Tag Archives: Paul George

A Vast Sea of Helplessness

bogenfreund | Flickr

Ed. Note: Evans Clinchy is a Bostonian and active member of the hoops blogosphere. He’s been covering the Celtics for nearly four years, with his writing appearing on CelticsBlog, NESN, and SI (among other places). You can follow him, his thoughts, and his writing on Twitter. He wrote this piece after the Pacers came up short in Monday night’s Game 7 against the Heat.

Quite possibly the most prevalent bit of NBA conventional wisdom, right up there with such nuggets of genius as “You can’t teach height” and “Defense wins championships,” is the idea that there’s nothing worse than being a middling team and falling into an endless loop of first-round playoff exits. Everyone knows the peril of basketball purgatory — if you’re too good to fall into the lottery and too bad to be a serious championship threat, there’s no way out, and you’re doomed to mediocrity forever.

The Indiana Pacers worked for years to disprove this theory. After the Malice at the Palace fomented the downfall of a legitimate contender in 2004, the franchise proceeded to endure eight straight seasons in the middle, never winning fewer than 32 games or more than 44. During that time, not once did they win multiple playoff rounds, and not once did they make a draft pick higher than 10th

It was really, really hard for Indy to break out of that funk. The aforementioned No. 10 draft pick was Paul George in 2010; they traded the No. 15 a year later for George Hill. Add those pieces to a foundation of Danny Granger (remember him?) and Roy Hibbert, then throw in a timely free-agent signing in David West, and you’ve got yourself a finally-better-than-mediocre basketball team.

After nearly a decade, the Pacers had finally built something they could be proud of.

At least it appeared that way. But what happened last night makes you rethink things a little bit.

To the Pacers’ credit, they pushed the Miami Heat to seven games in these Eastern Conference finals, which is something virtually no one expected any team to do this spring. The mighty Heat, winners of 27 consecutive games just a couple months ago, were pushed to the brink of elimination, and that’s something George and Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers can tell their grandchildren someday.

But how depressing is it to think that a seven-game exit was probably the Pacers’ ceiling? That no matter how “interesting” things began to look at certain points over these last two weeks, the chances of Indy actually winning this series in the end were precisely 0.00000 percent all along? That no matter how shrewdly constructed this Pacer team was, no matter how well coached they were, no matter how hard they fought to unseat the Heat as East champs, there was simply no out-talenting the unbelievable talent that is LeBron James?

That’s pretty damn depressing if you ask me. The Pacers worked for years and years to build themselves into something other than a first-round exit team. But ultimately, what’s the difference between a first-round exit and a third-round exit? In a league where rings are everything, a conference finals berth is nothing.

This is where we’re at. This is what LeBron’s relentless LeBronniness has done to the NBA. It’s left the other 29 teams in the league, some of them very good teams relative to the other squads comprised by mere mortals, wondering… what’s the point?

I suppose there’s some pride to be had in playing seven competitive, highly watchable games against the best team in the universe. The Pacers were one fluky 3-point shooting performance away from stealing Miami’s perch atop the East, and that’s saying something. Only it’s kinda not. Watching this series, you had this tingling sense that a Heat victory was a foregone conclusion, even when the Pacers tied it 1-1, then 2-2, then 3-3. LeBron was never really going to lose this one.

Basketball purists trumpeted this series as a potentially legendary one, a picture-perfect matchup of hoops yin and yang. You had the stylistic clash of an athletic, running, gunning supersquad and an old-school defensive team led by an old-school defensive big man. It was a beautiful sentiment. Beautiful, but baloney. This wasn’t a Taoist equilibrium — this was a food chain. The Heat were built to devour the Pacers, and devour them they did.

It’s hard not to feel bad for the Pacers. They’re a likable group of guys, an unassuming team from an unassuming town, they worked hard to reach this point, and they never had a chance.

The irony is that largely, this team was built by Larry Bird, the quintessential competitor, the guy who famously walked into the building for a 3-point shootout and asked the rest of the field, “Which one of you’s coming in second place?”

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the Pacers coming in second. Not only now, but it wouldn’t surprise a soul if they wound up right back here again next year, and the year after, and the year after that.

Indiana spent nine years building a team that was better than mediocre. But in the end, all they reached was a different kind of purgatory.

Thanks, LeBron. Thanks, Miami. As long as you’re around, everyone is mediocre.

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 4/25/13: ONE GOOD GAME OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

 

Lion Face. Lemon Face. Good moments. Bad moments. You guys know the drill by now. Let’s do this.

Lion Face: Roy Hibbert’s dunk

Few men have done things like this to Ivan Johnson and lived to tell about it. Hibbert managed to save his best dunk of the year for the playoffs with this one. Just to show off, Hibbert would then proceed to knock down a three pointer at the end of the first quarter that was eventually waved off as it came a split second after the clock expired. Still though, a solid two minute stretch for Hibbert.

Lemon Face: Danny Crawford

Greg Smith threw down a strong dunk over Serge Ibaka, then got T’d up by Danny Crawford because he…well you see you can’t…uhhhh…yeah…Apparently Smith looked too menacingly toward Ibaka which drew him a technical. A rare controversial call from one of the Crawford brothers. Who would have guessed?

Lion Face: The George Boys

Paul George and George Hill carried the load for Indiana last night by providing 49 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals between them. The G2 zone at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was rocking as the Pacers took care of business in a series that can’t conclude quick enough.

Lemon Face: Patrick Beverley’s dirty play

GIF via SBNation

In the second quarter of the Thunder-Rockets game, Russell Westbrook was casually bringing the ball up the court to call a timeout as teams tend to do literally hundreds of time every season. Rather than allowing Westbrook to get the easy timeout, Beverley instead attempted a steal the ball. While I’m all for playing until the whistle blows, the angle Beverley took resulted in him colliding with Westbrook’s knee which initially looked like it caused damage. Westbrook would continue to play on, but the jostling between Westbrook and Beverley may be something to watch for the rest of the series as there is clearly bad blood between the two.

