|Steve McPherson: Why We Watch - Paul George, With Ease
Basketball just looks easier for Paul George than it does for other people.
That hasn't stopped him from working hard at it.
Paul George might be doomed. At 23 years of age, he is two years younger than Kevin
Durant, who appears to be not so much entering his prime as rending it limb from limb
and bolting it down in great bloody hunks. He is six years younger than LeBron James,
whose version of coasting makes most other players’ best seasons look like standing
still. He cannot help this. Of things we don’t get to pick, when we’re born is high up on
Not only do those peers play the same position as George, and not only does their
existential battle of King of the Hill in the NBA cast a shadow backwards, but there are
others casting shadows forwards as well. Anthony Davis is three years younger than
George and gives every indication that he could become an unfathomable and
unsolvable mixture of length, agility and shooting coupled with terrifying defensive
acumen, a kind of Kevin Garnett 2.0. And there is, of course, the supposedly/
legendarily precocious draft class of 2014 to contend with. George is making moves,
but the game is not standing still.
And there is also the fact that George doesn’t really have a signature, or at least didn’t
until this season. LeBron’s early chapters revolved around the combination of his court
vision and preternatural physical gifts. Michael Jordan’s legend had its seed in his
dunking; Vince Carter’s career grew from much the same place. But until George’s
mind-numbingly stupendous 360-degree windmill against the Clippers this season, the
hyper-athletic 6’9” super-wing’s greatest dunk was one no one could see. That is, in
its way, a very Paul George thing, which either is or is not the problem, here.
George is an excellent dunker, but his dunks don’t have the barbaric fury of Blake
Griffin’s. He’s become a solid shooting threat, but he’s not the long distance TNT that
Steph Curry is. His early reputation was founded in his defense, but the reservoir of
his potential (and our at best still-blinkered understanding of defense) means that he’s
since been overshadowed by perimeter defenders like Andre Iguodala. But George
keeps getting better, keeps growing in multiple directions. There is no one thing that
No matter that they might earn it, players like James or like Jordan are not the guys
who win the Most Improved Player Award, but that’s George’s biggest piece of
hardware right now. Look down past winners and you see a murderer’s row of
surprises and late bloomers—Boris Diaw, Ryan Anderson, Aaron Brooks, Hedo
Turkoglu—peppered with a few legitimate, later-blooming stars: Tracy McGrady, for
one, and Kevin Love for another.
But a year after winning Most Improved Player, George could—improbably but quite
legitimately—be considered in the running for a second Most Improved Player award.
At this early stage in his career, perhaps that’s the thing that defines him, that makes
him so compelling to follow: the simple, impossible act of getting better, and how
thoroughly in-progress he is.
After an Indiana loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road, I asked George how
he worked to improve his handle in the offseason, and whether it was more mental or
mechanical. “For me it was mechanical,” he said. “Just learning how to stay low.
Staying low really improved my ballhandling, because I was able to bring stutter
moves, didn’t allow defenders to get under me. That was the next level for me.”
That sense of leveling up...CONTINUE READING AT THE CLASSICAL