On August 1st, 2014, Paul George fell awkwardly in a Team USA scrimmage while giving chase to James Harden, and George remained on the floor for some time. Replays of the injury showed George’s leg bending the wrong way, and it wasn’t long before the news came out: Paul George was likely to miss the 2014-15 NBA season with a fractured right leg.
Th news to the Indiana Pacers and their fans devastated; the Pacers had advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for two seasons in a row. Paul George was named an All-Star in both seasons. George’s teammate Roy Hibbert was seen as the antidote to the Miami Heat, the Pacers’ biggest rival. No matter how you looked at it, the Pacers were one of the best teams in the East.
That was before the injury.
The Pacers struggled last season without their star player, finishing 38-44 and missing the playoffs. George returned for the final six games of the season, but looked like a watered-down version of himself. The Pacers parted ways with many of their core players, like Lance Stephenson, David West, and Roy Hibbert. With so many questions and new faces, nobody knew what to expect heading into this season.
Paul George, seemingly the lone remaining member of the previous iteration of the team, has returned to form this season. In fact, he looks much better. His numbers are up all across the board, and he’s playing with confidence, something he struggled to do in his six games at the end of last season. The Pacers sit at 8-5 through this early part of the 2015-16 campaign, and they are a playoff team once again, thanks to Paul George.
Take a look at his numbers per game this season compared to his last healthy season, in 2013-14:
George is doing just about everything better. He’s scoring at an elite level, tied for sixth in the NBA with Blake Griffin. Among all small forwards, George is third in assists per game, behind only Draymond Green and LeBron James, while leading in rebounds per game. His FG% looks rough on the surface, but that’s not exactly true.
Take a look at George’s effective field-goal percentage, or eFG%. This statistic takes into account that, “3-point field goals are worth 50 percent more than 2-point field goals.” Paul George takes 34.6% of his shots from behind the three-point line, so eFG% is a better statistic to look at when judging his shooting ability. His eFG% is .508, which puts him in the company of other scorers like Damian Lillard (.505), Kevin Love (.503), and Chris Bosh (.515).
Don’t mistake Paul George for a one-dimensional player, he plays defense as well. In fact, George plays defense better than most other players in the NBA. He ranks fifth in the league in defensive win shares with 0.9, a metric used to describe how valuable a player is defensively. Over the last ten games, George has also lead the Pacers to the NBA’s best overall defense.
In previous seasons, the biggest criticism of Paul George was that he struggled as a ball-handler. He was more of a spot-up shooter, which is to say he was not good enough to create his own shot. That’s what separates the good from the great, and even more so the great from the elite. This season, Paul George has proved that he can get his shot off whenever necessary.
George has added a step-back into his game, and he uses good control of the ball to create enough space to effectively find his shooting motion. George has shown the willingness to get better and through the early stages of this season, he has joined the NBA’s elite. If he keeps playing at such a high level, his Pacers will challenge for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The season is long, and George will have to prove over a larger sample size that he really has improved. However, do not let that take away from what he has done so far. It’s almost unbelievable to think that one year ago Paul George was sitting on the sidelines with a seasonal (possibly career-challenging) injury, and now he has come back better than ever.
*Statistics provided by: ESPN.com and basketball-reference.com
*Images from blkdmnds.com, fssta.com, linkis.com, and Washington Times