Lion Face: Pacers end of quarter play

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARB85gVzHpQ

Play of the night? Play of the night.

Lemon Face: Houston’s end of game possession

With 11 seconds remaining and trailing by four points, Houston had the ball following a missed Kevin Martin free throw. In this situation, you either want an extremely quick two or relative quick three point attempt. The opposite of what you want is running nearly 10 seconds off the clock and getting a seven foot floater out of it. Patrick Beverley knocked down the shot, but that effectively ended any chance that Houston had to steal a game on the road from Oklahoma City which I can only assume led to Thunder fans across the nation chanting…

Lion Face: This

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yVV-ugC-k

No comment.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

GIF via SBNation

If you tell me that you’ve never done this on an eight-foot hoop in your backyard, either you’re lying or I weep for your childhood. In addition to this alley oop, Leonard finished the first half with 14 points on 7-10 shooting in 20 minutes of play. His performance begs the question, Kawhi haven’t you been paying attention to him this series? (I’m so sorry for that.)

Lemon Face: Steve Nash v. the Spurs

 

 

While Nash and the Lakers entered the season dreaming of a championship, in reality it has been a nightmare for them. After playing in at least 85% of games every season from 2000-2012, Nash has battled injuries all year as age has finally caught up to him. He gritted his way through last night’s game but was largely overshadowed by Steve Blake’s surprisingly impressive performance.

Lion Face: Manu Ginobili

After missing nine of the Spurs last 10 games of the year with a strained hamstring, Ginobili’s health was up in the air heading into the playoffs. Well, at least that’s what Gregg Popovich and the Spurs wanted you to believe. Instead, Ginobili has looked as good as can be in Games 1 and 2. In the first half alone, Ginobili  scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from beyond the arc) while dishing out four assists. Can you say efficient?

Lemon Face: This Sports Illustrated Pre-Season Cover

SICover

Well, technically, it has been fun…provided you’re not a Lakers fan. Unfortunately for Lakers fans and those who enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of the Lakers dismal performance this year, their season, barring a miracle that may need to be confirmed by the Vatican, appears to be rapidly coming to an end.

BONUS Lion Face: THAT PASS

GIF via @cjzero

Usually I try to have an equal amount of Lion Faces and Lemon Faces to balance everything out, but then Manu Ginobili decided to do this at the end of the game and there’s just absolutely no way I could not include it, so I’ll leave you with this.

These and Those

More than any of the league’s other postseason awards, Most Improved Player is a construction of ambiguity. Player evaluation is already such an indefinite art that trying to measure the distance between two unknown benchmarks is alchemy to the greatest degree. In the past, several methods of shorthand have been settled on. The award has often been given to effective role-players who see a big jump in minutes, highlighted by a leap in points per game. It also has found its way into the hands of players who jump a talent tier, earning a first All-Star berth of making some other clearly defined adjustment to the quality component of their basketball identity.

By either method, Paul George has to be considered one of the favorites to win the award this season. Becoming an offensive centerpiece for the Pacers, in the absence of Danny Granger, George’s per game scoring average jumped by 5.3 points on the way to earning his first All-Star appearance. This season he has made some definable improvements, transforming his considerable talent into considerable production. His rebounding has been superb and his individual defense elite. There is no question that he is the central pillar of the Pacers’ future.

However, a closer examination reveals some holes in his Most Improved case. George’s eFG% this season is just 49.1%, roughly the same as Metta World Peace’s, and the lowest of his career. On the whole his scoring has been much less efficient this season, and those extra 5.3 points per game are the product of an extra 5.2 shot attempts per game. The real growth areas in George’s game have been in consistent confidence, patience, aggressiveness and leadership. When it comes to actual growth of offensive skill, I’m not sure were looking at something worth celebrating with an award. For the Pacers he has definitely become the “Most,” I’m just not sure about the “Improved.”

While George’s season has been puffed up and paraded around the internet, it has obscured the incredible actual improvement of his teammate Lance Stephenson. Chances are you’ve seen Stephenson only rarely this season, and possibly never before. Even if you’ve been watching him on a regular basis this season, it’s difficult to capture how far he’s come without watching some video of the full-speed train wreck that was his first two seasons. Before this season Stephenson had played 557 NBA minutes, shooting 36.6% from the field, turning the ball over on 22.4% of his possessions and making just 4 of 35 three-pointers. Those numbers are stomach churning but that don’t even begin to capture how painful it was to watch. Once a night he’d make a play that would take your breath away, only to be follow by five minutes of forced jumpers, charging fouls, behind-the-back passes whipped full steam at his teammates’ ankles, and some of the most intent defensive ball-watching you’ve ever seen.

The most bizarre part of the entire experience was the accompanying surplus of barking bravado and chest-pounding confidence. You may remember Stephenson from last year’s playoff series against the Heat, where he barely saw the floor but felt comfortable enough to walk towards the Heat bench during a timeout, making the choke sign. In retrospect, all of that buffoonery was clearly a defense mechanism, a drastic overcompensation. For the first time in his life Stephenson couldn’t just rely on his basketball skills to prove he belonged, and his personality swelled to convince himself, above all others, that he was truly an NBA player.

This season his play on the court is making that statement. He’s chopped nearly a third off his TO%, all the way down to a respectable 14.1%. He’s shooting 45.8% from the field and has made 62 of 187 three-pointers. He attacks the glass ferociously, frequently turning a defensive rebound into a one-man fast break. He makes smart off-the-ball cuts and knows where to find space in the defense for open jumpshots. His individual defense has been physical, challenging, and borderline terrific. The ball-watching breakdowns that were so common in his first two seasons have all but disappeared. His ability to get into the lane and create shots for himself and teammates continues to be nourishment for the offense-starved Pacers. What amazes more than anything, is that all of these developments happened at the same time. This isn’t a case of a role player carving out a niche by discovering how to deploy their one elite skill. Stephenson has become a full-fledged and entirely well-rounded NBA starter.

