Paul George Looking To Find A Medium
The Pacers road-tested their smaller and sleeker lineup for the first time Saturday, to predictably mixed results from a made-over team breaking in a new system.
Paul George, however, isn't sold on it yet, and he happens to be the one who needs to be the most convinced it will work in order for it to work.
George, playing his first healthy game since the end of the 2013-14 season, had 100 percent of his athleticism and swagger back in the Pacers' 105-100 loss to New Orleans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but about 50 percent of his confidence—not in himself, but in the new way he's asked to play.
"I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it," he said. "Still trying to wrap my mind around it."
George had openly expressed quiet doubts about being moved to the "four" position, where he'll have to defend bigger players, before training camp began. He seemed to come off those concerns after practice began, but reiterated them following Saturday's matchup with Pelicans forward Anthony Davis.
George finished with 18 points in 24 minutes, hitting 7-of-15 shots. He started splendidly, hitting his first four shots and scoring 10 of the Pacers' first 19 points, but was 3-of-11 from there. Davis also finished with 18, in just under 16 minutes, but was more effective around the basket. He grabbed five offensive rebounds — George had none — all in the first half, and scored six points off them.
George and Davis are both listed at 220 pounds. Davis is at least an inch taller, and more accustomed to banging bodies around the basket. That's the part that concerns George, despite his enhanced opportunities to get to the basket in the new spread offense.
"Offensively I'm confident (no matter who guards him)," George told reporters in the postgame locker room, after emerging from the cold tub. "It's almost like I'm doing more because I know I have a mismatch.
"Defensively, it's rough. It's rough. It's an adjustment because I'm not used to doing some of those things out there. I'm exerting more energy it feels like from having to hedge on a ball screen and get back down low and having to box out.
"I don't know."
Pacers coach Frank Vogel had already met with the media when George talked, so had no opportunity to respond. Before the game, however, he had praised George's play in training camp, including his defense, and hardly seemed open to the idea of scrapping the system so quickly.
Vogel said he was "really excited" about the new approach, and thought George had "embraced" it. He added George still will get minutes at a wing position.
"It's not going to be all or none," Vogel said. "How successful it is will determine how much we use it."
George, who played just the final six games last season after recovering from a broken leg suffered on Aug. 1, looked like his old self offensively, taking the ball aggressively to the basket and knocking down three three-pointers, before tiring in the second half. He didn't look happy afterward, however, although he spoke calmly and measured his words carefully.
Having played a wing position for the first five seasons of his career, and achieving all-star status and all-defensive team honors while doing it, he's not yet comfortable defending around the basket. He's more accustomed to letting bigger teammates fight those battles, and being the guy who sneaks in from the weakside to grab rebounds.
"These guys are strong, they're big, it's like I'm trying to keep them on my back," he said. "They've got me in size.
"I don't know if I'm cut out for a four-spot," he added. "I don't know if this is my position. We'll sit and watch tape and I'll talk with Coach. I'll talk with Larry (Bird, team president) as well. I'll get their inputs on how the first game went."
George said a couple of other teammates also are uncomfortable with the new system, and indicated he doesn't want to experiment with it too long if it isn't going to carry over into the regular season.
George attributed his poor showing in the second-half, when he hit just one-of -six shots, on fatigue. Some of it from training camp, some of it from having to deal with Davis.
"(Four days) of us going hard, everybody's tired," George said. "And then it was just banging with the bigs. In the playoffs, that's what they were doing when I had those rough shooting nights. The guys were posting me up. It made it a little tougher on the offensive end."
The Pacers' new approach produced 53 first-half points, 15 of them from George. Problem was, New Orleans – which is breaking in a similar system under first-year coach Alvin Gentry – scored 67. Vogel admitted he hasn't done much with defense in practice so far, but will. The Pacers did manage to outrebound New Orleans, but that was due to the work of the reserves, who made the game close in the final few minutes with raw hustle.
Solomon Hill, Jordan Hill and Glenn Robinson III all scored 10 points off the bench, combining to hit 12-of-21 shots. Robinson had as complete a performance as anyone in his 17:44 appearance, with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists. He hit another three-pointer that was disallowed because of a teammate's offensive foul.
That's one thing George is encouraged by: C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill, Robinson, and Chase Budinger (who sat out Saturday's game with a sore hamstring) all show promise as small forward types.
"We have the best tandem of wings—at least the top five—in the league," George said.
He sounds like he'd like to be one of them. But he also sounds open to continuing the experiment, or at least compromising.
"I'll talk with Coach tomorrow and I'm sure we'll watch film on this game," he said. "I'll give him my likes and dislikes. I'm sure he'll do the same and we'll find a medium out there."
Miles played the first 9 ½ minutes, but did not return. He opened the Pacers' scoring with a four-point play and hit another three-pointer to finish with nine points. He sat out simply to give others playing time; he was not injured. "I'm old!" he said, smiling. "Eleven years gets you something, right?" … Rookies Myles Turner and Joe Young, who sparkled in Summer League play, got a dose of NBA reality on Saturday. Turner, admitting he was nervous, missed all five field goal attempts, but grabbed six rebounds in 15:17 and blocked two shots. Young hit 3-of-11 shots and had four turnovers. … The Pacers blocked 16 shots. Starting center Ian Manhimi had four in 17 minutes, but got off just two shots from the field and missed both. … Toney Douglas, a late addition to the roster and playing with a partially guaranteed contract, backed up his reputation as a strong defender with three steals in 9:41 ... North Central High School and Indiana University product Eric Gordon had 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting for New Orleans.
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