MVPG: How Paul George Is Taking His Game To New Heights
Paul George has been lighting up the NBA all season but it hasn’t been the easiest road for him. After starring at Fresno State, George was drafted 10th overall in the 2010 NBA draft by the Pacers and started off as a secondary option on an Indiana team led by Danny Granger. George, however, improved steadily each year of his career, becoming an All-Star and winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 2013 before his coming-out party in the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James’ Heat. George averaged 19.4 points, 6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game in the series as he and the Pacers pushed the Heat to 7 games.
He followed up his impressive playoff performance the next season by crossing the 20-point threshold, averaging 21.6 points per game and coupled with his excellent perimeter defense, George seemed bound for two-way superstardom in the league. Things took a turn for the worse that summer, when George suffered a gruesome right leg injury during a Team USA scrimmage, leaving many to wonder if he’d ever be the same.
Paul George came back for the final six games of the Pacers’ 2014-15 season then returned to form the following two seasons, playing 81 and 75 games and averaging 23.4 points per game. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at, but George still wasn’t considered a superstar and didn’t seem to be ascending at the rate he was earlier in his career. That’s what makes this year different. Paul George isn’t just back and fully healthy, he’s playing like a true MVP candidate. But don’t take it from me, take it from his peers.
“…no disrespect to other teams, they’re unbelievable…”
“Everyone is going crazy for Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and James (Harden),” Trail Blazers forward Evan Turner said, “Everybody I probably went up against — and no disrespect to other teams, they’re unbelievable — Paul is the best that we probably went up against all year. He’s at a completely different level. It’s hard to even explain.”
This was after George dominated the Blazers all night, to the tune of 47 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists.
“Everyone in the arena can see that: He’s at a different level,” added Damian Lillard, who has four All-Star appearances and three All-NBA selections to his name. “I mean, after watching him over the last 10 games or so—I catch a lot of their games—and seeing him tonight … that dude, he MVP. If they keep this up, he MVP.”
Paul George has been more than keeping it up. He’s averaging 32.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 2.5 steals in 37.7 minutes over the past 26 games, all while shooting a red-hot 44.7% from behind the arc on 10.2 attempts a game. For the season he’s averaging career highs in points (28), rebounds (8.0), assists (4.1), and steals (2.3).
For as great as he’s been on offense, George has been just as good on defense for the Thunder. As a matter of fact, he’s one of the top candidates for the Defensive Player of the Year award, along with his strong MVP case. He leads the league in steals and ranks second in deflections and loose balls recovered and with Andre Roberson out, he’s been called upon to lock down the opposing team’s best player in addition to being OKC’s go-to offensive option.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up numbers on par with prime Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in leading the Bucks to the best record in the Eastern Conference. James Harden is in the middle of the 7th-highest scoring season in NBA history and doing so with incredible efficiency while carrying an injured, limited Rockets team that needs every one of his scoring outbursts into contention for home-court in the Western Conference playoffs. Those two have MVP cases as strong as just about anyone can imagine. Still, George has gone head-to-head with both and shown his name belongs in the conversation, most recently getting clutch stops and buckets against Harden in the Rockets in the Thunder’s 26-point comeback victory.
The Thunder have the league’s fifth-best net rating and sit 3rd in the Western Conference at 37-19. They could pose the West’s biggest threat to the supremacy of the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors. While he’s had the help of Russell Westbrook, Paul George’s two-way excellence has proven to be the key to the Thunder’s success this season and his Real Plus-Minus of 8.06 (second in the league behind Harden) helps to show that.
MVP or not, Paul George has taken his game and the Thunder to new heights. While the postseason will ultimately provide the answers to how far he can bring them, it appears he was right in his much-maligned decision to stay with the Thunder instead of fleeing to Hollywood and play for the Lakers this past summer.