Not once, but twice in the last year the Indiana Pacers have tried to plug their hole at the 2 by attempting to trade for Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard O.J. Mayo.
Twice, the deal has fallen through and the Pacers have been left to pick up the pieces.
But in spite of the team’s failed efforts, the answer to coach Frank Vogel’s prayers has been right under his nose the entire time: second-year swingman Paul George.
Without Mayo, George has been thrust into a starting role on a team that many believe could make a serious playoff run.
“Yeah, I think getting to play along with the kind of guys that I have is a great opportunity for me to grow on this team offensively,” George told HOOPSWORLD.
“Grow” is the operative word.
George was drafted as a 6-8, 215-pound string bean, but has suddenly shot up two inches while packing on a few more pounds of muscle.
“I didn’t really notice until I got back here,” George said of his growth spurt. “Everybody was saying that I got taller but I just thought it was people who haven’t seen me in awhile. I measured myself and I ended up being taller then last year.”
Opponents would say he’s better than last year, too.
Through five games George is averaging 12.1 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 33.4 MPG (up from 7.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 20.7 MPG). His Player Efficiency Rating is up to 16.37 and his true shooting percentage has rocketed up to 68.6 thanks to his 92.3% mark at the free throw line. George has also bumped his 3-point percentage up to 63.2%, which is obviously unsustainable, but is nonetheless a positive sign.
“Coach (Frank) Vogel has told me many times to be aggressive and take the open shots,” George said. “(I’m) just being more assertive on the offensive end, that’s been the biggest difference. I’m just trying to work on areas of my game that my team needs me the most on offense.”
Perhaps most importantly, George is building of last year’s solid defensive performance against Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose in the playoffs.
Fearing that the 6-4 Rose would be too much for his smallish point guards, Vogel put George on Rose for stretches of time in spite of the then-rookie’s poor defensive reputation.
George still needs work on the defensive end, but he’s using that performance (and his seven-foot-plus wingspan) to propel himself into another class defensively.
“I think that series definitely set the tone for this team and for myself,” George said. “It set the tone for the rest of my career as well. I need to play at that level defensively against everybody that I match up with. It definitely was a building block for my career defensively.”
The Pacers offense is still struggling overall, however the team ranks eighth in defensive efficiency. Having a 6-10 shooting guard might not be directly responsible, but over time opposing 2s are going to start to fear Indiana because they know what kind of talent is growing there