Outside of maybe Kobe Bryant, there may not be a harder player on this list to rank than Indiana Pacers star Paul George.
Here is everything, heading into this season, that we know about George. We know that, when he has been healthy over the last three years—the entirety of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, along with a handful of games with limited minutes during the 2014-15 season—George has been one of the best two-way players in the League.
On offense, he can score all over the court and has shown that he’s getting better and better as a distributor, plus he’s a a matchup nightmare, as he’s 6-9 and can shoot over almost anyone who guards him.
On defense, George is revered for his ability to lock people down, as he was a First-Team All-Defense selection in 2014 and a second-teamer the year before.
Having said that, the only other thing we know about George is that he’s coming back from one of the ugliest injuries that we’ve seen a pro athlete suffer. You’ve probably seen it, but on the off chance you’ve been able to avoid watching it, George’s lower leg snapped during a Team USA scrimmage in the summer of 2014.
It was one of the most horrific injuries that you’ll ever see a human being go through. If you have any kind of skepticism about George’s ability to come back and be the Paul George that took the lead by storm a few years back, it’s 100 percent justified.
And yet, we here at SLAM think that he is going to be the 22nd best player in the NBA this year. It’s certainly a bit of a risk to place George this high, but when you remember the kind of player that he is capable of being, it’s certainly a fair spot.
The biggest thing George has going for him is that he doesn’t have to worry too much about getting back in game shape. Somehow, Indiana’s star power forward—we’ll get to that in a second—was able to recover from his injury to get back in time for six games last season.
All things considered, he looked pretty good, as he averaged 8.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game. If he kept this pace up for 36 minutes a night, which is right around what he usually logs when he’s healthy, he’d average 21 and 8.7.
There’s nothing to guarantee that George does that, but if he hypothetically does, he’d join a list of guys who are really, really good.
One reason this is so attainable for George is the switch to power forward. With the way the NBA is evolving, even the Pacers—one of the teams that has prided itself on being ultra-physical and slowing down the game in an attempt to grind out wins—understand that being able to space the floor and push the ball is more important than anything else.
In fact, even Pacers president Larry Bird thinks the team needs to change the way they play so that the team can play at a faster tempo to score more points—and understandably so, because the Pacers were 23rd in offensive rating last season.
George moving to the 4 makes this change easier. While he isn’t exactly fond of the decision now, a guy like George is the perfect player for the NBA’s small-ball era. He’s tall, strong, athletic, and can impact the game all over the court on both sides of the ball.
Sure, he needs to get a bit better around the rim, but his offensive game is well-refined and he can defend almost anyone 1-4.
And if some team decides to go big and throw in a more traditional power forward, like the Spurs with LaMarcus Aldridge or the Cavaliers with Tristan Thompson for example, it’s safe to assume that Pacers coach Frank Vogel will, you know, slide him to the 2 or 3 like any coach would.
This is going to be a year of adjustments for George. From a new position to his full comeback from one of the most horrifying injuries that we’ve seen a basketball player suffer, there’s going to be a bit of a learning curve for Indiana’s superstar.
But if there’s one thing that we’ve learned about him so far, it’s that we should never count out Paul George.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.