brunos_blog_400When it came to the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, Paul George basically stood alone.

Consider: the guys that finish second and third (Greivis Vasquez of New Orleans and Larry Sanders of Milwaukee) combined for fewer points (289) in the balloting than George’s 311. So it’s pretty clear there was only one real choice.

George was the only player in the NBA to average at least 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, four assists and 1.75 steals — one of only three players to rank in the top 40 in all of those categories. He also was the only player in the league with at least 140 steals and 50 blocks.

In addition to making his first All-Star appearance, he is one the few players in NBA history to participate in both the slam-dunk contest (2012) and 3-point shootout (2013).

As if to punctuate his breakout season, George produced the second triple-double in franchise playoff history with 23 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds in the Pacers’ 107-90 rout of Atlanta in Game 1 Sunday.

Most Improved in the league? Definitely.

But is he something much more important: the Most Valuable Player on his team?

WEST THE ONLY REAL COMPETITION

There really is only one other player in this discussion, and the differences between David West and George are what make this such an interesting debate.

Without question, West is the heart and soul of the team, the bedrock, the physical leader, the locker room presence, the quiet but firm voice of reason. He is in a very literal sense, The Man.

A model of consistency, he was second in the team in points (17.1) and rebounds (7.7) and first in field goal percentage (.498) and free throws attempted and made (242 of 315).

If you’re waiting for the “but,” there really isn’t one. There are as many reasons to point to West as the team MVP as George.

WHO’S THE MOST IRREPLACEABLE?

If you’re trying to decide who is the better player, the argument could go on for a while. George certainly has more talent and potential, but West has a far deeper body of work.

But MVP isn’t about the best player, it’s about the most valuable, which means it ultimately should boil down to this: which player could the team least do without?

There is no one that could step in and do what West does for the Pacers, but there are a number of capable players on the bench that could provide help. Tyler Hansbrough has averaged 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds as a fill-in starter this season, 14.1 points and 7.0 rebounds in his career. Jeff Pendergraph could also provide effective minutes at power forward.

Simply put, there is no one else on the roster that could fill anything other than a fractional amount of George’s role. When Danny Granger was lost, George was the last line of offense and defense at small forward. Without George, where would you turn? Gerald Green? Sam Young?

And that is what breaks this tie.

George is not only the league’s MIP, he is the Pacers’ MVP.

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