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Player Analysis: Paul George

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive ||

June 6, 2012

When Larry Bird and Frank Vogel talked last week about the Pacers' ability to improve from within, a big part of the message was this: Paul George's time is coming.

The most talented player on the roster, one of the most complete young players in the NBA, George is only scratching the surface of what he could ultimately become.

Whether he completes the journey, and how quickly he travels, is vital to the Pacers' future.

"It's huge," Bird said. "Obviously he's got a lot of talent but we've got to get the most we possibly can out of him. Not only him but we've got a lot of young guys on the team. … These guys have got to get better for us to get where we want to go."

His progress in two seasons has been steady, from 20.7 minutes, 7.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.1 steals as a rookie to 29.7 minutes, 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals as a sophomore. His 3-point percentage jumped from .297 to .385 but his overall number declined slightly from .453 to .440.

The league noticed, inviting him to both the Slam-Dunk contest and the Rising Stars game during All-Star Weekend.

George tantalized the Pacers with his ability but tortured them with his inconsistency. His best game of the season came on Feb. 3 in Dallas, when he scored 30 points with nine rebounds, five assists and five steals, making 7 of 11 from the 3-point line. In the next four games, he totaled 40 points and shot 4 of 21 from the arc.

He had eight games of at least 20 points in 2011-12. In the eight games that followed each he averaged 10.3.

Of course, part of it is youth. George played just two seasons at Fresno State before jumping to the NBA and turned 22 during the first-round series against Orlando. But part of it may be personality. George has been hesitant to be overly assertive, frequently deferring to more veteran teammates.

The Pacers need less deferral and more aggression in 2012-13.

"I thought he experienced tremendous growth from year one to year two and for us to take the next step as a team I think he's got to have the same type of growth from year two to year three in all facets—how well he defends, his ball handling, his 3-point shooting has got to get better, not stay the same or get worse which is always a possibility," Vogel said. "I'd like to feature him more in the offense going forward. I think he's one of the biggest areas of individual growth we may see from year two to year three."

A fluid, athletic player, things seem to come easily to George—perhaps too much so. He tends to play a little fast and loose with the ball, both on drives and with passes, and needs to tighten up in both areas. His 3-point stroke is smooth but wildly erratic.

He was ablaze to start the season, hitting 48.2 percent from the arc in the first 22 games. He hit 33.1 percent the rest of the year and then was 11 of 41 (26.8 percent) in the playoffs.

Defensively, he has the length to match up with small forwards and the quickness to deal with shooting guards, showing the ability and desire to be a disruptive force. He has a tendency to gamble too much, something that also should be tempered with time.

Keep in mind George was unable to work with the coaches and trainers last summer due to the lockout. The same was true of the rest of the players but that developmental time is much more critical in the early stages of a career. This year, with a full offseason in the strength and conditioning program, he should come back stronger and in better shape, which should in turn help with consistency.

"I want him to at least maintain his perimeter shooting if not get it better and more consistent," Vogel said. "He got a little wild with his passing late in the season but he's a very willing passer. He's got to keep a tight grip because that's one of his best attributes, that he doesn't force things, that he plays within, but he's got to be able to grow his ability to take over stretches of games with assertiveness. And he needs to continue to work on his one-on-one moves, his post-up game, his ballhandling and decision-making with his passes and in the pick-and-roll game and other action.

"I definitely want to feature him more next year. If he grows the way we hope, he's going to be the smartest choice. That really dictates who we feature. It's not a matter of trying to go inside or trying to go to Danny (Granger), it's who's the most productive. And I want him to become the most productive player on the team and when that happens we'll feature him more."

The first two seasons have showed enormous promise. From now on, it's about delivering.

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