Paul George Checking Into Stardom

georgeIf time travel were possible, several NBA teams would rewind the clock to the 2010 NBA draft for a do-over. Their reason would be simple, to obtain Paul George. Every franchise searches high and low for the rare type of star player that can elevate them into championship contention. They are a very rare species and they do not come around often. Back in 2010 there were some good players taken in the top ten picks of the draft, such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Evan Turner, and maybe even Greg Munroe, but there was only one high-flying forward from Fresno State University, and the Pacers selected him tenth overall. Now, in 2014, the Pacers are first in the Eastern Conference and Paul George is checking into stardom.

He is the new face on the block, the driving force of the new and improved Indiana Pacers. Paul George can score with the best of them and defend the best of them. He is proving it this season as he leads Indiana toward post-season dreams they have not truly believed in quite some time. He may not win the MVP award this season, but at the young age of 23, he has begun to enter the conversation and the sky is the limit for the small forward from Fresno State.

The path was not always simple for the Palmdale, California native, but playing on the hardwood always seemed to come natural. While averaging 23.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game in his senior season, George led Pete Knight High School to the Golden League Championship. That season he was crowned the Golden League Most Valuable Player, the Antelope Valley Press Player of the Year, and was named to the 2007-08 All-Area Boys’ team by the Daily News. And yet, George did not receive much praise from the collegiate basketball community. After verbally committing and de-commiting from both Santa Clara and Pepperdine Universities, George eventually settled at Fresno State, where he starred for two seasons. His team, however, failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament in both seasons, but George became recognized nationally for his high-flying, athletic ability, and was named the eighth most entertaining player in college basketball by Sports Illustrated. And even though he did not play for a big time college program, scouts finally took notice of the small forward’s budding two-way talent.

Though at the time, Indiana’s franchise player was also a small forward, Danny Granger. An excellent shooter and a 20 point player, but he was not the type of upper echelon star that could carry the Pacers back to the championship level competitiveness they had during the Reggie Miller era in the 90s. So, with the hopes of striking basketball gold they selected Paul George with the tenth pick of the 2010 NBA draft.

As an NBA rookie George played almost exclusively off the bench. Though, he did log significant minutes, and showed flashes of the player he had the potential to become, he was still adjusting to the rigors of the long NBA season. Nevertheless, at the end of the season he was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. The next season he became the starting shooting guard and his point per game total jumped up from 7.8 to 12.1. He began to demonstrate more of the athleticism that made him an attraction in college. However, when the Pacers matched up against the eventual NBA champions, the Miami Heat, George learned the lesson that he still was not quite ready to hang with the big guns of the league, shooting just 35 percent for the series. But Indiana’s skilled wing-player was determined to show he had more in his arsenal, George was determined to check into stardom.

Paul GeorgeInjuries to Danny Granger promoted George to the small forward position and he has not looked back since. He made his first All-Star appearance that season, averaging 17.4 points per game, 4.1 assists, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals, career highs across the board. At season’s end he was named the 2012-13 recipient of the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.

This season he has taken it to all new heights. He leads the team in scoring with a career high 21.9 ppg, and in steals with 1.8 per game. He has the Pacers focused and ready to make a run at the post-season, with the hopes of dethroning Lebron James and the back-to-back champion, Miami Heat, and bringing a long-awaited piece of glory back to the fans in Indiana. George has learned many things over the course of his young career, but this season in particular, he is learning how to be a true pro. He has been put to the fore-front, to be the face of the Pacers franchise, and so far, the 23-year-old rim-rocker has answered the call.

After nearly four professional campaigns in the NBA, the young star from Palmdale, California continues to improve at a rate that essentially no one saw coming. He has been the Most Improved Player, he has made two All-Star appearances, been on the cover of Slam magazine, and just recently he was honored as the newest spokesman for Gatorade. But for a player like George, none of that means nearly as much as being crowned a champion. That is why Paul George is checking into stardom.

Commentary by Kalen Skalesky



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