I really like Paul George’s potential as a strong defender at this level. He will have a distinct size and length advantage over most “3′s” in the league, and he shows good potential in being able to use that to really influence an opponents jump shots, forcing them to change their shot to get the ball over his outstretched hands.
I do have to use the word “potential” in that last paragraph, because on tape George only contests shots as well as he should about 1/2 of the time. When he did it, he was a force defensively, but sometimes he played somewhat conservatively and allowed people to shoot without getting his arms up. He needs more concentration and focus, and he needs a staff that will demand that of him. He clearly has the natural gifts to be a strong defender at the NBA level, but he has to apply those gifts to his play consistently.
On the ball, George is usually in the right place, trying to do the right thing. He plays too upright in his slide, which gets him off balance against really quick drivers. His legs get stiff and he gets up out of his stance, which is another reason why sometimes guys who are smaller can still shoot over him, as he doesn’t slide balanced enough to lift his hands quickly. Like I mentioned in the first part of this piece, gaining flexibility in his legs will greatly help him become a high level defender, because the raw material is there to work with no question.
In spurts on tape, you see him really turn it on defensively. When focused on that aspect of his game, he can really anticipate things well, has really quick hands in getting deflections, can block shots when balanced, and has good instincts. When he does that, he looks like a potential defensive stopper, but you didn’t see it all the time on film. I think a large part of this inconsistency was lack of concentration (typical 19 year old stuff) and lack of elite conditioning. At the NBA level, he will both play less minutes and have less responsibility early in his career, so pacing himself shouldn’t be a long term issue. It will be his own responsibility, and that of his head coach and training staff, to make sure he gets in elite condition to play. If he does that, I see no reason why Paul George can’t be a very very good NBA defensive player, capable of guarding a variety of different types.
He won’t be great at defending guys who run through a million screens, but he will be a potential stopper of guys who just try and go off the dribble. He will be able to influence their shots from the perimeter due to his length, and that length will allow him to play a step further off than most people can, keeping drivers in front of him. He will also be a terrific defender in screen/roll situations, both against the dribbler and the screener.
I think if Paul George can learn to play lower to the ground with more flexibility, he can be one of the top wing defenders in the league. He won’t be that right away, but by age 22 or 23 he will be, in my judgment.