Paul George established himself as one of the league’s brightest young stars with his continued improvement in 2013-14.
The only question is whether there is still another level or two left in his game, because therein could lie the difference for a Pacers team that hasn’t been able to get past the conference finals.
Improving his scoring average by at least four points for the third straight year, he finished at 21.7, although his rebounds (6.8) and assists (3.5) both dipped slightly from 2012-13 (when he averaged 7.2 boards and 4.1 dimes).
He became just the third player in franchise history to be voted into the Eastern Conference All-Star starting lineup, as well as the third to make consecutive appearances on the All-NBA team, following Jermaine O’Neal and Reggie Miller in both categories.
He also joined Derrick McKey and Ron Artest as the only Pacers to be named to the All-Defensive team in consecutive seasons, as George finished second in the balloting to Chicago’s Joakim Noah.
What the Pacers have here is an incredibly rare combination of skills and commitment at both ends of the floor, all of which makes you wonder:
What can he possibly do for an encore?
“I really feel he’s got to work on his post game, get down in the post, take some of these younger guys down there and work out of the post not only to score but create double-team opportunities for his teammates to have better looks at the basket,” Larry Bird said. “In this league, everybody’s a star. If you go around, every player’s a star. But when you start separating the men from the boys you’ve got to be playing at a high level all the time.
“You look at (Kevin) Durant, you look at LeBron (James), they’re great, great superstar players. But there’s only a handful of superstars, the rest of them are just stars. Paul George can get there. He’s got to be more consistent. In Game 5 (against Miami), the second half, he was spectacular, but I’d like to see more than that. He’s a valuable player, he’s our future and I hope he can get us there.”The last two games of the conference finals loss to Miami illustrate Bird’s point. In Game 5, George scored six points in the first half as the Pacers fell behind 46-33. With the team on the brink of elimination, George erupted for 31 in the second half, including 21 in the fourth quarter, to carry Indiana to a 93-90 victory.
But in Game 6, the Pacers could not survive George’s poor start. He managed just one point in the first half as Miami bolted to a 60-34 lead. Thus his 28-point second half was rendered moot in a 117-92 Heat closeout.
The irony there was, in that ineffectual Game 6, George fell one point short of scoring 30 points in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
Consistency is the element that has eluded George, at least offensively. Adding some muscle while bulking up his low-post game could help him achieve that goal. He has become overly reliant on a streaky 3-point shot. His 500 attempts ranked second in franchise history (to Miller’s 536 in 1996-97), though his percentage (.364) was tied for 79th in the league.
That proclivity for the long shot also was reflected in his Player Efficiency Rating, in which he ranked 26th – well below the top-15 status indicated by his All-NBA selection. His PER was damaged by his True Shooting Percentage, which includes 3-point efficiency. George was tied for 111th in the league in that category.
George worked on his ballhandling last summer and the improved ability to get inside the defense helped produce nearly 200 more free throw attempts (464). If he can continue to tighten up the handle while improving his ability to make things happen on the block, George would bring entirely new dimensions to his expanding game.
The lack of a quality backup put an inordinate burden on George, and it showed in decreased efficiency over the course of the season. He shot .438 overall and .370 from the arc prior to the All-Star break, just .396 and .351 after, statistics that reflected tired legs – another area that would benefit from increased post presence.
Of course, it also could’ve reflected personal distraction. George became entangled in a pregnancy scandal with a Miami exotic danger, acknowledging that he would step up and support the child if it was determined he was indeed the father.
He did make strikes as a leader, gathering troubled teammates, including Roy Hibbert, for impromptu fishing trips that seemed to soothe the soul while strengthening personal bonds. It remains to be seen, however, if George will emerge as a true Alpha leader in the locker room, a player whose biggest commitment is to winning games, not friends.
FINAL GRADE: A-
If this was based strictly on George’s performance, the grade would be an A. But these positional analyses must include all of the players on the roster at the position – judging all 48 minutes of performance, not just those while the starter is in the floor. And because the Pacers had precious little in the way of support this season, the final mark is dinged just a touch.