Last season the Pacers’ starting lineup at the end of the season was a juggernaut. George Hill – Paul George – Danny Granger – David West – Roy Hibbert were leaned on hard by Frank Vogel and they produced at tremendous levels. They outscored the opposition by an average of 14.1 points per 100 possessions, including a +20.2 mark in their six playoff games against the Heat. Granger’s injuries presented a huge hole at the beginning of the season but that same group, with Stephenson in Granger’s place, has outscored opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions this year. The only lineup in the league which has played at least 600 minutes and posted a better Net Rating this year is the Thunder’s starting five.

Paul George may have become the face of the franchise, but Lance Stephenson has become the barking, snarling glue that holds them together at both ends of the floor. The Pacers’ identity is painted with broad strokes of bulldog physicality and noone on the roster personifies that better than Stephenson. Paul George climbed a step this season, a difficult step and one which not many players arrive at. But below him on the pyramid Lance Stephenson is leaping steps two-at-a-time.

Breaking Down The Pacers Breakdowns

If defense alone won championships, the Indiana Pacers would be considered serious contenders for the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, scoring is also fairly important to winning games, and it is in this area, specifically in clutch situations, that the Pacers struggle, as we can see in the chart below, which shows Indiana’s record in the clutch when they are either tied or behind.

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 6.55.47 AM

Indiana’s problems in those winnable situations come not from talent, but rather from execution.

 

 

Here, the Celtics have just stormed back to tie the game on the heels of a 9-0 run. The ever-pendulous momentum has swung in favor of Boston, and all seems lost. Yet the Pacers faithful are unwavering in their belief of this team, and they rise as one to cheer what will surely be the basket that cauterizes the suddenly open wound. They hope, no, they know, that salvation will come in the form of a…Roy Hibbert long distance two pointer?

The first problem with this set, before the two bungled screens, before Roy Hibbert’s ill-fated heave, is timing. The Pacers wait until halfway through the shot clock to finally initiate their set. If they were ahead in this game, burning down the clock might make sense. But at a time when Boston’s offense and defense are clicking on all cylinders, it doesn’t seem like the soundest of strategies.

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 9.54.32 PM

David West tries to set a screen for Hill, but Hill never gives his big man time to get set. Instead, Hill darts towards the right side, with defensive savant Avery Bradley sticking with him every step of the way.

 

Hill: “Oh, my bad, David. Here, let’s try that again”

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 9.54.56 PM

Hill takes the ball back out, finally allowing West to set a proper screen. Except, he doesn’t.

 

Hill: “Nice, that’s what I’m talking ab-wait, why’d you slip? Well, OK, I guess I’ll just turn the corner and oh! Hey, Jeff, nice to see you. Really, I think it’s tremendous that you’re back on the court after everything you went through last season. It’s just such an inspiration to me.Wait, since you’re hedging pretty hard on David’s screen that means Garnett rotated to David, which means Roy should be flashing at the free throw line. I should get him the ball.Then again, Jeff, we so rarely get the chance to-oh, you’re going to cover Roy? Well, it was nice talking to you, are you free for a beer after the game? Shoot, now Roy isn’t as open as he was before.”

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 7.16.08 AM

 

Hill has given Green enough time to recover back to Hibbert, closing off what could have been a driving lane for Hibbert to either score or suck in the defense and pass out. Instead, he’s forced to take a free-throw jump shot that clangs off the iron.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 9.49.53 PM

In this set against the Lakers, Paul George sets an initial screen on Antawn Jamison, and then streaks to the far side to set up shop in the right corner.David West then sets a screen on Steve Nash, freeing up Hill to drive into the lane.

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 9.50.12 PM

Once Hill picks up his dribble, he has two decent options: pass the ball to George, soon to be open for a corner three, or pass the ball to David West who is just inside the three point line.

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Hill, already looking in West’s direction, chooses the latter option. Paul George is still open.

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West decides to reset, and gives the ball back to Hill, as they run a 1-4 pick and roll. Paul George is still open.
Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 7.23.52 AM

Jamison and Nash trap Hill, so Hill passes it to West. Steve Blake rotates to West, which now leaves both Stephenson and Paul George open. However, rather than making the smart play, West turns and finds himself greeted by none other than Dwight Howard, arms outstretched, as if he’s singing, “These arms of mine/they are longing/longing to swat you.” Paul George is still open.

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 9.51.43 PM

West takes the jumper over Howard’s extended arms, and misses. Paul George is still open.

—–

Sometimes, it’s just a case of missing the opening man, and making a poor decision as a result.


Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 10.04.54 PM

 

Lance Stephenson starts out with the ball, while West sets a screen for him up top. Paul George and George Hill, they of the boy band “George George,” are firmly entrenched in the corners.

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 10.05.22 PM

 

Stephenson gives West the ball just to the right side of the top of the circle. West surveys the field, or at least appears to be, as Stephenson darts along the backside of West on a cut to the basket.

 

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As this is happening, West passes the ball to Paul George, while Roy Hibbert comes up to set a screen for George.

 

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Though George now has his defender, Mike Dunleavy, on his back, he’s also confronted with the length and all around might of LARRY SANDERS! George is thus left with two options, since trying to go mano-a-mano against SANDERS! is a pretty awful idea: he could pull up, a high-difficult, low-percentage shot, or he could get it a WIDE OPEN Lance Stephenson, either with a lob or a bounce pass around SANDERS! In a perfect world, one in which ACLs and Achilles’ tendons don’t tear, George would have found Stephenson.

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 10.07.55 PM

Yet in our current world, knees are the worst, and George pulls up and gets his shot blocked by, you guessed it, MIKE DUNLEAVY!

