Paul George Is Primed For an MVP Season in 2016-17

Why should we expect the Pacers' star to take his game to a whole new level this year?

It's really amazing what Paul George has done in a matter of two years.

If you rewind to this same date in 2014, George was just starting his recovery from a gruesome leg injury suffered in a scrimmage in preparation for Team USA's trip to the FIBA Basketball World Cup. When you move ahead to this same time last year, the now three-time NBA All-Star was working to get back to full strength after finishing the 2014-15 campaign with 8.8 points in 15.2 minutes per game in a mere six games.

In a nutshell, PG-13 wasn't back to pre-injury form until the start of this past season.

Fast forward to today. George is an Olympic gold medalist and expected to have a big season in the 2016-17 NBA campaign.

What's happened in between to take the 26-year-old's career full-circle?

This Season's Performance

Well, George was hot out of the gate this season. So hot that he was on a historical pace through the first seven games, in spite of a brief acclimation period. George didn't cool down much until mid-December. Before that point, he had the Indiana Pacers out to a 12-8 record -- including a six-game win streak -- through 20 games.

Though his pace slowed down a little, the Pacers' fearless leader finished the year with some great numbers.

Games Minutes per Game Points per Game True Shooting% Rebounds per Game
81 34.8 23.1 55.7% 7.0

As you can see, George was incredibly durable as Frank Vogel's workhorse. Ranking 10th among all NBA players in total minutes played (2,819) after playing a total of 91 minutes the year before is no small feat.

The volume play didn't just stop with PG's minutes either. He had the ball a lot, shot the ball a ton, and scored in bunches. George ended the season 10th in usage rate (30.4%), 4th in field goal attempts (1,449), 3rd in field goals missed (844), 11th in field goals (605), and 7th in points (1,874).

On the other end of the floor, George carried the team as well, as he tied for sixth in the NBA in steals (152) and rated seventh in defensive win shares (4.8), which easily led his team in both categories.

Outside of scoring, it probably wasn't by choice that George did so much in volume this season. And it probably wasn't preferred by Indiana's front office, especially under the circumstances. But, they put him in that position.

The Pacers' lone All-Star carried the team on his back for a reason, and that is because the rest of the team wasn't all that good.

He was the only player (who played more than six minutes) with a player efficiency rating (PER) of 20 or better. Scratch that, he was the only Pacer with a PER north of 17. In truth, the next closest player was Ian Mahinmi with a PER of 16.6. The other two players with at least 70 starts apiece, Monta Ellis and George Hill, lacked in efficiency, with ratings of 13.7 and 13.2, respectively.

If that doesn't tell you how bad George's back must hurt, he had three more win shares than the next closest teammate, and with a box plus-minus (BPM) of 4.5, he was the only player with a BPM of 2.5 or greater.

George was forced to push the limits, in terms of volume, but he also flourished in terms of efficiency metrics. That is, without a doubt, the only reason the Pacers were able to sneak into the back of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Sadly, it's also the same reason a very mediocre supporting cast couldn't help George -- despite a PER of 27.5 in seven games -- to get past the Toronto Raptors in the first round.

New Cast

If you haven't been doing so already, be sure to check out Russ Peddle's series, Catching Up on the 2016-17 NBA Offseason, as he details a division-by-division breakdown of player movement (and the efficiency numbers that go with them) throughout the summer.

The reason I plug this here is because I'm about to steal a little bit of Russ' thunder, by showing you what Indiana has lost and what they've gained this offseason.

Players In nERD Players Out nERD
Jeff Teague 1.5 Ian Mahinmi 5.2
Al Jefferson 1.1 George Hill 2.3
Thaddeus Young -1.7 Jordan Hill 1.6
Aaron Brooks -2.9 Solomon Hill 0.8
Georges Niang N/A Shayne Whittington -0.2
Total -2.0 Total 9.7

So, according to our nERD metric (which measures a player's total contribution, based on efficiency, and is an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would be with that player as a starter), basically the Pacers brought in two extra losses and sent out just short of 10 wins. In other words, they've netted -11.7 games this season.

This, in and of itself, is not promising. But, the Pacers already ranked 25th last year in offensive rating. They can't get much worse. And the key this offseason wasn't about picking up efficient scorers; it was about getting more volume scorers and those who can take some of the load off of George. Indiana's front office has done that, adding a net of 9.7 points per 36 minutes between their incoming and outgoing players.

It's also good to note that Indiana has added two point guards, two versatile forwards, and only one center. They've let three big men walk and sent out a forward and a single point guard. They're going small and looking to pick up the pace like they expected to last year. They're going to space the floor, which should help with their offensive efficiency concerns.

Also, do keep in mind that the Pacers will also open up more time and flexibility for their promising sophomore Myles Turner, and they will have rookie Georges Niang to incorporate from their bench. They may be looking to compete now, but they're also keeping the future in mind at the same time.

New Possibilities

For a wide majority of basketball people, stats aren't enough. So, maybe one big season post-injury wasn't enough to prove that George is capable of taking the Pacers somewhere this season or going forward.

For the people who need more, look no further than George's Olympic performance and his mindset as he emerged from it.

Olympics Minutes per Game Points per Game Rebounds per Game Steals per Game
Paul George 19.0 11.3 4.5 1.5

Those numbers are pretty impressive in just 19 minutes per game. Taken over a 36-minute game, they amount to averages of 21.4, 8.5, and 2.8 a contest. It's clear that George took on his primary role as sixth man and made it his own from start to finish.

Speaking of finishes.

It's plays like this that make it clear that, like he has said himself, that George has put his broken leg to rest and that he's "officially back."

There isn't anything indicating the contrary, so I think it's safe to expect the Paul George of old, if you will, going forward. With that in mind, and his new cast at his side, it's time to expect even bigger things from him.

At 22-1 odds (courtesy of Bovada) to win the NBA MVP Award, George will definitely be in the conversation this year. However, he's probably a little underrated.

With more talent around their star player, the Pacers should be super-competitive in the Eastern Conference, and if they can put together a successful season, George should have an easier time having an outstanding season himself.

He's primed to become the league's next MVP. History also suggests that it's not a bad bet. Over the past five seasons, the average of the league's most valuable player is 26.6 years of age. At the start of his seventh season, George will be 26.48 years of age.

I'm not sayin', but I'm just sayin'.