Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated is lobbying for Paul George to be a part of All-Star Weekend. No, not as a reserve for the team itself, but as a guy who deserves to be showcased as a young, versatile talent in both of the game’s “opening acts” the night before: the Slam Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Shootout. After watching the veritable Dominique tribute he displayed on the break the other night and the 33 treys he has already hit this year (while shooting 45.8% from behind the dark), it’s hard to argue he has earned an invite to both.
Thomsen explains why.
The league would be recognizing the emergence of a versatile young player who is viewed by his team as a future star. At 21, George is more than a one-dimensional dunker and a long-distance specialist. He is one of the fundamental reasons for Indiana’s 15-6 start, even as he generates long-term hope of becoming a superstar later in his career.
“Paul’s got a chance to be a really good ball player — beyond really good,” said Pacers forward David West, a two-time All-Star. “He doesn’t know how really dominant he could be. He’s got such great size at the ‘two-guard’ position, it’s almost like Kevin Durant and the size he has at the small forward position. To be a 6-foot-8 two-guard who can shoot it, bring it down the floor, handle it, is as athletic as anybody in the league — and he’s really just learning how to play.”
Thompson’s profile does a pretty good job diving deeper into how George is emerging. As a guy surrounded by player near or above his equal in talent, he doesn’t have to do too much too soon. He is learning the game at his own pace, and as anyone who has been watching since he entered the rotation — just about one year ago, mind you — can tell you, he is showing all the signs of someone who can be very, very good in this league for a very long time.
This is especially true on the defensive end.
Eventually George should earn a more important part in the offense — he’s averaging 11.5 points, and his 8.5 shots per game rank last among Indiana’s starters — but in the meantime, the Pacers are channeling him as a defender. Coach Frank Vogel often shifts George onto opposing point guards in the final minutes. It’s a sign of George’s unusual ambition, and it also speaks to his talent that he’s able to stay in front of point guards and still challenge their shots with his length.
“When [Tracy] McGrady was young, he played no defense, and not only wasn’t he interested but he wasn’t capable,” said Vogel. “Paul has learned how to use his length to space guys like Derrick Rose or Chris Paul. We said, ‘Pressure but space, and make them shoot jumpers over your length. Learn that and you can become a good ball-containment guy.’
“The thing about [Paul] is he’s got a knack for anticipating on the level of Allen Iverson and Eddie Jones — two great steals guys who know how to play the passing lanes. [Paul] gambles a little too much and that hurts you sometimes, but he led our team last year and he leads us this year in deflections per minute, and he has a knack for blocking shots. What he brings to the defensive table is just as impressive as what he brings offensively, which is not the case in most guys like him that are young, second-year guys with offensive skills.”
The more and more I watch George, the more and more I see Michael Finley. Both are uber-athletes who play high-level defense, can shoot the rock and have no holes in their game. I’m not sure that George will ever reach that 22-point-per-game scorer level, but he could have a better defensive career than Finley. Paul also has that even-keeled and silent assassin thing going on. The slight tongue stick-out following his highlight reverse dunk the other night might be the most exuberant I’ve seen him get on the court. Otherwise, he tends to just do his job, lock down his man, stick some jumpers, penetrate when he gets the urge and dunk whenever he can.
This brings us back to that dunk contest thing.
First off, as he told Thomsen, George would dig being a part of both extracurricular events in Orlando. He even thinks he could win either one.
He wasn’t surprised by the idea of competing in both the shooting and dunking contests later this month in Orlando. “I think I could compete and possibly win both of those,” he said.
He hasn’t been practicing for the dunk contest. “But I have some ideas I’ve had since this summer,” he said. “I got a couple things up my sleeve that I think I can pull off. It beats jumping over the hood of a Kia.”
George made it clear he wasn’t trying to criticize Blake Griffin for his winning dunk over a car last year. Based on Griffin’s extraordinary talents, George thought he should have been more ambitious.
That there is some confidence.
Word to the wise though, PG: if you do get that invite, don’t be like Mike Finley. Nobody wants to see a re-enactment of the cartwheel. Then again, this would work. And feel free to replicate this in the three-point contest. Or, ya know, perhaps tonight against Finley’s old team even.