Just as the Indiana Pacers improved their roster to look like title contenders for the 2016-17 season, their superstar in Paul George has decided to take a step back.
After having the best year of his career throughout the 2015-16 season, George has shied away right when Pacers president, Larry Bird, equipped him with a great supporting cast. With an emerging big man in Myles Turner, a veteran scorer in Monta Ellis, and the offseason acquisitions of Al Jefferson, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, the Pacers looked ready to become a contender once again.
Most importantly, they were looking to George to be the face of their franchise and their leader on the court, an expectation he seemed comfortable with coming into this season, saying:
Instead of improving and becoming their leader on the court, George has disappointed as the Pacers continue falling down the Eastern Conference standings. With last night’s loss to the New York Knicks, the Pacers are now in the 9th seed with a 15-15 record.
They’ve struggled to find any level of consistency, while George hasn’t looked motivated to take the next step in his career. Last night against the Knicks, George failed to lead his team to their first 3-game winning streak of the season, only finishing with 16 points on 6-16 shooting.
George was especially disappointing in the 4th quarter, where he went 0-4 from the field for no points, while his matchup in Carmelo Anthony lit it up down the stretch with 11 points to complete a Knicks comeback. There will be nights where George’s shots won’t fall, but him having the same amount of shot attempts as Young and C.J. Miles in the 4th quarter certainly isn’t what you would expect from a superstar.
Of all the players on the Pacers, it’s George who has the most experience; making him the ideal candidate to take charge for a team filled with potential. With a pair of Eastern Conference Finals appearances under his belt, an Olympic gold medal and 3 All-Star nods, George is expected to lead his team. Instead, he’s regressed as the Pacers continue to look for answers.
George has played in 23 of the Pacers’ 30 games so far this season, and has only managed to surpass the 30-point mark twice. It’s quite the difference from last season, when he had 9 games with at least 30 points, while the Pacers rocked an 18-12 record.
This season, the Pacers are 3-4 in games that George hasn’t played in, with them even picking up big wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers. When George is in the lineup, he’s failed to be their difference maker and their leader as a superstar.
“I think just sitting out and watching, I’ve got to get back to being the guy for us,” said George after missing 3-straight games at the end of November. “I’ve got to have the trust of the team, I’ve got to have the trust of the organization. This has been my group, this has been my team. I’ve got to get back to that. That’s what I’m looking forward to, being our leader.”
When George is playing to his full potential, the Pacers are one of the best teams in the league. They’re 6-1 this season when George scores at least 25 points, and an even better 2-0 when he hits the 30-point mark. Scoring the basketball didn’t seem like a problem for George last season, when he led the Pacers to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors; averaging a league-leading 27.3 points a game.
After his gruesome leg injury, that forced him to sit out the majority of the 2014-15 season, George came out with vengeance last season on his way to a career-high with 23.1 points a game on 17.9 shots. His numbers have regressed this season to 21.8 points on 17.4 shots a game, while the Pacers struggle to find any momentum.
At only 26 years old, George is reaching the peak of his career and has the talent to even become an MVP-caliber player. Those expectations have been hanging over his head since he shared a roster with players like David West and Roy Hibbert, but now it’s the perfect time that George makes it all a reality.
“I’m glad he’s not letting me waste years,” said George in the offseason of Pacers’ president Larry Bird. “I think Larry and (the rest of the front office) have expressed how bad they want to get back to (the Eastern Conference Finals) by these moves this offseason. I’m looking forward to getting us back there. He’s putting talent around me to help me get to what we all want to get accomplish, and that’s a championship.”
The Pacers have yet to win 3 straight or lose 3 straight games this season, speaking to the level of talent they have on their roster. They’re too good to continuously lose, but at the same time they haven’t found their rhythm behind their superstar in order to create a stretch that would put the rest of the league on notice.
The way George is playing, he’s helping the Pacers look like they’re on their way to setting a worse record than last season, when their second best option was Ellis. Even though they have an improved roster, they’ll need George to step up and be their difference maker if they even want any hope of making the playoffs.
All stats for this article are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com
You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97