—-

George Hill has, by all means, had a tremendous season. He’s averaging career-highs in points (14.3), assists (4.7) and PER (16.7) with a True Shooting percentage of 56%. Still, even though Hill has had some stellar moments in the closing moments of a few games this year, he has, at times, struggled with late-game execution.

 

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 7.46.47 AM

 

The action starts with 17 seconds left to play. Hill and David West run what looks to be a pretty simple pick and roll (also, hello there David West’s slightly illegal, oh-how-did-my-leg-get-all-the-way-out-there screen). Chuck Hayes, who is defending West, sags off his man and switches to meet Hill once he gets around the screen.

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 10.19.02 PM

Hill, perhaps not realizing ol’ Chuck Wagon’s mobility, decides to drive right at him. Marcus Thornton then leaves Paul George to get in on the action, getting a hand in Hill’s face to bother him on his way to the rim. Why Thornton does this is a mystery, as it leaves Paul George, a deadly three-point shooter, wide open.

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 12.21.19 AM

Tyreke Evans further compounds the Kings’ questionable defense by sagging way off of Lance Stephenson (cleverly semi-camouflaged in a sea of yellow in the corner) and collapsing on Hill as well. Again, that leaves Hill smothered by three defenders, while Paul George and Lance Stephenson are wide open for three pointers.

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 10.19.24 PM

The smart play would be to pass it to either one of these players on the wings, but at this point, Hill, driven by Robert Frost, chooses the road not taken, and goes for a lay up, which promptly gets blocked by Chuck Hayes.

Indiana’s combination of talent and defensive prowess will likely be enough to get them out of the first round of the playoffs. However, if they want to advance further and truly become a contender, it is essential for them to fix their late-game execution issues.

Statistical Anomaly: Bucks @ Pacers

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Pacers blowout victory over the Bucks.

Tyler Hansbrough did some of his best work in March as a collegiate and his fourth professional season is following a similar path. Psycho T registered his three double doubles in as many games after notching just two double doubles in his first 66 games of this season. Is he a star player who will is capable of willing Indiana to wins the way he did North Carolina? No. But he is a nice piece for a competitive team who is capable of starting if Danny Granger never returns to form. Hansbrough wouldn’t be a great fit for many teams, but his grit and tenacity fit perfectly with the Pacers persona, making his increase in minutes this month a trend that should continue.

How do we typically define a good team? Usually, we want the better teams in the NBA (or any sport for that matter) to take care of business against inferior competition and compete against the elite teams. The Pacers last 12 wins against teams who are currently .500 or worse have come by an average 21.92 points. They also have the second best winning percentage against .500+ teams in the Eastern Conference. The knock on Indiana is typically that they can’t score enough to keep up with high-powered star-led offenses, but the Pacers are quietly averaging over 100 points since the ASB.

Pacers

The six Pacers that scored in double figures combined to miss a mere 25 shots and score 83 points. Brandon Jennings and JJ Redick missed 24 shots on their way to a pitiful six total points. Indiana’s depth is crucial to their success and increases their offensive consistency while Milwaukee’s dependence on a few select players results in a team that can score 100+ points (did so in eight of their first 11 games this month) or struggle to eclipse the 80 point plateau as this did against Indiana. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are elite scorers, but can a team win with a volume scorer being their best single player, let alone their best two players? Neither player is in the “Kobe-system” as far as talent is concerned, and the second level of star volume scorer (think Carmelo Anthony in today’s game or Gilbert Arenas in the early 2000’s) has had little success at putting a team on his back.

Speaking of Brandon Jennings, the Pacers have made it an area of focus to offer a strong contest when the flashy guard pulls the trigger from distance. This was the fifth time his last six games against the Pacers in which Jennings made 33.3% or fewer of his three pointers. The issue with Jennings isn’t the Pacers defense, it is the fact that he continues to take the hotly contested deep jumpers. In the Bucks 34 losses this season, Jennings is shooting 32.3% from distance as compared to a 43.6% mark in victories. He is attempting 5.7 triples per game (win or lose) and struggles to adapt his style based on the flow of the game. Jennings is a nice talent, but his ceiling will be limited until he learns to take what the defense gives him as opposed to forcing the action.

Monta Ellis had a game high 22 points and six assists, but that the Bucks dropped their second game in ten days when he leads all players in points and assists. Milwaukee had lost just one such game, prior to this stretch, in their first 81 games with Ellis on the roster. Ellis can fill it up offensively, but is he the type of well rounded player that can lead a team? He says he is a carbon copy of Dwayne Wade but would the Heat be this good with Ellis and the Bucks this bad with Wade? Furthermore, which roster would you prefer? The 2006 Heat team that got Wade one of his rings or this year’s Bucks squad? Ellis was right, ring count/wins is a difference between the he and Wade, but there are many differences as to why that difference occurred.

The physical tools of Milwaukee are at least comparable to those of Indiana, but the Pacers play as a team and are greater than the sum of its parts. Indiana has progressed from a nice playoff team that didn’t have a star to a team that has a developing star (Paul George) and enough pieces around him to make a serious run in the postseason.

Have a favorite team that you’d like to see featured in this post? I do it twice a week, once for the Wednesday slate and once for Friday. Here is Wednesday’s schedule. Tweet me @unSOPable23 if you want your team to be a part of the next Statistical Anomaly.

Atlanta @ Toronto, Milwaukee @ Philadelphia, Orlando @ Charlotte, Boston @ Cleveland, Boston @ New York, Miami @ Chicago, Los Angeles Clippers @ New Orleans, Indiana @ Houston, Washington @ Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Lakers @Minnesota, Denver @ San Antonio, Phoenix @ Utah, Sacramento @ Golden State, Brooklyn @ Portland

2013 All-Star Profiles: Paul George

JohnPaulGeorgeRingo

You know that thing about how the dream of the ‘90s is alive in Portland? Like how regardless of how the world has gone on having to deal with the intervening years that Portland is stuck in a decade defined by flannel, body piercing, Doc Martens, and non-conformity, sort of how Haight-Ashbury or Telegraph Ave are stuck in the ‘60s? Paul George is sort of like that, except he’s the dream of the basketball video game.

