Essay: Who Is Paul George?
There isn’t much we know about Paul George. He’s yet to create any ridiculous Sportscenter highlights (Blake Griffin), bring an unprecedented level of hype in his back pocket (John Wall), or have his story told on the nation’s stage (Gordon Hayward). He’s played in less games than fellow rookies Derrick Caracter and Quincy Pondexter and logged fewer minutes than Trevor Booker. (I tip my cap if without googling their names you can say which teams those last three play for.) Granted for the first half of the season he was stuck behind Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Brandon Rush (…) on Jim O’Brien’s bench, but since Frank Vogel took over—making the offense more comprehensible and reenergizing the team—George has started to see the floor a little more. Even in his small sample size, he could easily end up as one of the better players selected in last year’s draft. One of the most intriguing/mysterious/unknown players in the league, it’s now time to piece together all we know about Mr. Paul George with our good friend intuition.
* Based on his contract, Danny Granger is the Pacers’ franchise player. But franchise players normally aren’t borderline All-Stars who take 61 percent of their shots from 16 feet and out. For this reason, Granger has had his name entrenched in trade rumors for the past couple of years. He’s a very, very talented scorer who can score 20 points in his sleep, but he isn’t at such an elite level where Indiana can use his shoulders as a championship contending foundation. Larry Bird respects Granger as both a player and person, but on some level, drafting George instead of better known, less Danger Granger clone-like prospects such as Ed Davis or Xavier Henry (Granger and George both played collegiate basketball below the national radar) could mean Bird is thinking of George as a possible replacement.
* Two weeks ago, in a game against the Pacers, Dwyane Wade went off on a first quarter scoring stretch to end all scoring stretches. He scored some 18 points in 17 seconds, sending Mike Dunleavy Jr. to the bench and bringing Paul George in to stop the bleeding. Instead of shying away, George did an admirable job, doing his part to help Indiana climb back into the game. In fact, he was one of Indiana’s major bright spots. On one play in the third quarter, George drove baseline only to have the ball knocked off his foot and loose in front of him. Now in the opposite corner from where he started, instead of giving up on the play by passing it out or settling for a jumper, George aggressively split Chris Bosh and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and finished strong at the rim. On the next possession he banged a three pointer in Wade’s eye to cut Miami’s one time insurmountable lead down to three. Something unexplainable about this sequence was special.
* Larry Bird likes drafting players who are humble; who don’t seek the highlights and are perfectly content playing in a small media market with little national exposure. He doesn’t want basketball players who are in the league to film commercials, get shoe contracts, or make rap albums (even though the first two go hand in hand with supreme talent and success). He wants the tough, nose-to-the-grind type of player whose first and only love is the game. Danny Granger defines this, along with Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. Coming from Fresno, being the least popular top 10 pick, Paul George looks to be this type of player, too. Just look at his reaction after this play:
* Apart from skill, natural talent, brains, good work ethic, and a fair balance of selfish and selflessness, all great players were born fearless. They aren’t afraid to guard the opponent’s best player, take the final shot, or draw a charge on a player twice their size barreling full speed down the lane. Watching George play for a few minutes you get the sense he’s a professional. A man at his job who’s trying his best to work harder than all the other employees; trying to get a leg up on the competition. He plays with a for-the-moment calmness and focus; his facial expression doesn’t change during games, much like Wilson Chandler, and George’s teammates—most of them right around his age—seem to feed off this. His willingness to adapt to whatever role his team needs him to assume in order to win is just a sliver of that peculiar “It” factor, and George seems to have it.
* Throughout basketball history, many great players have had last names that could also pass as first names: Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Chris Paul, and Serge Ibaka to name a few. Is Paul George next?
* At Basketball-Reference.com, a website that has pretty much every basketball related statistic ever recorded, each player’s page can be sponsored for a comparative nominal fee. The price arc goes by the estimated number of views the player would likely see—Michael Jordan’s page goes for much, much more than Jeff Hornacek’s. Choosing which page to sponsor is a lot like buying low on a sexy stock and watching your investment spurn benefits. Something tells me selecting Paul George’s page is the basketball-reference.com equivalent to insider trading.
* This year’s truly great—probably the most notable since LeBron—rookie season belongs to Blake Griffin. But as astonishing as Griffin has been, where does he go from here. He hasn’t peaked as a basketball player, but he might have as an entertainer. As a crowd pleasing man-beast. What else can he do? He can get better defensively, develop a mid-range jumper, and learn to pass out of the double team, but what else? It’s clear by now that Griffin is the franchise player. Clippers management, if they’re smart, will only sign players to complement him in his development. They’ll grab knock down shooters, great passers, and strong, enforcer type big men to have his back when things get a little rough (not that he needs it). But statistically, has he reached his peek? I mean, how high could he go? 30, 15, and 8? This right here is why Griffin isn’t the most interesting rookie right now. The most interesting rookie needs speculation in his corner; he needs room to grow and space to progress. Paul George fits the mold, and discovering who he will be is one of many reasons why this league is so great.