When the Indiana Pacers selected Paul George with the 10th pick of the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft, they figured they’d have a solid contributor for years to come. He was a raw prospect with an underdeveloped offensive game but elite athleticism and the motor necessary to become an impact player. No one envisioned him becoming a top-10 player in the league. No one figured that he would be an MVP candidate at just 25 years old. We all watched with excited curiosity when he held his own against LeBron James and the juggernaut of a team that was that edition of the Miami Heat. We’ve marveled at his metamorphosis from energetic rookie, to defensive specialist, to NBA All-star, to NBA Superstar. We feared the worst when we saw him break his leg while scrimmaging for team USA. We hailed his return last year, as quiet as it was. But something is different this year. On a team that was supposed to take a step back from the last time we had a healthy Paul George, he is thriving, and the team is following suit.
One key to the development of George’s game is that he wasn't expected to be a star. It shows because his emphasis on the intangibles is like that of a career hustle player. This enables him to score in transition and on extra effort plays where he doesn't have to create looks against set defenses. He doesn't view the dirty work as “beneath him” and it makes him that much more of a complete player.
The next key to George’s development is the constant improvement of his 3-point shot. He was a poor shooter from behind the arc during his rookie year, shooting a putrid 29.7%. By his sophomore season, he upped that to 38.5% and it hasn't dipped below 35% since. This year, he's posting a career high 45% from 3-point range! He is shooting as well behind the arc as he is within the arc. This has turned him into a player that has to be accounted for everywhere, whether he has the ball or not. Defenses can no longer sag off of him to prevent his drives to the basket. They can't even help off of him when a teammate is beaten off the dribble. His ability to score from any spot means that he doesn't have to be ball-dominant to be effective. This allows his coaches to keep defenses honest by varying the situations he operates in.
That versatility led to the adjustment that has turned Paul George from an All-Star to a superstar. This season, the Indiana Pacers have deployed George at the power forward position, making him a constant and significant mismatch every time he is on the floor. Even with the league trending towards “small ball” and stretch 4s, Paul George has way too much quickness and athleticism for most that play that position. Defensively, he has the length to defend the screeners in a pick and roll and to close out shooters in the pick and pop. Playing him at power forward is disruptive to any pick and roll based offense. At power forward, you can often see George operate as a point forward and orchestrate the offense by collapsing the defense on his dribble drives. His ability to see the floor and get to his spots is coupled with his ability to score from anywhere. You can see why he's a headache for opposing coaches to game plan for.
Despite all that has been said about George, he is only 25 years old. There is reason to believe that the best is yet to come from him. So as he ascends into superstardom, don't be surprised when we have to make up new words to describe the game of Paul George.