When the NBA 2K series introduced the My Player mode in NBA 2K11, it promised that you could build your player however you wanted: Do you want a guy who’s the same height as you but a great ball handler? How about a bruising 7’0” center? Yeah, I didn’t want those things either: What I wanted was a 6’10” wing who could dunk. Oh and hit threes. Oh and make him quick, too. And if he could throw a sweet pass or two, that wouldn’t hurt. Guess what? That’s Paul George.

But, like many My Players, he couldn’t put it all together at first. It’s one thing to dominate in a video game where the player you control has the gift of your consciousness while the rest of the players on the court are just pixels. You can leak out at just the right times on offense and your stroke from three-point range is more or less perfectible. It’s quite another thing to pull it off in real life. But this season, George has stepped everything up, especially his defense, as shown by a defensive rating that’s dropped from 104 to 100 to 97 in his first three years in the league.

You want more stats? Call up a list of players who have averaged at least 17 ppg, 7 rpg, and 3.5 apg while shooting better than 38% from 3-pt range and it’s chock full of seasons by players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird—and Paul George this season.

But enough numbers. How about the video evidence? Here’s a between-the-legs pass on the fast break:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkFpK3sTIRk&hl=en_US&version=3]

Here he is with a ludicrous stepback fadeaway jumper over LeBron James:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIZDZ13bmec&version=3&hl=en_US]

And here he is with the sweet dish to Roy Hibbert and an emphatic dunk over ascendant shot blocker supreme, Larry Sanders (Sorry, I mean LARRYSANDERS!):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUfRPu0i-_o&version=3&hl=en_US]

Still only 22 years old, George is just beginning to come into his own in the league, which should be terrifying. After the Pacers trashed the Heat 102-89, LeBron James himself embraced George and, according to George, said something like “Great game, keep going, see you in Houston.” I’m not one to believe in divine intervention when it comes to sporting events, but I will say this: If God or whatever supreme deity you believe in has a My Player, it’s Paul George.

Paroxysm At Gametime: Pacers @ Raptors Notebook

This was cool.

On Wednesday, I covered the Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers game at the Air Canada Centre. Here is what I wrote about Pacers swingman Paul George. I also have some thoughts, observations and quotes to share, hence this notebook.

  • In the Paul George piece I made reference to Indiana coach Frank Vogel changing his expectations for George now that the games count. There’s a balance to be found here because it’s clear that George has more room for improvement than anyone else in their rotation, but even without Granger there are veterans like David West and Roy Hibbert who are ahead of him in the pecking order. George Hill is going to get his share of shots, too. It’s my sense that Vogel would like to see George earn a bigger role as the season goes on, but he doesn’t want to rush anything. I anticipate George will get his number called more once he shows he can put up a lot of points on a small-ish number of shots, though this might get trickier once Granger returns. Anyway, Vogel on George in his own words:

“I’m looking for him to dominate defensively and play with efficiency on the offensive end. Be assertive, attack the rim but stay within the team concept. We’d all like to see him come out and average Kevin Durant numbers but I don’t know if he’s capable of doing that. What he needs to do is just focus on being a highly efficient offensive player.”

  • This echoes what Vogel said about making up for Granger’s absence (the question was not specifically about George here):

“The strength of our team is that we’re a team and that we play together and we share the basketball and we play as one, so everybody’s gotta step up with the mindset of being more assertive but being efficient. We don’t want anybody out there forcing because they feel like they have shoes to fill.”

  • I hoped to get across in the piece that George is hard on himself, but confident about his abilities. This reminds me of Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas, who has endeared himself to this city already with his energy, personality and the fact that he looks like he’s ready to contribute at this level immediately. If you watched the game you saw him keep battling when he was tired, refuse to back down from Hibbert, get frustrated at himself when he committed fouls, register a double-double and make the crowd explode with an awesome putback dunk where he slapped the backboard.
  • That was the second time he slapped the backboard that evening. Pregame, he did it after missing a dunk and pulling himself up by the rim. This was while going through a ton of drill work with fellow rookie Terrence Ross and assistant coach Eric Hughes. When Valanciunas had to make 10 shots from a series of spots on the floor, makes would pump him up. Misses wold prompt a “my bad, my bad,” a loud “AHH!” or some muttered words which might or might not have included profanity. After he finished his jump shooting, he high-fived absolutely everyone in the vicinity, including Raptors front office people and broadcasters sitting courtside.
  • My basic point here is you can’t help but love Valanciunas’ enthusiasm. Just ask Vogel:

“I love him. I think he’s great. He competes, he’s a spirited competitor. And I think he’s got a bright future, he’s going to be a challenge for us to go against. No question about that.”

  • The best part of the putback dunk I linked up there was the Lowry pass to set everything up. Gorgeous. He is so fun to watch in person. My second favorite play of Lowry’s was when he darted from one side of the key to the other to steal a rebound out of George’s fingertips. He’s every bit a Dwane Casey point guard and a welcomed change of pace from Jose Calderon’s more measured style, though the two worked well together offensively when the Raptors went small and Calderon is now one of the best backup point guards in the league.
  • Also spotted pregame: Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard sitting on the side of the court with rookie Orlando Johnson for a pregame chat and Raptors community ambassador Jerome Williams catching up with fellow Georgetown alum Hibbert.
  • Here is DeMar DeRozan signing his contract extension in the tunnel that leads onto the court right before tipoff. For real.
  • Amir Johnson wore these shoes with his face on them. He calls them the Tall Moneys. They were a topic of discussion in Toronto’s locker room pregame because, again, HIS FACE IS ON THEM. Aaron Gray said that Johnson offered to get some of his own made. In devastating news to bloggers everywhere, Gray was not enamored with the idea.
  • Raptors fans were treated to just about everything but a win. As pictured at the top of this post, there was a hell of an introduction, with a choir and video projected onto the floor. The fans, some in Halloween costumes, were loud all night, with particular excitement anytime newcomers Lowry and Valanciunas did, well, anything. At the end of the third quarter it felt like the general mood was “YES, BASKETBALL IS BACK AND THE RAPTORS TEAM MIGHT BE GOOD WHOOOOOO!” Then the fourth quarter started and David West happened, Toronto’s offense disappeared, George Hill hit a game-winning floater and  people left unhappy. At first I thought, “Well, at least they saw a great game.” It was then pointed out to me that fans don’t care if they got a great game, they want wins. True.
  • I enjoyed Hill’s quote about his game-winner:

“I’m not scared to take shots like that. I live for things like that. I love — that’s the things that I do at the park when growing up as a kid, counting down and trying to hit game-winning shots.”

