Last summer, around this time, Paul George says he was preparing for the 2012-13 season with the expectation that Danny Granger would be the team’s leader. That’s not the case this off-season. The Indianapolis Star‘s Michael Pointer spoke with George about his a new mindset entering next year.
During the 2013 NBA Playoffs, George helped lead his Pacers team to within one game, on the road in Miami, of representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. This came after he made his first All-Star team, won the 2012-13 Most Improved Player award, and helped lead the Pacers to the third best regular season record in the East.
George then averaged 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game in the 2013 postseason, which — besides a fractional drop in his rebounding average — exceeded his all-star regular season numbers. He also managed to average 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, cementing his All-Defensive 2nd Team selection as a defender long and fast enough to at least challenge the LeBron James‘ of the league.
Now George is ready to lead his Pacers as the No. 1 guy as they embark on a journey to overcome the two-time defending champion Heat and bring the first NBA championship to Indiana (they won three titles in the ABA).
“A lot comes with that [being the No. 1 guy],” George tells Pointer today.
“This whole summer, I really trained being the go-to guy and the lead guy for our team. Last year, we still had Danny and did not know the results [of Granger’s injury] coming into the year. I had a role that I had kind of prepared for and trained for. This year, it was more about training to be the No. 1 guy and lead this team.”
George’s new found confidence from his explosive playoff run continued as he played in USA Basketball’s camp for the second straight summer against some the best player’s in the game.
“I had a great showing out there,” said George. “That was another fun experience for me going into this summer and helping me prepare for this year. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.”
But there is a pressure that comes with being the No. 1 guy, and that stress is augmented by all the moves the Pacers’ front office made this summer. They are considered by many as the primary challengers — along with Derrick Rose‘s Bulls — in dethroning the Heat. They’ve acquired Luis Scola from Phoenix for a relative pittance. They signed Chris Copeland away from their conference rivals the Knicks, and brought in C.J. Watson to back-up point guard George Hill. They’ve also got Granger back as their starting small forward.
Things are cheery for the Pacers after all their moves this summer, but the burden of high expectaions seems to roll off George’s back. “[The moves by management] are reassuring for guys like me. It tells me we’ve got something special,” he tells Pointer. “We still have to work hard, but it would be a huge letdown for the front office to make the moves that they made and for us not to take that next step.”
That next step, getting vengeance on the Heat, primarily resides on the Pacers’ new 23-year-old leader, and George has aready started preparing for the challenge.
How do you think Paul George will perform next season?
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