Examining Paul George's Offensive Evolution

Paul George

By now, we all know about Paul George’s transformation from average NBA starter to superstar. He’s become one of the league’s elite talents because his once middling, timid offensive game caught up to his All-NBA-caliber defense.  Since 2011-12, his points per game has skyrocketed from 12.1 to 23.5.

How did this happen? Did George install a Pop-a-Shot in his house? Did secret shooting workouts with Larry Bird take place? Whatever the case may be, he is now a dynamic offensive weapon with quite the arsenal.

Let’s take a deeper look at how George went from offensive no-show to powerhouse.

Taking Care of the Basketball

George is the centerpiece of Indiana’s offense, and Frank Vogel is putting the ball is in his hands more and more. The percentage of Pacer possessions that George uses has risen from 23.5% last year to 28.0%, per NBA.com. But, even though he’s getting the ball more, he’s giving it away about the same amount, almost three times per game.

The impact is simple: More Time With the Ball + Fewer Turnovers in That Time = More Shots/Points

The important thing to note about George’s turnovers is how they are occurring. Last year, he was a mess in the pick-and-roll. More than 20% of his turnovers came when he was the ball-handler. This season, that percentage has dropped, and instead, George is racking up points off of the play.

This spiderweb chart shows that improvement.

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Is he a genius with the ball yet?

No.

George still has room to improve, but he’s solidifying his ball-handling and its giving him more scoring opportunities — especially in the pick-and-roll situations that can be so critical when the game slows down late in the fourth quarter.

Catch-and-Shoot Stud

Seemingly overnight, George turned into one of the better catch-and-shoot players in the NBA. This year, he has scored 223 catch-and-shoot points (eighth in the NBA), hitting 48.5% from the field on these attempts and an astounding 48.5% on catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, per NBA.com.

George has become especially deadly coming off screens.

Whether he gets the screen from a guard (see here) or one of Indiana’s twin towers, (see here, here and here) he is making the most out of the time a screen allows him. Seeing George craftily run through screens sometimes makes you think Reggie Miller is back and now wearing No. 24.

George’s newfound ability to catch and shoot has become one of the strongest parts of his game.

Beyond the Arc

Without looking at the numbers, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you George is nearly as good of a three-point shooter as Kevin Durant. Durant is known for his outside stroke and is hitting 42.1% of his threes, but George isn’t far behind, shooting a hair under 40.0%.

George isn’t taking more threes than usual (37.8% of his shots this season compared to 39.0% last year, per NBA.com), he is just making more. George is feasting in the corners. He only made 41.8% of his corner threes a season ago, but in 2013-14, he is a new man, as his percentage has ballooned to 60%! He’s taking full advantage of the most-efficient place to shoot a basketball, other than the restricted area.

The only spot beyond the arc where he is shooting below the league average is the right wing (26.0%), but that area is just a blip on George’s radar. As we saw so glaringly in Portland, Paul George is now a more-than- capable long-range shooter, and it has helped take his production to new heights.

Mid-Range Master

The mid-range area of the court is where George has made the biggest strides.

Check out George’s mid-range shooting from 2012-13. The design could pass for a stop sign. Every red area means he shot below the league average from that spot. Compare that to his mid-range prowess this year. (The 2013-14 chart reflects shots taken through 12/29/13.)

PG1213

When you view this season’s chart, more appealing shades of yellow and green have taken over, signifying George is right at or above the league average, respectively. In total, George made 35.3% of his mid-range attempts in 2012-13. Now, that numbers sits at 45.5% (91-of-200).

The improvement in such a short amount of time is stunning and has lofted him into the stratosphere of the league’s midrange elite.

When George is in the mid-range and has the ball in his hands, he’s a completely different player than he was in the past. He can play with his back to the basket and hit fadeaways (see here and here). More importantly, as mentioned above, George is much better in the pick-and-roll. When his defender goes underneath the screen he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and is making teams pay. If they try the opposite, George is fully able to take post players to school and educating them accordingly (see here, here and here). He has perfected the art of creating enough space to take an opposing big’s size out of the equation.

Finally, George has become one of the NBA’s best at scoring off of pull-up jump shots, totaling the 12th most points in the league off of pull-ups and making them a respectable 39.0% of the time.

After last season, George must have come to the realization that the mid-range was a glaring deficiency in his game. Teams were perfectly fine with daring him to shoot open jumpers because the percentages said it was worth it. So, in turn, George made his mid-range jump shot a weapon, becoming the complete offensive package in the process.

The Effect

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “This is great, but what does it all mean?” With George’s advancements, the Pacers’ offense is up to 14th in efficiency this season from 19th last year, per Hollinger’s team stats at ESPN.com, and the team can play to its strength: size. Now that George is a effective jump shooter, Indiana is able to use its formidable big men to give him open looks.

As far as the pick-and-roll is concerned, because George’s shot has improved, if the defense tries to attack him and doesn’t do it effectively, he can get his post players great looks at the basket (see here).

Finally, teams will want to think twice before double teaming the Pacers’ bigs in the post, as leaving George wide open from distance is not a smart idea. When George wasn’t a threat from deep, there was no repercussion for leaving him open to try and negate Roy Hibbert and David West. Now, defenders can’t readily leave to help down low. Because of this, Hibbert and West should continue to have more room down low to work and not have to worry about multiple defenders pestering them. In the past, Indiana’s lack of a dead-eye long-range shooter has led to some spacing issues. By becoming so effective from outside of 15 feet, George has helped lessen the effect of this problem.

We are still a long way from seeing if these improvements are enough to knock off the defending champs and get Indiana to the NBA Finals, but regardless, George’s elevation will continue to keep Indiana in contention for the Eastern Conference crown.

(All statistics in this article accurate as of 1/4/14.)

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