For George, Mini-Slumps Are Pop Quizzes


VIDEO: Paul George is nominated for Kia Player of the Month for December

Paul George, bless his heart, hasn’t shied away the spotlight in what, for the most part, has been a second consecutive breakthrough season for him and for his Indiana Pacers team. George is sniffing rarefied air as one of the NBA’s hot young talents and rising stars, and, dare we say, superstars.

Yes, George responded when asked about that label directly. Yes, say “superstar” please.

“Nowadays you need to be a scorer to be considered an elite player in this league,” he told some reporters last week, prior to Indiana’s first game against East rival Miami. The conference’s two elites meet again Wednesday night in Miami (7 ET, ESPN).

“Defense just wasn’t doing it alone,” George said of his dramatic development. “I really wanted to be up there, I really wanted to challenge myself, and that’s the group of guys I want to be associated with.”

So “superstar” is OK?

“I think so,” he said. “Playing at the level I’ve been playing at, it won’t get nothing short of this. So I invite that.”

Well, not so fast. George’s play since he uttered those words has been noticeably short of what he’d done to that point. In the Pacers’ first 24 games, George grabbed the NBA by the throat by averaging 25.1 points on 47.8 percent shooting, including 42.3 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 5.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.6 turnovers.

But starting at tipoff of the meeting with the Heat in Indianapolis Dec. 10, when the two-time champs threw LeBron James defensively on George like a strait jacket, the Indiana wing player’s performances have dipped. In three games, George has averaged 14.7 points on 27 percent shooting. He has missed 12 of his 17 3-pointers and shot even worse from inside the arc (5 of 20). His steals are down (1.7), and though his assists are up (4.3), so are his turnovers (3.7).

Granted, it’s an extremely small sample size – one week, three games – but two of them came against Charlotte and Detroit, not exactly championship aspirants.

So what we’re seeing as George navigates the first real speed bump of his special season likely has two components: Defensive game-planning on any given night, and the cumulative effects of it all.

First, George and the Pacers realize the dynamic has shifted somewhat. When opponents prep to face them, in film sessions and walk-throughs, it’s no longer just that solid starting five that grabs their attention. It’s the transformation of Indiana into one of those name-above-the-title teams on the marquee — “Paul George and the Pacers” – that gets addressed first.

What James and Miami did against him last week, particularly in the first half (two points), has become the ideal for all Pacers foes. And the Heat just happen to have, in James, precisely the kind of player, playing in a manner George has been facing more and more this season.

“I’m getting more physical play,” he said. “A lot of guys are trying to get into me physically – and I invite ‘em to. I feel like I have the ability to get around them when they try to pressure up. I just read the defense. Whatever the defense throws at me, I’m able to counter it.”

James, whose ankle sprain loomed over Wednesday’s game, is one of the few who can match George’s elusiveness while bringing superior strength.

Then there’s the workload George has carried this season. Just as the Pacers have given themselves no wiggle room on their avowed goal of best record in the East and the home-court advantage that goes with it, George hasn’t taken his foot off the gas in his own development. After that long postseason last spring, after a summer driving himself to take this next step, he has plunged into a relentless grind approaching two months now since camps opened.

His usage rate is up from 19.3 two seasons ago and 23.5 last year to 28.4. George so far has done more in tougher circumstances – he scores more and shoots better on the road and likewise has produced bigger in games Indiana eventually lost than in its victories – than on the easier nights. All those All-Star votes, Twitter followers and headlines have come at the price of energy expended and stamina drained.

The whole Pacers team has taken the whip to 2013-14 but George has been their lead rider.

“I said it earlier this year we were always that team on the outside looking in,” he said. “Now teams are preparing for us. We’ve got to come ready every night. Because we’re capable of losing – we’re not playing at the level we need to. So it is that much more of a focus, that much more energy exerted. We really have to execute offensively and still stay dominant on defense.”

Too grueling, perhaps?

“Nah,” George said. “Not at all. Not for myself, not for Roy [Hibbert], nobody in this group. We’re deep enough. Coach uses us well, he rests us well. So we’re fine.”

The tests will keep on coming. The Miami players forever will try to do against George what it did against Derrick Rose back in the day or Kevin Durant or Jeremy Lin when they seemed to take Linsanity so personally: Cut the head off that snake. How well George weathers it, individually and for his club, will determine whether that “superstar” cloak comes off the rack or fits as if custom-tailored.