  • David West on his fourth quarter pick-and-pop takeover:

“It just kind of got to my spots in term of where I’m comfortable. I just knew it was time to make some plays. Especially when we felt like we were right there, got the game to six, four. They push it back up to eight, back to six, back to four. We felt like we had an opportunity to really get it and get the ball in those spots in terms of just being comfortable.”

  • Hibbert on Paul George:

“He was good. He’s been working his butt off. He was scoring, he was passing, he was rebounding really well so I’m very excited.”

  • West on George:

“I think he’s a lot more confident. As an NBA player, I think the longer you play, the slower the game comes. You’re able to see things. I think the game is slowing down for him, so he still has a ways to go in terms of his growth and what he has to do to compete at a very high level every single night, but the game is slowing down for him and he’s learning what he has to do and how he has to play to be successful.”

  • More West on George:

“He’s a willing defender, the guy is willing to make plays defensively which we need. He’s hungry to be good in terms of putting the time in. He wants to be a good player and I think that’s where it all starts.  He’s putting the work in to get there.”

  • George on playing with West:

“I got a lot of chemistry, me and D-West. It seems like we run the pick and roll so much now to where I can read D-West. A couple plays today, I kind of didn’t read him right, but it’s just our chemistry as well on the pick and roll.”

  • George on the effectiveness of the two-man game with West:

“It simplifies it a lot because teams don’t know whether to — they come out when they gotta blitz and then he slips it. He’s gonna knock that shot down every time, so the wing has gotta come in, the big has to help in, and he becomes a quarterback at that position.”

  • Vogel on Granger’s absence and Gerald Green:

“We’re going to miss Danny Granger. Danny Granger’s a beast of a small forward. But we’ve got a really good team even without Danny Granger … And to be honest Gerald Green does a lot of stuff out there. The fact that he was not in the league a year ago blows my mind because he’s a very, very effective player and I think he’s gonna fill in just fine for Danny and our bench is really strong. We feel really good about our team even without Danny.”

  • One point here: “Beast” is basically Vogel’s favorite word. He called the Pacers a “beast of a team” twice pregame.
  • Couple of stories from the Pacers locker room: Postgame, Gerald Green joked that the Monstars stole his power. Lance Stephenson, across the room, then called him out for stealing his go-to “I had a bad game” joke. Pregame, West rapped along to whatever he was listening to on his headphones and Stephenson joined in. The song wasn’t audible to anyone but West, but apparently Stephenson knew it well enough to rap along with him. Not bad.

Paroxysm At Gametime: Paul George Puts Pressure On Paul George

Photo by Daniel Y. Go on Flickr

Paul George watched the tape. He relived last season’s playoff defeat to the eventual champion Miami Heat. He endured LeBron James’ 40, 18 and nine in Game 4, Dwyane Wade’s 41 and 10 in Game 6 and a 32-point Heat blowout in between. But what was on his mind, looking at the losses again?

“How much I let the team down by not being aggressive,” George says.

It’s evident that George feels he’s capable of more. More than what he provided during that series, more than what he’s shown so far in his two-year NBA career. He drastically improved his three-point shooting from 29.7 to 38.5 percent last season, but now he’s aiming for All-Stardom. This means making plays against a defense like Miami’s in the halfcourt. This means seeking out a dribbling coach in the offseason.

“My whole summer was dedicated to that series,” George says. “A lot of things that I watched on tape that I could’ve done, that I didn’t do, all came down to not being confident dribbling the ball, so that was something I spent a lot of time doing this summer … Now I’m confident. I’m a confident player now.”

George compared himself to Tracy McGrady when he came into the league. At 6-10, George moves like someone six inches shorter and sees over most of his defenders on the wing. If you add a tight handle to that sweet stroke, it’s easy to imagine a star. And at informal Pacers workouts in September, he showed his team what he’d been working on. “I really tried to take it to another level and I was able to get to the lane, I was able to create for my teammates,” George said. “Almost everything that they haven’t seen at a high level, I was doing on a consistent basis.”

That extended into the preseason, where Indiana head coach Frank Vogel gave George a longer leash. He wanted the 22-year-old to experiment, make mistakes and learn from them. George shot 37 percent on a team-high 13.1 shot attempts per game in seven exhibition games, including a 6-for-21 night in Orlando. He also averaged 3.4 turnovers, up from 1.8 last season, but that wasn’t the point. Here’s the point, according to George: “Just learn what works and what doesn’t, how to get shots. Being able to shoot a volume number of shots helps you understand what shots you can take and what shots you have to work on.”

Now that the regular season is here, Vogel doesn’t want to see errors in decision-making.

George isn’t going to be these Pacers’ No. 1 option, not with Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and David West on the roster, but he should still play as assertively as an All-Star. Indiana’s best attribute is its balanced attack and Vogel doesn’t want to see George fade into the background.  With Granger sidelined indefinitely due to knee soreness, that becomes even more important. George hates to see his teammate out of the lineup, but recognizes the opportunity it presents. “It’s pressure that I wanted,” he said. “Coming into the season, I wanted pressure so I guess this is a great way to start it.”

