Paul George’s “Gravity” — Discussing All the Off-Ball Attention He Receives

Photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

We know that Paul George can defy gravity, but he can also create it, according to “gravity score,” a new NBA metric from Stats, LLC.

To contextualize it in the case of George and better understand a metric that will hopefully become more popular in the future, let’s first look backward.

Early last season, Paul George was an unstoppable scorer. From the start of the season through November 30, George knocked down 51.1% (47-of-92) of his mid-range jumpers. In December, that accuracy dropped off — it pretty much had to — down to a more-normal 37.3%. But he maintained a similar overall scoring efficiency by drilling 17-of-30 (56.7%) corner 3s.

But after the New Year, George’s efficiency dropped almost everywhere.

His midrange percentage in January was down to just 34.2%, and he made just 3 corner 3s all month.

What was the deal?

It was mostly explained as an inevitable slump after a hot start, and one that was exacerbated by his self-admitted difficulty adjusting to superstar status, not to mention some off-court issues that blew up in the more scandalous sections of the gossip-media world.

There may be an explanation more rooted in Xs-and-Os, however.

It surfaced yesterday in an excellent Zach Lowe feature on Kyle Korver at Grantland.

Another component of the Paul George plummet could have to do with “gravity,” which is explained by Lowe as a measurement of how closely guarded a player is away from the ball.

"The gurus at Stats LLC, the company behind the SportVU cameras, have developed two previously unreleased metrics designed to measure the amount of attention an offensive player gets from defenders when he doesn’t have the ball.The first, dubbed “gravity score,” measures how often defenders are really guarding a particular player away from the ball. Korver had the fourth-highest score, behind only Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George. The second — “distraction score” — is a related attempt to measure how often a player’s defender strays away from him to patrol the on-ball action. Korver had the lowest such score in the league.“I underestimated how much attention he gets from defenses,” Budenholzer says. Korver is almost an offense unto himself. “You don’t appreciate it until you see it every day.”"

According to this gravity score measure (an exclusive number provided to Grantland), only Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant registered as much off-ball attention from defenders as Paul George did last year.

We don’t have access to the month-by-month splits on this “gravity” metric, but I would guess that it was lower for George in November and December than it was later in the year.

Coming into the season, teams were certainly game-planning for George — he guaranteed that with his stellar play in the 2013 postseason. But it likely wasn’t until after his MVP-like start that he became such a huge focus of every team that played Indiana. And it makes sense that the more teams focused on him and the more they saw this destroy the Pacers’ offense, the more other teams followed suit.

I am envisioning a world where opposing coaches increasingly told their wing defenders, “Let George Hill try to drive and let Roy Hibbert try to score in the post, but DON’T LEAVE Paul George. He will kill us.”

Under this hypothesis, my guess is that Paul George’s “gravity” numbers in November and December were as high as you would expect for a dynamic number-one options. But I bet his January, February, and March were just off the charts. Wouldn’t they have to be for him to nearly catch KD and Melo, two guys I presume were receiving superstar attention from game one?

A few related thoughts:

  • This may be another area in which the loss of Lance Stephenson further hampers the offense.  Through the end of November, 24 of George’s first 133 makes were assisted by Stephenson. The next highest dime-giver was Roy Hibbert, at a measly 9. In December, 16 of his 111 makes were assisted by Lance. That is more than 16% of his first 244 makes that came directly from Stephenson passes. Presumably, Lance was being enough of a creator to draw some attention away from George early. Now, when PG starts the 2014-15 season with both (1) all eyes on him, and (2) no Stephenson to make dynamic plays, will George be able to replicate his good start to last season, or will we see January 2014 PG all year long?
  • If so much attention was devoted to Paul George, it makes it even more egregious that Roy Hibbert couldn’t score for, essentially, the final 50 games of the year.
  • On the positive side, Lowe’s article isn’t all about gravity. It mainly does focus on the uniqueness of Korver, but if Kyle is such an asset then perhaps that bodes well for Indiana acquiring C.J. Miles. He is a floor-spacing shooter who — while nowhere near Korver’s level — may help PG find more seams that he couldn’t get into when the relatively unthreatening Stephenson was on the court. Essentially, maybe PG will find more daylight when he isn’t both the team’s best scorer and the team’s best long-range shooter.
  • Frank Vogel, as uncreative as he has been as an offensive coach, should be able to use this to his advantage. No, PG is not “an offense unto himself,” as Coach Bud termed Korver. But if one of the five players in a seemingly well-balanced offense is garnering so much attention, there should be ways to exploit that. If George’s man refuses to help, that should open up space for, say, George Hill/David West pick and rolls.I’ve always said that the Pacers’ best offense is getting West the ball near the free-throw line in space. If PG’s man is reluctant to sag at all, it only reinforces why this can be effective (i.e., more space). More supporting evidence:  one of the best offensive quarters the Pacers had in the playoffs came when Stephenson went nuts in the third quarter of Game 2 vs. the Heat. That certainly isn’t entirely replicable, but it’s notable that George spent almost the entire period standing in the corner. No, you don’t want to bury your best scorer in a stationary spot behind the line often, but it makes you think that Vogel can create some effective sets where George is, by design, stationed on the weakside away from the action.

All in all, we don’t know how much to read into “gravity.”

It is a new measure, and one I only first heard of yesterday.

But it is both encouraging (for respect reasons) and troubling (for awful Pacers offense reasons) that Paul George is drawing so much attention from NBA defenses.