Paul George ranked number 3.
Paul George On Fast Track To Elite Status
Nov. 8 -- There are plenty of Roy Hibbert's 6,307 (and counting) tweets the Indiana Pacers' big man might want to take back. There are at least a couple we'd recommend he tap the delete button on, sorry big fella, just being honest.
One that needs no editing, however, came the morning after the Pacers had taken apart their Central Division rival Chicago Bulls behind a balanced effort that included a game-high 21 points from Pacers' All-Star Paul George:
BEST BELIEVE @PAUL_GEORGE24 GETTING THAT #MVP TROPHY THIS YEAR. NO ONE PLAYING LIKE HIM.
George might not be ready for MVP status just yet, but he's certainly on the fast track to elite status with the way he's playing early this season for the only undefeated team left in the league. He ranks third on the initial Kia Race to the MVP list for the 2013-14 season, behind the reigning and back-to-back winner LeBron James and Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, and with good reason. George leads the Pacers in scoring (25.8) and steals (1.8) to go along with his 8.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists and has been nothing short of spectacular so far.
In short, George has become the catalyst for one of the league's elite teams in short order, this is just his fourth season in the league. The last lanky small forward to make a move up the food chain like this was Durant, whose perch among the top three on most anyone's MVP list has been cemented with his consistent performance year after year.
That's the one frontier George is in the process of conquering right now. He has to continue to deliver night after night for the Pacers if he's going to maintain his spot among the best of the league's very best.
The Pacers have known for a while what they have in George, hence the maximum contract extension he signed before the start of this season. Pacers boss Larry Bird saw the potential in the lead up to the 2010 Draft, snagging George with the 10th pick.
But even they have been a bit surprised by his rapid rise up the ranks.
"Paul George has really been a dominating player for us the last couple of years on the defensive end," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said during an interview with ESPN Radio. "And his offense seems to take giant steps every time he comes back from an offseason of work. He just has a great work ethic and a desire to add something to his game every year. And his shot-making and ability to carry the offensive load for us has taken a big time step from last year."
George's increased confidence has been unmistakable, both in his words and actions. He's been up front about the Pacers' intent not only supplant the Bulls at the top of the Central Division, but also their plans to finish what they started in the Eastern Conference finals last season and crash the Miami Heat's championship plans this season.
"I'm not being cocky about this team at all," George said during the preseason. "I just know what kind of work we have put in as a group and I think we're capable of reaching the goals we've set for ourselves as a team. We believe in each other and we believe in what we're working for. That's all to it."
It's not bravado, as far as we can tell, just good ol' fashioned goal setting by a player TNT's own and Pacers Hall of Famer Reggie Miller called the "most underrated player in the league" Thursday night.
Not for long, Reg. Not for long!
-- Sekou Smith