Before the Pacers’ season opener in Toronto, George watched an interview with Kobe Bryant. Then he watched it again, thinking back to his time spent with the USA Basketball Select Team in Las Vegas in July, scrimmaging against Bryant and the rest of the Team USA squad that went on to win Olympic gold. It was a challenge on both ends of the floor and it was an opportunity to learn.

“This whole year for me I think has been the greatest preparation I can get in preparing for this season,” said George. “Being around Kobe, LeBron, Durant, Melo, seeing those guys’ regimen and how they prepare just for practice. You know, it amazes me. That’s the group that I want to be in the category with.”

George started out on fire against the Raptors on Wednesday, scoring Indiana’s first four points of the game and 10 points in eight minutes. He converted five of his first six field goal attempts and did so in a variety of ways, demonstrating his face-up jumper in the mid-post, his step back off the dribble and his ability to attack the basket. At the same time, he forced DeMar DeRozan into an 0-for-5 start. It seemed like George was headed for a monstrous night.

That didn’t turn out to be the case, though. George scored only four points the rest of the game and added four turnovers to the one he committed in the first. The second half was the David West show, with the power forward scoring 21 of his 25 points after halftime, including 14 of the Pacers’ last 20. West made the game look simple with his pick-and-pop game and led Indiana back from a 10-point deficit halfway through the final frame. He, along with George Hill’s game-winning floater with 2.2 seconds left in the game, turned out to be the story.

That isn’t to say George disappeared or disappointed. He had nice chemistry with West in the two-man game, was a disruptive presence on defense and continued to hit the glass when shots stopped falling. George only scored four points after the first quarter, but finished with 15 rebounds and five assists, an integral part of the 90-88 win.

“I thought he was great,” said Vogel. “You know, I thought he started strong and when you’re going good you maybe get a little bit overaggressive, so he had a couple stretches where he over-penetrated and did a little too much with the basketball in terms of his driving and his dribbling, but playing 35 minutes and getting 15 rebounds, that’s a big time effort. That’s a big time effort, so I was very impressed with him.”

George said it was a conscious decision to hit the glass after watching the Bryant interview. “He talked about how his motor, at my age … he was amazed at how much his motor [ran] and how much he kept going throughout the game. And I thought to myself, I mean, there’s no way that I can’t add that to my game. And I just want to bring it every night. If I’m scoring the ball, I’m scoring the ball. If not, there’s other ways I can get my team a win and that’s rebounding.”

You can learn to balance confidence and conscientiousness. You can have high standards, then have a short memory if you fall short. Moments after a private pregame pep talk with Vogel, George talked of passing up good shots for great ones. After scoring 14 points on 15 shots, he wasn’t too proud of the performance.

“[There were] a lot of shots that I made tough that I could have made a lot easier,” George said. “But again, that’s me growing. Just me growing, watching film, seeing how I can make the game that much easier for myself. But my teammates set me up for great looks.” As he expresses his disappointment that he didn’t get to the free throw line, assistant coach Brian Shaw loudly interrupts: “Fifteen rebounds!”

“I’ma average that,” George says, half-serious, then repeats the bold, if questionable, claim. He expresses his fully serious desire to make this year’s All-Defensive Team in his next breath.

One game into the season is far too early to know what George will add to his repertoire or resume in 2012-2013. It’s too early to know how much of his summer studying will translate on the floor. But while there’s no shortage of players who have talked about improving since last year’s playoffs, George has shown some signs. With him, there has always been plenty of promise. And hearing George talk about his goals and expectations, it seems there’s something he might have in even higher supply: motivation.

One Round to Rule Them All

Photo by Nrbelex on Flickr

When the lineup for this year’s Slam Dunk Contest was announced, there was nothing but crickets coming from casual basketball fans. No Blake Griffin? No LeBron James? More dedicated followers of the NBA were maybe less surprised. Defending your dunk title has become a bit passé. And rumors about James’ participation fly every year, but he has little to gain by entering and winning and much more by losing. Getting into the dunk contest and falling to anyone might be a bigger misstep than The Decision.

But even the most enthusiastic basketball fans groaned at the field. Derrick Williams? He’s caught some nice alley-oops from Ricky Rubio, but he strikes me as a game dunker, not a showcase dunker. Paul George had that one great breakaway reverse where he pulled it down between his legs, but that’s about it. Chase Budinger’s dunks would best be described as workmanlike. And lastly, Iman Shumpert (who misses nearly as many dunks as he makes) bowed out to be replaced by the wildly better Jeremy Evans. But Evans is 6’9” and bigger guys get less credit for jumping high. It just doesn’t look as cool. His best dunk so far was called an offensive foul.

So why is there any reason for positivity? For one, the new single round format might actually work. Call me crazy, but the multi-round format of previous years has ruined what could have been some great dunk contests. Take Andre Iguodala’s performance in the 2006 Slam Dunk Contest. His alley-oop from Allen Iverson caught off the back of the backboard was probably the best dunk from that year’s event, but it came in the penultimate round and Iguodala ultimately lost to the diminutive Nate Robinson in a dunk off. Robinson’s dunk over Spud Webb signaled the turn of the contest towards a weirdly meta, prop-based approach to the dunk contest. Plus it took him 14 attempts to put it in. Iguodala was, in short, robbed.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6z9-l4hnMM

Two years later, Dwight Howard took the crown with the most prop-driven performance up until that point, but Gerald Green’s opening round dunk got lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame, because it was slick and creative.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1pXEumOGOU

But in subsequent rounds, Green showed he couldn’t come up with anything to top himself, much less any of the other contestants. The best dunk contest participants, from Michael Jordan to Vince Carter, have shown a sense of showmanship that extends beyond the individual dunks to the arc created over the whole contest. It’s kind of cognitively dissonant with the spirit of dunking in the game, which relies more on chance, timing, and opportunity than advance planning.

