14 September 2014. Team USA wins the Gold Medal at the 2014 FIBA World Championships. The 2014 Team USA squad was littered with the future franchise stars of the NBA. This time, it was Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry carrying the hopes of the nation with veterans such as LeBron James and Chris Paul opting to sit out the tournament. Paul George was meant to be there, destined to be there, until he wasn’t.
Paul George had risen from relative obscurity, attending little known Fresno State before becoming the Indiana Pacers’ 10th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. However, his rise had been quicker and more explosive than anyone had dared to imagine. Following the 2013-14 season, George’s scoring average had risen every year he had been in the league, culminating in consecutive All-Star appearances and consecutive All-NBA selections in 2013 and 2014. George was the league’s hottest young two-way player.
On August 1 2014, the members of the Team USA squad gathered to play the famous Team USA scrimmage, essentially another All-Star game, only with defense actually being played. As James Harden broke to the basket, George refused to give up on the play, chasing Harden and attempting to block his shot. Only he landed at the base of the stanchion, snapping both bones in his lower right leg. In a way, the play was symbolic of George as a player, one who never quits, a player who leaves everything out on the hardwood. As the reality of the injury set in, many feared George would not be the same player on his return. They were correct; he’s gotten better.
George briefly made a return late in the regular season last year as Indiana tried to make a playoff push. Limited to just 15 minutes a game, George’s numbers understandably weren’t earth-shattering. However, one number stood out. In his six games, George shot above 40 percent from the three-point line for the first time in his career. I know what you’re saying, six games, small sample size. This season, George has obliterated his previous career best shooting an incredible 45 percent from beyond the arc. The shooting percentage becomes even more eye-popping when compared to his three-point percentage of 36 percent in his previous full season in 2013-14.
In 2013-14, George was a sniper from the corners, shooting 52 percent from the left corner and 44 percent from the right corner. However, from straight on he was an average shooter, shooting in the mid 30’s.
However, this season, George has been on fire from everywhere beyond the arc. He’s still been great from the corners while improving his shooting numbers above the break.
According to Shot Analytics, George has traded looks at the rim for mid-range shots. In 13-14, 25 percent of George’s shots were at the basket, where he converted 53 percent. Comparatively, 38 percent of his shots came from mid range. This season, his attempts at the rim are down to 21 percent while his mid range attempts are up to 42 percent. The tradeoff has seemingly worked for George thus far, shown by his effective field goal percentage of 53 percent, the best mark of his career.
The improvement in George’s shooting and his ability to shoot from multiple spots on the floor have both played a part in the rise of George’s scoring average so far. George is currently the third leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 27.4 points per game, behind the red-hot Stephen Curry (32.4) and Houston’s bomber, James Harden (29.3).
George’s all-round game has also experienced a spike. He is currently averaging 8.1 rebounds per game, grabbing 12.1 percent of the total rebounds available while he is on the court, both career best figures (he grabbed 13.4 percent last season, however played just six games). George is also an improved passer and is averaging a career high 4.2 assists per game. Additionally, George’s all-round improvement on the offensive end has resulted him having a career best Offensive Rating of 114.
While his improvement on offense may have caused some concern about his defensive game sliding, this has not been the case. According to nba.com/stats, George’s opponents have hit just 36.6 percent of their shots when guarded by George, 6.7 percent below their average field goal percentage of 43.3 percent. With Roy Hibbert and David West gone, Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel has resorted to playing George at the power forward spot, and he has defended expertly closer to the basket. So far this season, George’s opponents’ field goal percentage drops down by over 10 percent when defended by George inside 10 feet.
As expected, George has been the ultimate barometer of the Pacers, and they have struggled greatly without him. When George is on the court, the Pacers’ Defensive Rating is an impressive 97.3. However, this figure rises to an average 100.7 when George sits. The disparity is even more alarming on the offensive end with the Pacers’ Offensive Rating dropping from 105.1 to 96.7 when George is on the bench.
George’s rise from a relative unknown on draft day to becoming one of the brightest young stars was one of the most remarkable stories in the NBA.
Now, in his recovery from a devastating leg injury, George is once again defying the odds and delighting fans in the process.
All statistics used are courtesy of Basketball Reference, unless stated otherwise.