It’s rare for people – especially in the sports world – to agree about anything, but there seems to be a consensus about the Indiana Pacers developing amongst both the most rabid fans and the most impartial observers: The Pacers are good, but not good enough. They will make the playoffs and be a tough out, but they’re not considered serious title contenders. And with a roster lacking high-level assets playing in a small-market with no history of desirability for free agents, it seems clear that any significant improvement must come from within.
That’s where Paul George comes in. Anyone who watches him play can see the potential and upside that ooze out of every pore. While the Pacers have other youngsters (Roy Hibbert & George Hill) who look to be developing into very good players, George is the only one who seems to have true star potential. George also spent part of this summer on the USA Select Team practicing against the U.S. Olympians. Mike Wells has recently reported that George seems to be playing with a new found intensity in offseason pick-up games. It certainly seems like the 2012-13 season could be a breakout season for the young wing.
With all this bouncing around in my head, I wanted to see what the historical precedent looked like for 22-year-old wing players entering their 3rd NBA season after playing significant minutes during their sophomore campaign. Did these guys typically show a lot of improvement? Would there even be much data to look at? Here’s what I discovered:
Surprisingly, there were 20 players who fit into the category mentioned above: Magic Johnson, James Harden, Monta Ellis, John Drew, Nicholas Batum, Danilo Gallinari, Adrian Dantley, Eric Gordon, Mike Miller, Tim Thomas, Rudy Gay, Joe Johnson, Corey Magette, Jamal Crawford, Wilson Chandler, Tyreke Evans, Metta World Peace, DeMar Derozan, Michael Beasley, and Larry Hughes.
After compiling this list of players, I noted the change in a number of important per-36 statistics between their second and third seasons. I then averaged the differences to see what we should expect George’s numbers to look like this year. The overwhelming result of all this statistical tabulation follows:
Don’t expect too much.
Of all the statistics I tracked only assists and points showed a significant per-36 improvement. You can expect the assist numbers to increase by about 0.2 and the points to increase by about 0.5. The other statistics I looked at did not show an increase or decrease of more than 0.1 in any category.
There were, of course, a few singularities who should give us reason for hope. Eric Gordon, James Harden, Monta Ellis, and Joe Johnson showed significant improvements during their third seasons. Gordon posted the highest increase in points at 5.4, while Harden, Ellis, and Johnson saw significant increases in FG% (3-5%) and points (2-3 pts).
Of course, none of this applies specifically to Paul George so it’s probably best to take it with the proverbial grain of salt. But if you’re expecting to see Paul George at the all-star game doing anything other than dunking, you might want to go take a cold shower.