Finally, I am starting this series of posts on each Indiana Pacers player and how they performed in the 2010-2011 NBA season. I thought I'd start off with one of the brightest spots: rookie Paul George.
Selected with the 10th overall pick of the 2010 draft, Paul George was considered a bizarre choice at the time because he was projected as a small forward, the same position occupied by the Pacers' best player, Danny Granger. It was the highest pick the Pacers have had since they chose Erick Dampier in 1996 (also the 10th pick) and many fans thought the Pacers had blown it.
Well, they were wrong. In a draft where the only 'sure things' were John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and possibly Evan Turner, Paul George may eventually be regarded as the steal of the draft.
PG didn't have eye popping numbers in his rookie season: 61 games, 19 starts, 20.7 minutes per game, 7.8 ppg, 3.7rpg, 1.1apg, 1.0spg, 0.4bpg, shooting 0.453 from the field, 0.297 from 3-point range and 0.762 from the free throw line. His career high was a 23-point performance against Washington on April 6th.
However, PG certainly made a name for himself in the playoffs against the top seeded Chicago Bulls when he did an outstanding job of 'shutting down' Derrick Rose. In that 5-game series, PG averaged just 6 points in just under 27 minutes per game but also averaged 5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.0 blocks per game, including a few monster rejections that have been immortalized on YouTube.
So how does PG's numbers stack up against the rest of this year's rookies? Pretty well. He was 9th amongst rookies in scoring but all players ahead of him played more minutes per game. That said, per 48 minutes, PG was 18th amongst all rookies in points per game (18.1). In terms of steals, PG was 6th amongst rookies, and out of those ahead of him, only Golden State's Jeremy Lin averaged less minutes.
While it was by no means a great year, PG showed in his first year flashes of brilliance and a tremendous amount of potential. It's too early to proclaim him the next Pacers star, but if PG continues to work on his game, he could very well be that guy. At a long 6'9" with excellent athleticism, orangutan-like arms (6'11" reach) and fairly good mobility, PG has the potential to be the lockdown defender that the Pacers hoped Danny Granger would be (but looks like never will). Further, PG was erratic from the outside this season but has shown a streaky ability to knock down the long-ball, and with practice, he will become a legitimate threat from the outside. But his most impressive attribute has been an ability to drive and complete plays with silky finishes at the rim -- something the Pacers desperately lacked. Going forward, George could continue to play shooting guard with Granger on the floor, though it is obvious that his optimal position will be small forward.
ESPN's stat guru John Hollinger had this to say about PG:
If there is one reason to watch the Pacers this year, it’s this guy. While the Griffin-Wall-Cousins rookie trio still hogs all the attention, it’s become increasingly clear that George was flat-out stolen at No. 10 by Indiana. A long, silky finisher who looks as if he could easily ramp up to the go-to scorer role, George is shooting 56.7 percent on 2-pointers.
His main shortcoming has been that he has taken a ton of 3-pointers and struggles to make them. That talent should develop in time, as his shooting stroke looks solid, and if it does the 20-year-old will be nigh unguardable.
To get better, George must get stronger, fitter and improve his shooting while gathering more experience on defense. With the work ethic he has demonstrated thus far, it seems likely that he will improve and improve significantly. PG was a 90% free throw shooter in college and should get back to something resembling that level in the next few seasons.
To finish off, let's compare PG's rookie season to that of Danny Granger, the NBA's 17th top scorer this past season with 20.5 points per game. As you will see, the numbers are eerily similar.
Admittedly, Granger was a slightly better shooter during his rookie year and would go on to become one of the best volume shooters in the league, but PG clearly has more potential at both ends of the floor. A key point to remember is that PG has only just turned 21, whereas Granger was already 23 at the end of his first year.
Overall, this was a solid rookie year for PG, one that he must build on to help the Pacers advance deeper in the playoffs next season.