when the Pacers played in Denver, he was averaging 23.5 points on 46 percent shooting (39 percent from three-point range). Then he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! before the Pacers played the Lakers in Los Angeles. As part of the intro, Kimmel showed the clip of George's astounding 360-degree breakaway dunk against the Clippers from Jan. 18.
Over the next nine games, up to the All-Star break, George averaged just 16.3 points on 33 percent shooting (30 percent from three-point range). He seemed fatigued, distracted. He spent time with Kobe Bryant over the break, discussing the star athlete's challenges of time and fame management, and played better when the season resumed. He still had a few clunkers, such as a two-point game at Charlotte on 0-of-9 shooting, but gradually regained the level of performance that had made him an All-Star starter. He had some outstanding moments in the playoffs, such as a 39-point outing in the Game 4 win against Washington and 37 points in the Game 5 win against Miami. “Stay on green,” coach Frank Vogel had told him in that game, and he responded. Even when LeBron James switched over to him late in the game, he rudely pulled up and hit a three-pointer over him.
George didn't follow up in Game 6 in Miami though. He scored just one point in the first half, by which time the Heat were in complete command. His 28-point second half was therefore meaningless. It was reminiscent of the previous season, when he scored just seven points on 2 -of-9 shooting in the Game 7 loss in Miami.
“I needed that rhythm in the first half,” George said in the postgame press conference. “But it is motivation to be better. I really put this loss on (me).”
George expanded his skill set last off-season, improving his shot creation and shooting off the dribble. Larry Bird has called for him to develop a better postup game, and to become more consistent.
His greatest hurdle now, however, might be the mental one. Can he take a greater leadership role for a contending team, avoid distractions, and set an example for his teammates?
“He’s a valuable player, he’s our future and I hope he can get us there,” Bird said.
More than anyone, he bears the burden of that.
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