With the shot clock dwindling, Paul George caught the ball at the top of the arc, causing an overreaction by the defense. When two men jumped toward him, he put the ball on the floor for two quick dribbles, split the defenders, took flight in the lane … and kicked a pass to the corner for a gift-wrapped, wide-open 3-pointer for George Hill.
Yeah, he’s ready.
The final play of practice Sunday is something you might want to get used to. As the Pacers emerge from an arduous preseason to prepare for the regular-season opener Tuesday night against Orlando in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, George is showing exactly what management and the coaching staff would hope for after the gifted young player signed a mega-contract extension in the offseason.
Which is to say, he’s playing with both freedom and confidence. When combined with preternatural talent, it is a rare confluence that can carry a team to another level.
Asked for his personal goals, George says they are to “be consistent and efficient.”
What? No MVP candidacy? No 25-point scoring average? No return to the All-Star Game?
“I’m going to continue to do everything well offensively but the offensive end is where I want to be much more complete,” he said. “It’s just me being aggressive, me being much more assertive on the offensive end. I’ve been able to put the ball on the deck a little better and be able to create for myself and for my teammates a little better. And I’m trying to cut down on the turnovers. That’s been a main focus for myself, making sure, again, I’m complete on the offensive end and much more efficient.”
George averaged 18.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists 1.29 steals – and 2.86 turnovers – in the preseason. He shot .505 overall, including .393 from the arc, after a summer of exploring and refining his sweet spots on the floor.
With a player of his ability, the numbers will come, and George seems to understand that, which is why he wants to become the kind of player that makes his teammates better, a facilitator – more Magic than Kobe. He told me early in the preseason he hoped to play three positions. I presumed he meant shooting guard, small forward and power forward. He smiled and shook his head. The third position he had in mind was point guard.
He understands most of the best creators also have high turnover rates and knows that will be something he tries to at least minimize.
“It’s in the back of my mind to take care of the ball but at the same time I’ve got to play unconsciously, not so much worry about messing up because I’m trying to facilitate, I’m trying to get guys in sports where they like the ball, and I’m trying to make the game easier for everybody,” he said. “I can’t really worry about turnovers too much but I do have to cut them down.”
This is a player that not only understands and accepts but embraces the responsibility that comes with stardom. And there can be no more encouraging development from the preseason than that.
>> The Pacers announced Monday Danny Granger will miss “approximately three weeks” to recover from the left calf strain that shelved him the final two weeks of the preseason. The team said the injury is not related to the knee condition that kept him out virtually all of last season and the extended recovery time is precautionary. Lance Stephenson will this get an extended stretch with the starting lineup and get a much better opportunity to cement the job regardless of Granger’s status.
>> The best story of the preseason was veteran Rasual Butler completing his comeback and earning a roster spot. The 34-year-old wing was out of the league last season but worked through the D-League and summer league to get a job. “It feels really good,” Butler said. “I don’t know too many guys that at the age of 34 who play NBA summer league. I mean, I was almost 15 years older than some of those guys there but it was me doing something to show people that I still wanted to play, I still could play and my body was in shape. I also played part of the year in the developmental league so it was really gratified to hear that I made the team and that they see how I could add value to a great team like this.”
>> Luis Scola finished the preseason on a tear, hitting 19 of 27 (.704) from the field in the final three games. “He’s really showing us a lot, just his savvy and his shot-making and his understanding of the game,” Vogel said. “And really, to be honest with you, making a lot of defensive plays, as well. He’s not the fastest guy or the greatest jumper but understands how to win on both ends of the court and we’re really excited about that.”
>> After losing their first five exhibitions, the Pacers won their final three. What were Vogel’s primary takeaways? “I think we’re going to be improved offensively,” he said. “We’re a better perimeter shooting team this year than we were last year and I think our young guys, especially Lance Stephenson and Paul George, are different players than they were this time last year – entirely. It gives me a great deal of confidence it’s going to be a good season for us.”