By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:31PM
Google the phrase "next Scottie Pippen" and you'll get 8,890 or so results. Ask Paul George how often he's heard it in reference to himself and he'll probably top that total.
It's a common refrain, typically inspired by just about any lanky wing player who can handle the ball, projects as a decent shooter and doesn't spit out the bit on the defensive end of the court. It's about as unfair to those to whom it's applied, too, as any of the "next Michael Jordan" junk that Grant Hill, Vince Carter or Harold Miner ever heard.
At various times, to varying degrees, a series of Pippen supposed-to-bes have come and mostly gone, at least in terms of serious comparison. "Is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist the next Scottie Pippen?" -- headlines and scouting reports kicked that around before the June draft, heaping instant pressure on the University of Kentucky guard and No. 2 pick. He was chosen by Charlotte, which is (ahem) the team Jordan runs.
But in terms of NSPs, Kidd-Gilchrist has plenty of cover. James Posey, Tayshaun Prince, Nicolas Batum, Trevor Ariza, Kerry Kittles, Jamario Moon, young Tracy McGrady, Kawhi Leonard, Jeff Green, Josh Howard, Andre Iguodala and undoubtedly another dozen or more have heard it at one time or another. George is the leader among active players not just because of his skill set but because of his and the Indiana Pacers' ambitions.
"I want to be an All-Star, of course," George said at Indiana's media day on the eve of training camp. "I feel like that's in my reach. Nothing aside from the team success, but I just feel like this is a year I can be aggressive and make a name for myself."
If he does, Indiana gladly will go along for the ride. As solid as they are -- five proven starters, an enhanced bench, a 42-24 finish last season and another postseason stride taken to their Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Miami -- the Pacers also are a team that largely is what it is.
Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill are known quantities, in or near their prime. George is the one still packing serious upside. Even if he doesn't wind up Pippen-esque, there are a couple All-Star and All-NBA stops available this side of Springfield, Mass.
His breakout was supposed to come last spring. But after a second season in which George averaged 12.1 points on 44 percent shooting, he slipped to 9.7 and 38.9 percent in the postseason. The Pacers went up 2-1 on Miami, with Dwyane Wade sputtering to his 5-point nightmare. But George's defense didn't hold against the Heat star, who shot 40-of-65 and scored 99 points in the final three games.
It was the second straight playoffs in which George sputtered, following his postseason taste against Chicago in 2011. And it sent him into the offseason with hours of unpleasant video to review and plenty of work to do. He reportedly worked on his shooting stroke and his ball skills, and began to rebuild his confidence in Las Vegas as a member of the USA select team that prepped Team USA for the London Olympics. He watched the big dogs on that squad closely, from things they did on the floor to the way they carried and took care of themselves off it.
"What he experienced last year in the playoffs was great for him," Granger said of George as camp began. "It really got his fire going. He's driven."
Some NBA insiders feel George won't truly blossom until he's able to play small forward, his natural position. But with Granger set there -- unless or until one of the many trade rumors comes true -- George will have to raise his game at shooting guard.
That's not the same as doing it at "point forward" -- as in Pippen, the most famous point forward in NBA history -- but it's the challenge in front of George and he's ready.
"I feel like there's a lot riding on me," George told the Indianapolis Star. "I like the pressure. I like to be in the situation I'm in. I worked hard the whole summer to get better at my game. I'm the 'X' factor."
Whether he makes it as the NSP or not.
1. The starting five is fine, whether George maxes out his upside or not. It was the bench that was Indiana's undoing against Miami in May, and it's the bench that has been rebuilt nearly from scratch for this season. Out: Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa, Lou Amundson, Dahntay Jones. In: D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and Sam Young. Mixmaster Tyler Hansbrough returns, but mostly Indiana's second unit is an unknown.
2. Roy Hibbert has studied under Bill Walton. He trains in the style of a MMA attacker. And yet, four years into his NBA career, he still is looking to average as many as 9.0 rebounds in a season. C'mon big fella, you're 7-foot-2 in a league where true centers are as rare as true love. The "great passing big man" stuff doesn't excuse Hibbert in terms of raw impact down low, either, because his assists ticked downward (from 2.0 to 1.7 in 2011-12). But with a new $58 million contract, he's got to be good for more than 5.5 defensive boards per game.
3. The Pacers are a confident and, some might even say, cocky bunch. They have backed up coach Frank Vogel's immense belief in them by going one step further in each of the past two seasons. The Central Division seems to be theirs for the taking, given Chicago's extended wait for Derrick Rose's return, and depending on Miami and Boston's regular-season priorities, Indiana might even challenge for the top seed in the East. Just so the Pacers understand, they've got targets on their backs now, too. Their sneaking-up days are way over.
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LAST YEAR: 42-24, 2nd in Central
FINISH: Lost in Eastern Conference semifinals
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
GEORGE HILL, GUARD
9.6 PPG | 3.0 RPG | 2.9 APG
Pesky defender and former backup used a solid playoff run to force Indiana to trade Darren Collison and hand him the starter's gig full-time.
PAUL GEORGE, GUARD
12.1 PPG | 5.6 RPG | 2.4 APG
Scottie Pippen-esqe swingman wasn't nearly aggressive enough in the playoffs. The Pippen comparisons will end if he doesn't take a big stride this season.
DANNY GRANGER, FORWARD
18.7 PPG | 5.0 RPG | 1.8 APG
Free-shooter led Indiana in scoring despite the emergence of an All-Star in Roy Hibbert. Mobility issues aside, he shoulders Indy's leadership role.
DAVID WEST, FORWARD
12.8 PPG | 6.6 RPG | 2.1 APG
Strong locker-room presence not only stabalized a young crew, but showed he could still contribute perimeter jumpers as always, too.
ROY HIBBERT, CENTER
12.8 PPG | 8.8 RPG | 1.7 APG
The first-time All-Star keeps improving every summer. What's next for him? Averaging double-digit rebounds in a season, something HIbbert has yet to do.
|D.J. Augustin||6-0||180||G||Pass-first point guard better suited to backup role than Collison.|
|Tyler Hansbrough||6-9||250||F||High-revving motor was there, but stats slipped a tad.|
|Ian Mahinmi||6-11||230||C||Defensive big gives Pacers more size off the bench.|
ADDED: G D.J. Augustin, G/F Gerald Green, G C Ian Mahinmi, F Miles Plumlee
LOST: F Lou Amundson, G Leandro Barbosa, G Darren Collison, G Dahntay Jones
ROY HIBBERT, CENTER
The Pacers are emerging as a force in the Eastern Conference and Hibbert is a big piece to their puzzle. Indiana's lone All-Star from last season landed in the top 5 in blocks per game at 1.97 and his rebounds jumped from 8.8 to 11.2 in the playoffs.
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