George Saw All-Star Berth Coming
January 24, 2013 | Updated: 8:11 PM
Editor's Note: Have a Pacers-related question for Mark? Want to be featured in his mailbag column? Send your questions to Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's not as though Paul George didn't see it coming. Back on Media Day, the day before training camp opened, he stood before the assembled microphones and declared his goals for the season.
“I want to be an All-Star, of course,” he began. “I feel like that's in my reach.”
George grasped his first All-Star roster spot Thursday when the Eastern Conference coaches selected him as a reserve for the NBA All-Star Game, to be played in Houston on Feb. 17. The third-year pro is averaging a team-high 17.3 points along with 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and is regarded as one of the best defensive players in the league.
Related: George to Make First All-Star Appearance »
George is the 12th NBA Pacers player to be selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and at 22 the youngest. Reggie Miller was 24 when he played in his first All-Star game in 1990.
“It means a lot,” George said. “The work that I put in and the opportunity they've given me to really showcase my talents, to really grow and improve and learn every day ... just the commitment they've made to me is the only thing I want to ... return.
“I'm extremely excited. Not only will this be my first experience, but (it's) a chance to showcase the team and how much we've grown. Just the adversity that we went through this year and for me to represent this team means the most to me.”
Said Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “Paul is a team-first guy, as evidenced by his nine assists at Memphis Monday. He puts winning above everything else and he'll do whatever it takes: defense, rebounding, perimeter shooting, attacking the basket, creating for others. He is one of the most coachable players I've ever worked with.”
The other Eastern Conference reserves are: Chicago's Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday, New York's Tyson Chandler, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Miami's Chris Bosh
They will join starters Miami's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Boston's Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo and New York's Carmelo Anthony.
Related: All-Star George Has Bright Future »
The Western Conference reserves are: Marion, Ind. native Zach Randolph, now with Memphis, and San Antonio's Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, Golden State's David Lee, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and Houston's James Harden.
The West starters are Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Los Angeles Lakers Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
George was part of All-Star Weekend last year when he participated, and finished third, in the Slam Dunk Contest and the Rising Stars Challenge game. His promotion to Sunday's big stage coincides with his improvement on the court, where he's become more than a raw athlete with potential.
He credits his exposure to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James for the advances in his work ethic and pre-game preparation, as well as assistant coach Brian Shaw, who worked with Bryant as an assistant coach with the Lakers. George was a member of the U.S.A. Basketball Select team that practiced against the Olympic team last summer, which allowed him the opportunity to interact with Bryant and James.
His season started erratically. He was notably bad in a preseason game in Orlando, hitting just 6-of-21 shots and missed all eight three-pointers, and admitted afterward he had not prepared himself for the game.
He scored in double figures in 14 of the first 15 regular season games, including a 37-point outburst against New Orleans in which he hit an NBA franchise record nine three-pointers. He followed that with a four-point effort at Sacramento in which he hit just 2-of-11 shots and missed all five three-pointers, and then a scoreless outing at Golden State in which he missed all seven field goal attempts.
He headed for the Bankers Life Fieldhouse practice court when the team's red-eye flight landed and put up shots. He went on to incorporate an early pre-game shooting regimen into his preparations, which led to a 34-point outing in a win at Chicago. That began a stretch in which he averaged 25 points over six games.
One of those was a 29-point, 11-rebound game against James in a win over Miami at Bankers Life, a game in which George outplayed the reigning league MVP.
George's shooting touch remains an unfinished product, however. His field goal percentage (.424) is the lowest of his career and he's shot just 41 percent over the past 10 games.
While the defense rests during All-Star games, it has perhaps been George's greatest strength and no doubt helped win over the voting Eastern coaches. Not to mention the Western coaches who have seen his work close-up. He limited Memphis' Rudy Gay to 3-of-17 and 7-of-22 shooting efforts in two games against the Pacers, and held Houston's James Harden to a 5-of-19 performance last Saturday.
“All year he's taken elite scorers and held them under their averages and forced higher turnovers than they're used to having,” Vogel said after the win over Houston. “He just does an exceptional job on the defensive end.”
Pacers forward David West, a two-time All-Star, was considered a possibility for a reserve role on the East, but was passed over. Much of West's value lies in his leadership and intangibles, irrelevant qualities in an All-Star game. He's not disappointed, however. He said last week that he did not expect to be named to the team and preferred to stay home with his family and celebrate his daughter's birthday on Feb. 16.
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.
Have a question for Mark about Pacers past, present, or future? Email him at email@example.com for a chance to be featured in a mailbag article.