Paul George, at 23 years of age, declared that he was preparing to be the number one guy on the Pacers shortly after Indiana was dumped by the Miami Heat in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a noble and commendable goal, but I was skeptical that George, as good as he was in the playoffs, could make that jump. My estimation for him this season was to take another moderate-sized step forward, though I suggested that genuine "superstardom", assuming he would actually get there, would elude the youngster for at least another year or two.
Instead, PG24 has proven me wrong. He has not been simply a superstar this season -- he has been, no hyperbole, one of the 5 best players in the world through the first 18 games of the season on the team with the NBA's best record.
George impressed in the first game of the Pacers' arduous 5-game West Coast road trip, a 105-100 victory over the LA Clippers (albeit without JJ Reddick and with Chris Paul nursing a sore hammy), posting an excellent 27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, a block and 2 steals -- the type of performance that is now more expected than surprising. At times he went toe-to-toe with Chris Paul, one of the top 3 players in the league, and arguably came out on top.
But it was the game the next night, a 106-102 loss to the Portland Trailblazers, that put my doubts to George to sleep. Yes, the Pacers lost, just their second of the season, but George did all he could to keep his team in the game. How did he do it? A career-high 43 points on 16-30 shooting, including 7-15 from three-point range. The crazy part? He scored the Pacers' last 15 points, all on threes, some with hands right up his nose. He did miss a big one with 20 seconds left that could have put the Pacers within 1, but all things considered it was a superstar performance, one that could only be expected from a tiny handful of players -- LeBron, KD, Kobe (pre-injury), Carmelo (when he's feeling it), and arguably Chris Paul, Steph Curry and James Harden. That's it.
For the season, PG24 is averaging 24.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 steals, shooting 47.6% from the field, 41.2% from three-point range and 83.5% from the foul line. He's PER is 24.66, good for 8th in the league. His rebounding and assist numbers could be better, but he's still playing like one of the top defensive players in the league.
It'll be interesting to see whether George and the Pacers can keep up their level of play. Many suggest they cannot, but if George can maintain his numbers and the Pacers can edge the Heat in the regular season standings then you better believe that a lot of MVP votes will be heading his way.