Could Paul George Lift the Cleveland Cavaliers Past the Golden State Warriors?
Before playing in a celebrity softball game in Indianapolis last Thursday, Paul George told a crowd of reporters that he is under contract with the Indiana Pacers and, "...that's all that really needs to be known."
However, only days later, George informed the team that he intended to opt out of the final year of his contract next summer.
This leaves Indiana in a tough spot and right now, the Pacers are looking into the trade market for George. One of the teams stepping in as a potential partner is none other than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sam Amico says the Pacers are looking to get any deal for George done before the Draft on Thursday, so this could come together quickly if both sides like what the other is offering.
However, would trading for George make the Cavaliers better, and what kind of assets would they have to give up to acquire what could be only a one-year rental?
George posted a usage rate of 28.9 in 2016-17, and that's not even close to his career high of 32.8 in 2014-15. If George is traded to the Cavs, he would have to get used to not having the ball in his hands very much, and his shot attempts going way down.
However, that likely won't be a problem for the Pacers' swingman. Last season, Jeff Teague led the Pacers in touches and time of possession in his first year in Indy, so he'll be fine deferring to LeBron James and whichever Cavs remain on the roster after the potential deal.
George would be a huge addition on defense for a Cavs team who had problems stopping the ball. PG-13's defensive win shares (DWS) dipped to 3.1 last season, which is the lowest since his rookie campaign. However, in an offense where he didn't have to carry as much of the scoring, George could return to elite defensive status. He led the league in DWS in 2012-13 at 6.3.
Possibly the most valuable trait to the Cavaliers other than his defense is George's shooting. He is a career 37.8% shooter from beyond the arc and he also is hitting better than 40% of his corner three-point attempts in his career.
The Potential Trade
Indiana is asking for a substantial return for a year of George, which means a deal would have to likely center around Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. Sam Amico also mentions Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert as guys the Cavs could look to package, but would trading Love for George be a move that makes the Cavaliers better?
Looking at both players' stats from last season, the argument could be made that trading for George would be a positive for the Cavaliers. However, using our nERD metric, which measures the total contribution of a player throughout the season, based on their efficiency, Love clearly outperformed George in 2016-17.
With George only guaranteed to stay in Cleveland for one season because of his opt-out clause, trading Love may be a drastic move. The Pacers might have to lower their asking price, while the Cavs will have to decide if George is worth sacrificing a core asset like Love.
Could Cleveland Challenge Golden State With George?
Assuming the Cavs and Pacers would do a straight swap for Love and George, would that be enough for the Cavs to get past the Golden State Warriors?
If you look at Love's playoff numbers this past postseason compared to George's, the argument for acquiring PG-13 gets a bit stronger. He averaged 28.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game in the four games against the Cavaliers in the playoffs, compared to 16.8 points and 10.6 rebounds for Love. Love was great during the series against the Pacers, but he also posted four games this with less than 10 points in the playoffs, including the last game of the FInals in Oakland.
George would help combatting the Warriors' small-ball lineup, as he could play small forward. He also has the ability to guard multiple positions, something Love can not do. But then there's the fact that over the last seven seasons, Love posted higher nERD ratings than George in six of those years, amassing a total of 63.8 compared to George's 29.7.
However, you would lose some rebounding on both offense and defense without Love and it would leave the Cavs with very little depth in their frontcourt. While it may be an upgrade in a potential fourth Finals matchup against the Warriors, it likely wouldn't be enough to beat the Warriors unless Cleveland found a way to acquire George without giving up Love.