“I’m always up to the challenges and going against the best players,” George said prior to Round 1 vs. the Heat. “It’s fun. So that’s how I look at it: It’ll be another step, another great matchup for me. Seems like I’ve been having a lot of those lately.”

32 Comments

  1. #30 says:

    LBJ body before was like just Paul George right now, in terms of basketball style there are a lot of similarities,
    IF PJ continue to improve his game and body, he can cope up LBJ’s level.

  2. Samuel Jones says:

    PG is good don’t get me wrong, but stop promoting him too fast by comparing t.o LeBron, there is time for him to get there, not just yet.

  3. @ y’all Indiana Fans …truth be told guys ,Miami Heat is the champ and one of the best team in NBA right now ..!
    My Indiana pacers are just holding the lost from last year’s playoff and desperately wanna beat the Miami Heat in every ways possible whether is regular season or Playoff season …..I think that just madness & ridonkulous of pacers team & fans ,seriously ! the Pacers should slow down a bit the desperation and the hunger of beating Miami Heat so badly .At one point you right every teams wanna win a game but not this level of plays ”Jesus ” You gotta keep some energies and control your tempo . YOU’RE NOT PROVING YOUR BEST YET ,WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP BACK TO BACK THEN MAYBE.
    When it comes LB and PG ,they are two different kind of players ,LB is one of the best in the Planet hands down ,Paul George is a good Player who’s recently staring to improve his plays .It doesn’t matter who’s guarding who this is a basketball is not animals fight in the Jungle …they are absolutely incomparable Players . One big love to Indiana Pacers I love my home team and gotta say the Truth .Ps

  4. Gordo says:

    do i belive pacers can beat the heat yes if it was the 2011 heat this heat team probly the best comeback team in the lead jbj is the best hes going to win mvp again i belive if they can get two more big man they will probly win four or five in the row meaning rings this team will go down as one of the best teams ever in sports u guys csn say what u want if lbj start hitting them jumpers mj u should b kind of scaer cause hes coming yow just saying james already one of the best players to ever play so far ur watching grateness and dont even know it king james is cluth plus u have dwade my bad big homie ur a monster if dwade can b the flash i feel for who ever in there way another ring plese lol

  5. Gordo says:

    look i cant lie Paul G is a grate player hes the future i belive once lbj leave but ill tell u kd better then Paul G for now but lbj is the best player since Kobe if the king win another mvp and finals mvp ur b looking at the best since mj just saying yow

  6. JMaine says:

    Sorry Heat Fans I’m a player fan not at team fan I love this game but the pacers are built just to beat the heat. like i said many time before teams can bet the heat but can they do it in the best of 7. That’s the only team,besides maybe the spurs who stand a chance at beating the Heat in a best of 7. Calm down on all the yelling. you make great points. just that i don’t see any other team in the east besides the pacers and heat which means net and Knicks need to show me they can do something before i think they will be any threat to any real contender. @11 killed is a blow out idiot, That game was a dog fight for the heat.

  7. Benjie says:

    Nope you
    Are all wrong dwade will attack and attack indianas defence ,we saw what he can do if James sitting on the bench.The edge that miami have is dwade ,if Indiana got George -whose the equivalent of wade?

  8. Mstirious2000 says:

    The Pacers is the only team in the east that will give the Heat a run for their money. All you have to do is look at their last 9 games. All but 1 or 2 games were competitive. The Pacers know that, the Heat knows that, and Basketball fans that know basketball know that. That doesn’t mean the Pacers can beat the Heat but they have the best chance.

    @MJ_WHO….If you have time, please turn on your tv and watch the teams that you mentioned that will be better than the Pacers. You’ll learn a thing or two about basketball.

  9. Boss says:

    Y’all heat fans are really proud that y’all (Barely )won this game? Lol, this just makes the pacers more hungry and with danny granger coming back on Friday. last season the pacers too y’all to game 7 (without granger) imagine what the pacers gonna do with they have all their key player backs and healthy.

