Earlier today, we ran an article discussing how aggressive David West was last night and whether or not we will ever see a similar mentality from potential emerging star Paul George. This isn’t a state secret and we weren’t breaking new ground. All preseason, talk — inside and surround the Pacers — centered around coach Frank Vogel’s desire to see his young guard assert himself more. His ability to do so was debated after each exhibition game. Now that we know Danny Granger will miss some time, everyone wants to know just how many points George will be scoring every game.
Well, nobody has written a better piece on this than James Herbert, who was at the game last night and discussed the topic with George. Then he penned the following for Hardwood Paroxysm about how focused PG has been on, generally, being aggressive and, specifically, improving his dribbling ability. It turns out that he believes a big part of his disappearing act against Miami (he was really not good offensively) was due to him not being confident with the ball in his hands.
Paul George watched the tape. He relived last season’s playoff defeat to the eventual champion Miami Heat. He endured LeBron James’ 40, 18 and nine in Game 4, Dwyane Wade’s 41 and 10 in Game 6 and a 32-point Heat blowout in between. But what was on his mind, looking at the losses again?
“How much I let the team down by not being aggressive,” George says.
It’s evident that George feels he’s capable of more. More than what he provided during that series, more than what he’s shown so far in his two-year NBA career. He drastically improved his three-point shooting from 29.7 to 38.5 percent last season, but now he’s aiming for All-Stardom. This means making plays against a defense like Miami’s in the halfcourt. This means seeking out a dribbling coach in the offseason.
“My whole summer was dedicated to that series,” George says. “A lot of things that I watched on tape that I could’ve done, that I didn’t do, all came down to not being confident dribbling the ball, so that was something I spent a lot of time doing this summer … Now I’m confident. I’m a confident player now.”
George compared himself to Tracy McGrady when he came into the league. At 6-10, George moves like someone six inches shorter and sees over most of his defenders on the wing. If you add a tight handle to that sweet stroke, it’s easy to imagine a star. And at informal Pacers workouts in September, he showed his team what he’d been working on. “I really tried to take it to another level and I was able to get to the lane, I was able to create for my teammates,” George said. “Almost everything that they haven’t seen at a high level, I was doing on a consistent basis.”
Now, in my experience, people don’t make huge strides with things like “feeling invincible driving with the ball.” You see guys like Dwyane Wade and Manu do it and it basically seems like they have a X-Men type mutation that makes the ball apart of their body. Even a guy like LeBron, who is incredibly effective with the ball, doesn’t — and likely never will — have the same type of ball-on-a-short-string feel that the true savants do. Danny Granger has always struggled with this. Sometimes when he enters traffic, a race begins: will he lose the ball first or put up a shot?
Paul George is an odd case. While Granger is similar to LeBron, just much shakier, George’s handle constraints seem closer to being unique. He will at times pull off instinctual, masterful spin moves or crossovers amid swarming vultures. Then, in other times, he will just be standing on the perimeter and nearly dribble the ball out of bounds off his foot. Or he will be dribbling up court trying to lead a fast break and his feet will out run an errant high dribble, forcing him to slow his gait and regather the ball, thus ending the real offensive threat as he looks like a young giraffe still not fully able to understand where his gangly limbs are.
That will presumably improve. And the best case for this may indeed by Tracy McGrady. I think he was savvier with the ball even in his second year than T-Mac was in Toronto, but the psychical learning curve may be comparable. Just better learning his body, which was reportedly still growing as of 12 months ago, is something he will do daily.
On top of that, his technical ability to cross over, use his step-backs, master footwork and freeze defenders with stop-and-go moves will all gradually get better as he handles the ball more. But I think George is right: confidence is the most important art of doing good things with the ball in your hands.
Take Joe Johnson.
I don’t think a sole thought he was an all-world ball-handler when Boston drafted him. In Phoenix, he (like everyone not named Nash) was largely a finisher. It wasn’t until he got to Atlanta — and acquired the next-level confidence that being handed a $70 million check gives you — that he became a featured ball-handler. While uber-hoop heads could probably give you fifteen reasons that Joe Johnson is now such a skilled, dangerous ball-handler, they don’t jump off the screen at you. He is above all else, super confident, is always in utter control of the ball and has learned every subtle trick in the book to keep defenders from being comfortable while guarding him.
Sounds like a pretty good To Do List for Paul George this season.