• Russell Schmidt

Welcome Back Paul George

*Photo via CBS

Paul George was an unheralded lottery pick in 2010. Despite the presence of then All-Star small forward Danny Granger, the Indiana Pacers selected Paul George with the 10th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft out of Fresno State. George entered the league as a lanky and super athletic wing. Many considered George a boom or bust pick but soon George looked the part of an NBA player and showed potential. On the other hand George had played just two collegiate seasons at a mid-major that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2001.

In his rookie season George made NBA All-Rookie 2nd team. His sophomore season saw George became a fulltime starter for a Pacers team that lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Over the next two seasons George blossomed into the face of the Pacers franchise and one of the games rising stars. George made his first two All-Star games and helped lead the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances. George proved to be a great all around talent, a player that was able to affect the game in many different facets on both ends of the court. George finished in the top 10 in steals in his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th seasons and remarkably increased his scoring by at least four points per game in his first four seasons (7.8, 12.1, 17.4, 21.7). George was deservingly awarded with a 5-year max deal after the conclusion of his rookie contract.

*Photo via USA Today

Everything took a turn for the worse in the summer of 2014. George was selected to participate in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup as a member of team USA. In an intrasquad scrimmage George suffered a gruesome injury to his right leg. While chasing down James Harden on a fast break, George’s right leg landed awkwardly between the court and the hoops stanchion. George suffered a compound fracture (when the bone breaks through the skin) of both his fibula and tibia. George’s young and promising career was put on hold, and some questioned whether the Pacers star would ever return to the floor. George’s horrifying injury occurred on August 1, 2014 and he somehow managed to return to the Pacers lineup on April 5, 2015. George miraculously played the final six games of the regular season, but without George’s services the majority of the year the Pacers missed the playoffs for the first time in George’s 5-year tenure.

One of the biggest questions heading into this season was Paul George. George was understandably rusty in his six game return in 2014-15, but fans and critics alike were eager to find out if George would be able to return to his superstar form. Could George return to his peak level of play, or was he destined to be this era’s Grant Hill, a solid role player who could never shed the injury bug and return to superstardom? Even the biggest Paul George fans and believers could not have expected this strong of a start from PG-13. Outside of the otherworldly Stephen Curry, George would be my early season selection for MVP. No one expected much of the revamped Pacers, but a little more than ¼ through the season the Pacers are 14-9 and tied for 4th in the much-improved Eastern Conference. George leads the Pacers in points (26.5) and rebounds (7.8) per game and is 2nd in assists (4.1) and steals (1.6) per game. George was better known for his defense early on in his career, but he has turned himself into one of the game's top scorers. George’s 26.5 PPG are 4th in the NBA and he scorers efficiently: 43.2% from the field, 84.2% from the line, and 43.3% from three (14th in the NBA). George has made more threes (74) than anyone in the league not named Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard. George was even named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November.

*Photo via USA Today

The new look small ball and fast paced Pacers look like a force to be reckoned with as long as they have George leading the way. With many iconic legends like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki destined to hang it up within the next couple of years, it is great to have a young superstar like George returning to action. The NBA will be left in good hands with players like George as the face of the sport.

*Stats and info courtesy of bball-ref and ESPN

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