With all the hype and media attention surrounding Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors’ historic 16-0 start to the 2015-16 NBA season (and deservedly so), it’s easy to overlook the feats of a team that’s embarking on their own transformation into a style similar to that of the defending world champions together with their leader who is coming back from one of the most grotesque sports injuries witnessed by millions.
The Indiana Pacers revamped their roster in the offseason to cater to a new philosophy and traded away their grind-it-out, “smash mouth” brand of basketball for a smaller, yet faster uptempo style of play. After starting the season with three straight losses, the Pacers have gone nine and two and are looking more and more comfortable not only with their new system, but as well as one another. None of their recent successes would be possible, however, if it weren’t for the efforts of their All-Star leader, Paul George.
Just a year and some change removed from breaking his leg at a Team USA intra-squad scrimmage, George a.k.a. “PG13” as the kids call him, is averaging a career best 25.9 points, 4.8 assists 4.8, 8.4 rebounds, while shooting at an efficient 45.8% from the field goal and 45.7% from three-point land. Against the Wizards in Washington on Tuesday, George went off for 40 points, making 7 of his 8 3-pointers, while shooting at a ridiculous 74% clip from the field altogether. Only the Warriors’ Curry and OKC’s Russell Westbrook can boast posting such numbers at a consistent rate thus far in the season.
While Curry and Westbrook are point guards who can shoot the lights out and score at a torrid pace, George has achieved his numbers without having to dominate the ball and has done so within the confines and natural flow of the game. And after a preseason of reluctance in taking on the power forward role team president, Larry Bird and his coach, Frank Vogel had prescribed for him, George has swung back to the small forward spot and is playing more efficiently than ever, while rebounding more and still locking down opponents. His 25.93 efficiency rating has him in elite company.
Asked how much he missed having George last season, Vogel struggled to verbalize just how much value the fifth-year forward brings to the Pacers. “It’s tough to quantify in words,” Vogel said. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”
Whether he is the absolute best two-way player in the game, the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler will have a thing or two to say about and make for a compelling rebuttal, but what is certain though is that George is back to playing at an elite level and even better than he was prior to breaking his leg. But despite surprising many with the way he has bounced back, George isn’t one of them. If there were many who scoffed at his media day statement about becoming this season’s MVP, he is definitely putting them on notice.
The way George has been performing definitely warrants him to be in the conversation as far as early MVP candidates are concerned. If he’ll be able to sustain it for the entire season while leading the Pacers back to the playoffs, who’s to say he doesn’t deserve the distinction, especially after all the pain and hard work he has endured in rehabilitating and recovering from an injury that could’ve very well ended the careers of many others. That in itself is an accomplishment worth celebrating.