In Appreciation of Paul George's NBA Career-to-Date
Whatever we’ve done to piss off the basketball gods, we need to stop doing it. Now.
In the same game in which Derrick Rose was in the midst of making his triumphant return to publicly viewable basketball from two different leg issues, Paul George went down with one of the most gruesome sports injuries you’re ever likely to see. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has yet to see him suffer the open tibia-fibula fracture, please do yourself a favor and listen to all the people who are telling you to avoid it, just this once. It unfortunately cannot be unseen.
There are a lot of angles to this story being covered; what it means for Team USA, if the Indiana Pacers can still compete, the reverberations in the Eastern Conference, the chances of NBA players continuing to be involved in international competition, and the distance that should be placed between the court and baseline obstacles like basket stanchions and photographers.
The problem in all those stories is that it reduces Paul George to the level of a pawn. He becomes the vehicle in which people of various levels of importance - from Joe Tweeter to Jim Owner - will drive to their soap boxes and talk about players as investments or smaller pieces in bigger puzzles.
Rather than get tangled up in the bigger implications of the unfortunate incident or to even mourn what various entities - the Pacers, the Eastern Conference, Team USA, basketball fans - are losing with George likely out for the year, the focus should be on Paul George and Paul George alone. Consider this a statistical tribute to the budding superstar and a “get well soon” card of sorts.
Growing Offensive Threat
It’s only been four short years since Paul George was drafted 10th overall by the Indiana Pacers in the 2010 NBA Draft (after guys like Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh, and Al-Farouq Aminu, for what it’s worth). In that time, he’s gone from being a back up for Danny Granger to being a two-time All-Star (one-time starter), as well as an All-NBA and All-Defensive honoree in each of the last two seasons.
He has always been considered a plus defender, but his steady development on the offensive side of the ball has made him one of the best two-way players in the game today. He has raised his scoring average in each of his four seasons in the NBA and just in case you feel like attributing that trend to a minutes increase, his points per 36 numbers have gone up as well. He has also developed into a better passer, increasing his assist percentage and lowering his turnover rate.
|Season||PTS||PTS / 36||AST%||TOV%|
The increased scoring comes from a broader package of offensive weapons. George can create his own shot in isolation situations, he thrives in pick-and-rolls, and has become one of the best catch-and-shoot marksmen in the game, hitting 43.8% on catch-and-shoot threes last year and registering an effective field goal percentage (weighted twos and threes) of 60.4%. His shooting percentages sank a bit near the end of the season last year, but in the first half he was lights out. Even with the dip, he finished with a career high 55.5% true shooting percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws) and hit 2.3 three-pointers per game (also a career high).
But that’s just the regular season. When it really counted, in the playoffs, George has improved his shooting efficiency with each subsequent trip to the postseason. The Pacers have come off two straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, and PG’s increased scoring and shooting accuracy has largely played into their success.
Defensive Stopper Extraordinaire
While defensive ability is often used as a knock on some of the best and brightest offensive stars in the game today, you’ll never hear that said about Paul George. He may be expending large amounts of energy on the offensive end, but he doesn’t use that as an excuse to not give it his all on D. In fact, his defensive numbers from last season have him as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
|Season||Def Rtg||Lg Rank||DWS||Lg Rank||SPG||Lg Rank|
Considering defensive rating and defensive win shares are categories largely dominated by big men, George’s high standing on those lists is all the more impressive. He even came first in defensive win shares in 2012-13, beating out Defensive Player of the Year recipient, Marc Gasol. Even in rim protection, another area of big man expertise, PG finished second among all wing players, holding his opponents to a mere 45.0% on shots taken near the bucket.
The Complete Package
Moulded in the image of transcendent superstar small forwards LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Paul George is from the rare breed of player that combines elite levels of scoring, long-range shooting, effective rebounding (6.8 per game last year, second on his team), and smothering defense into one über-athletic package. As a result of improvements in all areas of his game, George put up career highs in just about every conceivable all-encompassing metric last season, including player efficiency rating (20.1), total win shares (10.8), and nERD (9.5).
Just two short years ago, we debated if Paul George should even continue to hold a starting job for the Pacers once Danny Granger returned from injury. This year, there were times when his name actually creeped into MVP discussions, right alongside LeBron and KD. Leaps like that are few and far between in the NBA.
That’s why this is so sad for basketball fans, casual and diehard alike. A meteoric rise to superstardom has been brutally thrown off course and no one can say for sure if his path will ever be righted. Regardless of the grand scale implications this will have on the NBA landscape or the future of international basketball competitions, today is not the day for those things. Today is for wishing health on a promising young athlete that we admire and for hoping he can pick up where he left off a year from now.
The rest can wait until tomorrow.