The fact that Paul George was voted to last season’s All-NBA 3rd Team means that he’s at least one of the best 15 players in the league. Good, but not good enough. For the Pacers to unseat the Heat, George has to be better than good. He has to be great.
Coming into Saturday’s visit to Chicago, George was indeed as great as he had to be. Pacing the undefeated Pacers in scoring, shooting at an admirable clip from near and far, as well as playing earnest defense. Although the 6-9, 220-pound George played exclusively on the wing, his one-rebound every five minutes was an excellent accomplishment. In fact, his only problematic not-even-good per-game stat was his 2.8 turnovers compromising his 3.2 assists.
In any case, Indiana’s 110-94 loss to the Bulls revealed several illuminating aspects of George’s game.
His numbers were atrocious: 3-14, 12 points, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers. However, George and his teammates were extremely discomforted by Chicago’s diligent, quick, paint-packing defense that virtually shut down the visitor’s half-court attack. Indeed, George’s initial shot came on a curl off staggered weak-side picks that produced an uncontested 18-footer that he calmly buried. And this bucket turned out to be the only one he scored in Indiana’s half-court offense – the other two coming on fast-break drives.
The Pacers’ set-up offense only generated two other open shots for George: A misfired 18-footer on a wing-iso, and an open-lane layup that missed only because the three blind mice ignored his being clearly fouled.
Otherwise, George’s half-court offense was limited to an awkward step-back jumper that missed, two blocked layups, and several attempts to force interior shots through the teeth of the ferocious Chicago defense.
Yet George never let up – fearlessly setting rugged picks on the Bulls bigs, and constantly moving without the ball. Plus, two of his passes created layups for teammates who missed both shots.
Also, on several sequences, defensive switches had George being guarded by the 6-3 Derrick Rose – but Indiana never tried to take advantage of this mismatch even when George backed Rose into the low-post.
Yes, along with everybody else on the Pacers, George had a bad game. Such things happen over the course of the long season. Even so, Indiana ran only a handful of isos for George, and never got him involved in pick-and-roll situations.
So blame an inadequate game plan, the Bulls nasty defense, and the law of averages for George’s subpar performance here.
The good: Bumping cutters, boxing out, battling for rebounds, denying Luol Deng good position in the pivot, and working hard to get through picks. Yes, Deng tallied 23 points but only nine of these came in George’s watch.
The bad: Gambled on a steal that left Deng open for a trey that made the net dance. Paid for turning his head with a back-door cut and basket by Deng. Was so annoyed by the non-call on his missed layup that he committed a highly unnecessary bump-foul on Kirk Hinrich near the time-line. It even seemed as though George deliberately fouled Hinrich to stop the clock and give him an opportunity to yap at the refs.
The ugly: Lunging at a wide-open Jimmy Butler beyond the arc, and thereby committing a foul that resulted in a four-point play. An example, here, of bad judgment and foolish over-hustling.
Even so, George never took a play off on the defensive end – which is more than can be said for several of his teammates.
So, how to evaluate Paul George? He has the versatility, but not the mass or the strength, of LeBron James. The all-out-all-the-time hustle of Shane Battier. And the offensive package of Dwyane Wade.
At the same time, his passwork is iffy, and he still has to demonstrate a degree of consistency.
The primary considerations, though, are that George is still only 23 years old and that he has just commenced playing in his fourth NBA season. It’s too early for George to be celebrated as a good enough player to be the mainspring of a championship squad.
However, it is equally as clear that, given George’s admirable work ethic, the best is yet to come.