So there’s a chance that this single round format will level the field a bit more, resulting in good early dunks carrying more weight. But on the other hand, the NBA ditching the judges and awarding the trophy based solely on fan vote is thoroughly wrongheaded. The judge system has had its own problems (as when Howard’s truly impressive sticker dunk was misunderstood by them in the moment), but it’s impossible to see how a fan vote doesn’t lead to something that values flash or name recognition over an honest appraisal of dunks. On the bright side, no one knows who these contestants are. Seriously, this field’s about as open as the field of Republican presidential candidates last November.

But mixed feelings over the Slam Dunk Contest are nothing new. The truly revelatory performances are almost always surprises, which is perhaps in the dunk’s very nature. Like humor, a good dunk thrives on being unexpected, whether that means breaking out of the flow and rhythm of a regular game or coming up with something that’s never been seen before in the contest. The real key to a great dunk contest performance, though, is not only doing something startlingly new, but rather finding a balance between athleticism, showmanship, and, strangely, comprehensibility. Green’s cupcake dunk, Howard’s sticker dunk, and Javale McGee’s cradle under-the-backboard dunk all suffered for not being as immediately graspable as Dr. J’s free throw line dunk or Vince Carter’s through-the-legs alley-oop. Given the tremendous athleticism of players in the NBA now and the switch to fan-voting, it’s likely that the winning dunk won’t be the most impressive, but rather, the one that communicates the best.

First Name Last, Last Name First

Photo taken by Pelle Rink

 

The Indiana/Chicago first round in last season’s playoffs gave us plenty to love about the Pacers. In four out of five games, Indiana stood its ground against the best team in the NBA at that point. Suddenly, despite incredibly awful shooting displays, the Pacers became a buzz-worthy team. And someone who garnered quite a bit on his own was Paul George. Yet for someone known as a scorer in college, George’s field goal numbers were terrible. He isn’t yet comfortable putting the ball on the floor/shooting off the dribble, so his offensive game was quickly stymied by the best defense in the league — and there’s no shame in that, especially for a rookie as raw as George is.

Curiously, George unveiled himself a potentially great defender, something that few would’ve been able to predict during his days at Fresno St.  In Game 3, George had an awful shooting night (1-9 FG), but managed to bring in a game-high 12 rebounds, along with two assists, two steals, and two blocks, all the while being a big contributor to Derrick Rose’s worst shooting performance of the season (including an unbelievable recovery block on what was supposed to be a blow-by layup off a high screen). Rose had 96 other games to shoot worse than the 22% he managed in Game 3. He didn’t.

(…The Pacers lost that game.)

That first round series was at once a solid effort from a young team and a cry for help. The Pacers allowed for late-game surges by the Bulls in each of the first four games as they paralyzed themselves with a lapses in offensive execution down the stretch. Of course, that was then. Things have changed a bit since then.

The Pacers and San Antonio Spurs struck one of those rare deals wherein both teams get exactly what they need while giving up something just outside the scope of necessity. Acquiring George Hill means patching up a few glaring holes on the team while reinforcing their greatest strength. Hill is as steady as they come in terms of combo guards, perfectly capable of running the offense while Darren Collison rests. His dramatic improvement as a shooter bodes well for the team with George and Brandon Rush equally inconsistent shooters, and with Mike Dunleavy Jr. unable to keep himself on the floor. Having a steady hand is imperative for the late-game situations, and that might be the most important skill Hill brings back to his hometown. The Spurs built, from the ground up, a soldier understanding his role in the collective and never superseding it. Of course, the Pacers would love to unlock Hill’s prior incarnation — because adding another potent decision-maker sounds much more appealing than allowing more Danny Granger isolation plays.

Defensively, Hill will jump right into being a high-functioning cog in Indiana’s stellar team defense. Hill is one of the best pick and roll defenders in the league, which is probably worth double for the Pacers. Being in the same division as the Bulls means needing several wrenches to throw into the Derrick Rose fight for all four rounds. With Paul George proving to be a successful Rose deterrent, adding Hill into the mix should only improve an already solid defensive scheme.

Adding Hill puts Indiana in an interesting (and most likely beneficial) position. When the Pacers eschewed Dunleavy for George late in the regular season, it was clear that defense was being held as the premium. But as SI’s Zach Lowe explained prior to the start of the playoffs, maybe that wasn’t the best idea:

The Pacers have played much better with Dunleavy on the floor this season than they have with either George or Brandon Rush at shooting guard, and it’s not close. Indiana’s current starting lineup — Darren Collison/George/Danny Granger/Tyler Hansbrough/Roy Hibbert — has been outscored by about 10 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Value. The margin stays just as bad if you substitute Rush for George. But in 152 minutes with Dunleavy at the 2-guard spot, that lineup is +4 per 100 possessions.

Pair of playoff teams face rotation decisions | The Point Forward

Dunleavy was the only shooting guard on the roster consistently capable of creating offense, which Lowe explains could mean more to the Pacers than defense (which makes a bunch of sense when you consider just how awful this team was on offense). Hill is a reliable shooter and passer – replacing Dunleavy — and his length and smarts allows him to guard multiple positions — replacing George — making him the likely choice for starting 2. This means moving George back to the bench. And while the guy has superstar ambitions (and who can blame him with the skill set he has?), Hill’s acquisition allows Indiana to be patient in George’s development. As Paul George refines his offensive game, he could very easily settle into a Trevor Ariza-esque defensive stopper role off the bench without the idiotic shooting displays. After Game 3, he clearly took pride in his defensive effort. As he should. Holding a force like Rose to underwhelming performances should be enough to make anyone consider defense as a specialty.

George is someone who could possess star potential. Adding Hill doesn’t necessarily inhibit that. It does, however, make sure that the organization is patient in George’s development. It makes sure bad habits don’t derail what could be the beginning of a promising career. Indiana got what they needed on draft night –a big fix and a little breathing room as the next few years play out. The Pacers aren’t rushing the future, but they aren’t stalling the present either.