Early Season Returns: Paul George's Improved Ballhandling

paul george miami heat

With 7:15 left in a seven-point game last night against the Pelicans, Paul George isolated his defender at the top of the key, spun away from an incoming double team while knifing into the lane and alertly dished the ball to a wide-open George Hill under the basket for an easy layup. It was the type of play that  makes you say, “Wow!” while heading to Twitter to see if others are sharing the same reaction.

Yesterday, new 8 Points, 9 Seconds writer Jalen Bishop mused, “Paul George is growing more and more as a ball handler.” Immediately, several fans came to George’s defense crying that he’s always been a good ball handler, even in college.

But he hasn’t.

Of course George has always been an adequate ball handler, especially for a guy his size, but last year he was much more of your classic wing dribble-driver. As is the case with Lance Stephenson, you could trust George to catch the ball, make one move, and beat his man to the basket — but you were never truly going to run the offense through him.

This became especially important as the playoffs wore on, and when Indiana played Miami, a Pacer weakness was exploited. The Heat applied much more pressure to George Hill and the Pacer point guards. The Heat love to blitz the screener and either hard show or trap the point guard with their athleticism and size, trusting in LeBron, Wade, Birdman, and Battier to be able to cover the floor by themselves. As it became evident that George Hill wasn’t able to handle the pressure by himself, the Pacers looked to George and Stephenson to try and run the show — and unfortunately, they were often unable to rise to the challenge.

As Miami ratcheted up the pressure in the Eastern Conference Finals, it became increasingly difficult for the Pacers to actually get into their offense. As great as George was, he had at least five turnovers in five of the seven games in that series. The Pacers’ lack of a reliable secondary ball handler/offensive initiator directly contributed to their inability to consistently exploit their advantages down low — one reason the Pacers ultimately lost the series.

That’s why the move George made late in the game against the Pelicans was so important.

Of course the Magic and Pelicans are nowhere near the caliber of the Miami Heat, but through two games, Paul George has shown a much better ability to not only take the ball and attack from the wing, but also create, a la LeBron James or Kevin Durant, from the top of the key. Unlike last year when most of his 3-pointers were of the catch-and-shoot variety, he has also shown the ability to create his own shot for himself, hitting several 3s over defenders near the end of quarters or possessions.

Larry Bird has maintained silence on the whole Danny Granger situation which I outlined here. However, Bird has long shown the tendency in the past to highly value players that can create their own shots. Pacers fans will remember that the lack of such a player was a critical reason the team never won a ring from 1998-2003. In 2011, Bird aggressively pursued OJ Mayo and Jamal Crawford (failing on both) before actually signing Leandro Barbosa (who was only marginally productive) a year later. The reasoning behind the failures still made sense though: players that can create baskets out of nothing are incredibly valuable come playoff time. As poorly as Barbosa performed that postseason, the Pacers may have actually beaten the Heat in 2012 if he had lived up to expectations. Today, many people seem to think that if the Legend could flip Granger for a third guard, or even a more explosive point guard that would enable George Hill to come off the bench, he would do it.

But if Paul George maintains this level of improvement on his own, then the Pacers may not need to make that trade after all. And the Pacers will be much better off for it.


Tags: Paul George 2.0

  • http://www.gamerstribune.com/ Josh Boeke

    Despite the continuation of some troubling trends, i.e. turnovers and lack of bench production so far, I have to say that the early returns have been encouraging. Paul George is clearly taking a more aggressive approach to scoring, and doing so efficiently, while Hibbert (despite foul trouble last night) appears to have taken what he did in the playoffs last year and carried it over to start the season (12 blocks already through 2 games in spite of limited minutes, not to mention a 12 rebound quarter to start the season).

    Lance has been a pleasant surprise as well, 18 points 8 rebounds and 5 assists per game all while shooting better than 60% from the field in the first two. A small sample to be sure but given that most stat projections had a Lance regression season as part of the equation, has to be seen as a very encouraging trend.

