The Indiana Pacers third-year guard, Paul George, was just named the Eastern Conference Player of the week after averaging more than 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal as the Pacers went 3-0 this week. With the loss of Danny Granger to injury before the season started, has George finally found the footing necessary to become a franchise player in Indiana?
George is at an age where most people are just trying to find jobs after graduating from college. But in the hyper-intense world of professional basketball, where the learning curve is steeper than almost every other profession, he’s now expected to carry a Pacers team that’s missing Granger, and that had hopes of continuing their trajectory to elite status in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they started the season winning only three of their first nine games, and it looked like the loss of Granger would be a lot harder to handle than most analysts predicted.
Since that awful opening couple of weeks though, the Pacers have gone 10-5 in their last 15 games, including wins in their last three. A not-insignificant factor of that success has been the play of George, who has upped many of of his season averages to career highs. Since going scoreless in the Pacers’ Dec. 1 loss to the surprising Golden State Warriors, Paul has topped 22 points on five separate occasions, and has scored in double-figures in every game as the Pacers have gone 5-2 over their last seven. We already mentioned his Player of the Week award, so it’s time to ask whether he’s finally turned a corner and become the go-to offensive player the Pacers need him to be.
George has been logging more minutes than ever before (more than 35 minutes a game after averaging less than 30 in his first two seasons), but he’s shooting at a career low 42.4 percent from the field while taking almost five more shots a game. He’s also averaging more than five three-pointers a game, which is about 2 more than what he averaged in his first two seasons with the Pacers. That being said, he’s shooting over 40 percent from long range, which is a great sign for Pacers fans, even if he’s attempting a lot more low-efficiency shots in the mid-range. According to Hoopdata, he’s taking nearly five shots a game between the rim and the three-point line. He needs to either cut down on those shots, or shoot them at a better percentage. He’s also getting to the line a little less than he did a year ago, so rather than settle for the contested 16-footer, he should try and get into the lane and draw contact, since he’s shooting close to 80 percent from the charity stripe for his career.
He’d be more dangerous if he stuck to shots at the rim, or kick-outs beyond the arc. If you look at his shooting splits (via NBA.com), it’s the mid-range game that’s lowering his overall shooting efficiency. Take a look first at George’s shot attempts from last season …
… and this season.
As you can see, he’s shooting much better from the short three in the corners this season, but he’s shooting a lot more from the mid-range than he did last year, and the percentages aren’t good — specifically on the right side of the bucket. George has been pulling up early when he’s inside the arc, rather than going to the hole for a higher-percentage shot at the rim, and a chance to draw a foul. You could infer that help defenders are converging on George faster than they did last year, since Granger isn’t there to spread the floor as much and center Roy Hibbert has struggled offensively, but George needs to keep attacking if the Pacers are going to be successful. The recent change to play him more at the three spot rather than as an off-guard, could help by matching him up against larger, but slower, small forwards, rather than the shooting guards he’d gone up against to start the season.