As far as big national basketball news goes, it ranks right up there with Charles Barkley's recent realization that LeBron James is a really, really good player. Nevertheless, fans of the Indiana Pacers should have been pretty happy when the team announced on October 22 that they had picked up the 2013-14 option for swingman Paul George. While this might rank as one of the biggest no-brainer decisions facing prodigal team president Donnie Walsh as he seeks to keep the team moving forward, it's a comforting move, nonetheless. The Pacers have made significant strides in the last two years under fiery coach Frank Vogel, but they still lack a marquee presence that can define them the way Reggie Miller did a generation ago. George has the potential to develop into that guy.
Entering as the Number 10 overall pick in 2010, George has sidled into his NBA career in such an understated way that we almost forget he's there sometimes. Amid the turmoil of the 2010-11 season, George found limited playing time as a rookie and took a few lumps along the way. Thanks to the constant swirl of negativity around that team, at least until Vogel arrived, George was low on our list of worry points. Last summer and fall, of course, the NBA lockout cost fans 20% of the season and much of our early enthusiasm. As the Pacers began winning and our excitement ebbed, much of George's game was again swept away in the frenzy, but team brass noticed.
From the outset of the 2011-12 season, George was installed at small forward, and he started all 66 of the Pacers' games. In the process, he played nearly 30 minutes per game (as opposed to 20.7 the year before) and scored 12.1 per game. George also showed some toughness and spark on defense with 1.6 steals per contest to go along with 5.6 rebounds (4.8 on defense). He accomplished this at the tender age of 21 while playing for a legitimate title contender, and he is developing some swagger and personality to go with his growing game.
With Danny Granger heading into his 30s and questions remaining about how good center Roy Hibbert can become, there is a huge opening for a real star on the Indiana Pacers. Don't be too surprised if Paul George steps forward to fill the breach.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Pacers fan since the early 1980s and has witnessed the rise and fall of a great NBA franchise. He follows the current club closely but sometimes misses the black spaceship of Market Square Arena.
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- Paul George
- Indiana Pacers