    I agree though that the big story is going to be Granger. This calf injury is a real bummer but if it means Lance can get some confidence before he comes back that’s all the better IMO.

  • Ian

    A few points:

    1) what is going on with Copeland? I know he had a bad preseason, but the team gave him a pretty nice contract and he was awesome last year. Is he hurt? Especially with Danny out I expected him to get more PT.

    2) Can’t argue with the results for PG and Lance, but I’d like to see them attacking the basket more. Those guys should both be generating a lot of FT, not just at the end of the game when the other team is fouling.

    3) Anyone see Miles Plumlee’s night? holy crap. I like having Scola but where did that come from!

    • Realist

      Yeah I saw the Plumlee line. Had to triple check my eyes. Didn’t see any of it though. Did he play on LA or Lopez, do you know?

    • Jonathan Washburn

      1) I’m not sure what’s up with Copeland, but if I could guess, I would say he’s still learning the defense. I do believe he will eventually become a reliable bench shooter and floor spacer for us, but every Pacer will tell you that you must learn to play defense before you do anything else on this team.
      2) I agree that PG and Lance should attack more, but it is a balance. When Hibbert is in the game, there aren’t as many driving lanes and their 3-point shooting is needed to space the floor. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they both have attacked much more when Hibbert has been out of the game.
      3) Plumlee was crazy last night…but I’m not worried. The reality is that he was never going to play over Hibbert/West/Mahimni anyway and he’d likely still be buried on our bench.
      But yeah…where DID that come from? 5 more points last night than in all of last season? Dumb…

      • Ian

        Some more thoughts on last night’s game related to these points.

        1) Notice how effortless Lance’s stroke is? He seems really comfortable shooting the open 3. This will be huge for him. These 3 weeks with Danny out give him a chance to prove he’s a quality starter and budding star even. People slept on him because they assumed he’d lose time and shots to Danny and the new arrivals. But the reality is that if he turns into an efficient 12-15ppg guy with everything else he does, it takes the team to another level.

        2) I’m really hoping the Pacers have some games where they don’t get off to slow starts and the bench can get some real burn. I know there’s a guy who posts here and rants about the bench not getting enough shots, and while I don’t agree with him, it IS important that the unit get some regular game time to gel, and with two slow starts so far, Vogel has been reluctant to rely on them.

        3) The Pelicans are going to be MUCH better this year. Eric Gordon looks great, Halladay looks ready to step up another level and Anthony Davis is just going to be such an utter monster.

        4) I was disappointed with the Pacer’s effort on the glass last night. Paul George was not his usual self and when the bigs rotated to contest the pick and roll it left the weakside man free to get the offensive rebound, which they did repeatedly. PG needs to rotate down more and get those weakside rebounds. Really this is probably nitpicking. The Pacers were playing a home and road b2b for the first 2 games of the season, their legs were probably just tired. Hibbert definitely looked a step or two slow as well.

    • fakepoot

      Copeland had surgery in August and by all accounts was mostly resting until just a few days/weeks before the start of the preseason

  • fakepoot

    why the Pacers won last night:

    pelicans took the lead making 18 footers… you let them live and die having ADavis and Jason Smith jacking those up all game. they briefly lived, and then surely died.
    Pacers let them shoot those midrange shots all game. yeah you’ll lose on a hot shooting night, but stay the course, its all about 3s and shots in the paint. dominate.

  • Derek Cooper

    Bit suprising in 2 wins david+roy aren’t scoring much in our ‘power post offence’. But with paul+lance really establishing themselves as another level of offensive threats that the D has to respect_that’s gotta bode well for our post guys. I bet roy goes off for like 25 before too long. __and how’s about 33 (I think) yr old david blocking shots a lot so far- unexpected bonus.

  • Philip Tarrant

    Quick PG24 comment: At least momentarily, Paul George leads the NBA in PPG. Doesn’t mean a ton this early in the season (it just started!), but I still think it’s cool.

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