    • MJ_WHO says:

      IT’S STILL THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON, YOUNG TEAMS HAVE FRESH LEGS. OTHER TEAMS NEED TO MESH, GEL, LEARN TO PLAY TOGETHER I.E. THE NETS, VETERANS NEED TO GET BACK INTO SHAPE. THE PACERS ARE GOOD, BUT OTHER TEAMS WILL GET WAY BETTER WHILE THE PACERS HAVE ALREADY REACHED THEIR POTENTIAL. THE NETS, KNICKS WILL SURELY BEAT THE PACERS COME PLAYOFF TIME KUS THE PACERS ARE ALREADY AT THEIR BEST. AND WHEN THE KNICKS AND NETS AND HEAT ARE PLAYING AT THEIR BEST COME FEBUARY AND MARCH AND APRIL, THE PACERS WON’T HAVE ENOUGH OFFENSIVE MINDED PLAY MAKERS WHO CAN CREATE THEIR OWN SHOT TO BEAT THE NETS OR KNICKS AND ESPECIALLY THE HEAT.

    • #dwade#flash says:

      if Grancger is back? why do you think Heat took Beasley? let me guess……………… and besides all your key players are healthy! put Granger in, then Heat put Beasley in.. make sense?

  10. JMaine says:

    Lebron fan. And yes the heat should be scared of the pacers. The pacers will have a problem with those other teams you mentioned.

    • 11 says:

      Scare of what MF? They just got killed by Miami. Idiot!!!!

      • 11 wth says:

        define “killed” heat only won by 3. They also had they luck similar to last season in the finals where lebron hits a miracle 3 and ray allen is wide open.

  11. Pacer_Fan says:

    Lebron is great. Paul is good. They both can score when they want and when each is guarding each other one on one they usually dont score. Paul has a bright future

  12. adzi says:

    I bet all you band wagon pacer fans too.
    no one cared for them before last year.
    you are all a bunch of bandwagons.
    everyone was on the knicks d last year too now where are you all.
    find a team and stay with it!

  13. okc2014 says:

    Paul George is a superstar to me. And I think the Heat, OKC, Portland and Spurs should be very scared. But not too scared.

  14. stop acting like the heat only have bandwagons yes people ride lbj to much but come on now were were pacers fans this time last year

  15. Davante says:

    Paul George is a great player and without LeBron james tonight,I don’t know what the Heat is gonna do.Will they win without LeBron?

  16. olimpia says:

    Please Paul George is a good player but not like LeBron and I don’t know what game you watched but George didn’t do anything for the 1st half and I don’t made some points cause Miami coach gave him a break for the 2nd 1/2 please

  17. Another Heat Fan says:

    Mr. Aschburner, bless your heart, you are by far the most subjective and biased writer on NBA.com.

  18. NBA says:

    If you were to take LBJ and PG out of the game who will win the game?? I think Indiana and only because he is not the heart of that team. He is good but not that good to be compared to LBJ.

  19. Heat fans are delusional says:

    The fact that you all have to defend Lebron and the Heat shows some vulnerability…

    Some people are afraid of a challenge from a real contender…. now THAT’S “tsk, tsk, tsk…”

    Lol stfu all of you idiots.

  20. "U a foo" is a foo says:

    @U a foo: Stop D-riding Lebron, I swear all you “Heat” fans jump to his defense as soon as someone talks down about him. You’re the idiot for thinking that that was ALWAYS the case every time the two teams matched up. Of course PG would score more on Battier, but Lebron also has trouble guarding PG too. Same can be said vice versa.

    Go away troll, you probably only starting cheering for the Heat when LBJ joined, loser.

  21. #dwade#flash says:

    @amitpal which game did you watch? seriously.

  22. amitpal says:

    How lebron guarded george? Last time I checked lebron got In foul trouble guarding george and it was shane battier who guarded him most of the night. And he got a lot of double team, it wasn’t one individual person.

    • U a foo says:

      you’re an idiot. Lebron locked him down the entire first half with some low shooting % and scoring, he didn’t score till the second half where Shane battier started guarding him. Stop being an idiot the writer has brought up facts.

      • harold garcia says:

        Your crazy….they double teamed PG all game since the first quarter, PG guarded Lebron one on one without double-teaming him all night n they both ended up with 17 points.

    • Pakyaw says:

      Paul George got shutdown too in game 7 blowout, and then got fouled out….tsk,tsk. Tsk..