Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog: George's progress gives Pacers cause for optimism

George's progress gives Pacers cause for optimism

March 12, 2012 - As the roller-coaster speeds downward, it is easy to close your eyes and scream.

It's much tougher to look forward and see what lies ahead: namely, the inevitable upward climb.

In this wild ride of a season, the Pacers lost five in a row, then won six, and now have dropped four. With 27 games remaining, they are fifth in the Eastern Conference, in a virtual tie with Atlanta, ahead only by virtue of a few percentage points. They've dropped two spots since the All-Star break, and it seems like everyone on the team is in a slump.


There are, however, two pretty solid reasons to like what lies ahead: Paul George and the schedule.

Even as the team has struggled, George has been a bright spot, continuing his progress toward stardom. He led the team in scoring in Chicago (21) and Orlando (22). He has played both ends of the floor with similar gusto, racking up 12 steals in the last four games.

As for the schedule, it turns dramatically in the Pacers' favor. Of the final 27 games, 17 are at home. The next time they play consecutive road games will be in the postseason.

"We have been here before," George, referring to the team's ability to contend with a losing streak. "At the same time we are still in a good position. We are still a good team. We just have to keep on working."

George has scored in double figures in eight consecutive games, averaging 14.8, shooting 47 percent overall and 44 percent from the 3-point line. He continues to fill multiple columns of the box score, averaging 4.4 rebounds, 2.88 steals and 2.6 assists in that span -- all while committing a total of seven turnovers.

For the season, he leads second-year players in steals (1.74) and 3-point percentage (.405) and also ranks sixth in scoring (12.5), eighth in rebounds (5.4) and 10th in assists (2.3).

His confidence is rising, as well.

"I think it's almost been a steady increase from the end of last season, the last month or two of last season," Coach Frank Vogel said. "It's gone up and up and up."

As he takes a bigger role in the offense, averaging 12.3 shots in the last eight games, well above his season average of 9.6, George is expanding his flexibility, as well, by spending more time at small forward.

"We're trying to shift some things around offensively so everybody's more involved and it puts him more in position where he can be more assertive, where he's not just spotted up on the weak-side on certain sets," Vogel said. "We're adding some things that put more movement into it and let everybody get involved more so he can be even more assertive offensively. And continue to grow his ability to guard multiple positions. He's doing a great job on ones and twos and we're going to try to look at him guarding some small forwards."

As a 6-9 shooting guard, he is a major mismatch problem for opposing teams. At small forward, he will need to demonstrate the strength to hang with some of the league's most prolific and dynamic scorers.

"I feel like I still have an advantage of that position, being able to use my quickness against size," George said. "That'll grow my whole all-around game because at this level the two and three are not the same positions. They do operate differently so that definitely will add to my repertoire.

"My role at the two-guard is getting in pick-and-rolls and kind of creating for others whereas when Danny (Granger)'s at the three he's more of a scoring option."

With Granger entrenched at small forward, George will continue to get most of his playing time in the backcourt.

The idea is to find more ways to deploy a gifted young player who rapidly is becoming the team's most threatening weapon.