More Measuring Sticks for George

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by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

November 30, 2013

There's not much left for Paul George to prove. He's averaging 23.6 points, shooting 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line – both career highs – and contributing more than six rebounds, more than three assists and more than two steals per game. All while establishing himself as one of the NBA's best perimeter defenders.

As the Pacers head West for their most difficult challenge of the season, however, he'll have an opportunity to test himself against some of the league's elite players and elite teams. He'll be sharing court time with the likes of Chris Paul in Los Angeles, LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in San Antonio and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.

And make no mistake. George cares about his status within the league, and how he fares against the best. He also likes to carry a grudge.

“All the elite guys in this league take ownership of themselves and put pressure on themselves,” he said following Friday's win over Washington. “I follow along the same lines.”

He did that against the Wizards, finishing with 23 points and four rebounds, assists and steals. Washington point guard John Wall, the first pick in the 2010 draft, had been on a recent tear, but had just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting.

George considers Wall a friend, but took notice of his presence.

“I always want to out-do the person who was drafted in front of me … I take it as a challenge,” George said.

George has also taken notice of the first stop on the five-game, nine day trip. The Pacers will open with a Sunday afternoon game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. George grew up a Clippers fan in Palmdale, Calif., about an hour north of L.A. Why the Clippers and not the Lakers? Because he related better to underdogs back then, a luxury he doesn't have now as an elite player on the team with the NBA's best record.

The Clippers could have had him in the 2010 draft, when they held the eighth overall pick, but took another small forward, Al-Farouq Aminu, two spots before the Pacers took George. Aminu has since been traded to New Orleans, where he starts and averages 8.4 points and nine rebounds.

“I'm happy where I'm at, but that was one of the teams that overlooked me,” George said. “I always have that in the back of my mind when I play them.”

George had above-average games against the Clippers last season, finishing with 20 points, four rebounds and five assists at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and 23 points, six rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in L.A.

Games like that are now more like a bare minimum for George, a leading candidate for Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for November. Having added to his offensive arsenal by mastering shots off the dribble and cleaned up his jump shooting form, he is making it look easy, usually waiting until the second half to open the scoring valves.

“It's just to the point I feel I can score in my sleep,” he said. “I'm confident in my shots, I'm confident playing in the offense, I know where my shots are going to come from. I don't have to press to shoot the ball. I just pick and choose times to be aggressive.”

The upcoming trip will offer plenty of times for that.

Granger running again

Danny Granger was running along the sideline and back and forth across the court while the Pacers worked in the half court at the end of Saturday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He also participated in some of the team's shooting drills and skeleton offense.

Granger played just five games last season because of persistent knee issues, and has yet to play this season. He's suffered lately from a strained calf muscle.

Coach Frank Vogel said Granger is “still a long ways away” from returning, but remains optimistic he'll return and contribute at some point.

“As soon as we lose a game we're going to rush him back,” Vogel joked.

Trip isn't “all revealing”

The Pacers will log a lot of miles on the road trip that takes them to Los Angeles, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, but the itinerary doesn't include the end of the world.

In other words, whatever happens in the next five games won't mean all that much when the playoffs arrive in April, other than how they affect the Pacers' seeding.

“It will be somewhat revealing, but not all-revealing,” Vogel said. “If we go 0-5 it doesn't mean we're a disaster, if we go 5-0 it doesn't mean we won the championship. It's an early-season barometer.

“Your margin for error, that's the biggest thing. Can you win when your margin for error is going to be as remote as it's going to be when you're playing a great team in their building? Can you achieve that level of execution on both ends?”

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