Identifying the Unidentifyable
is far different from the peers in his talent group. Ignoring post players, nearly every single one of them is an elite creator or shooter, or some mixture of both. Meanwhile George has a dribble that’s too high to be continuously effective and sported an eFG% that was under 50% last season. Still, George in many ways deserved his All-Star team spot and Most Improved Player accolades last season.
The players who are comparable to George in skill-set, and comparable in overall talent and effectiveness, are non-existent for this era in basketball. Even Andre Iguodala - a defender George likely tries to emulate – can dribble the ball, and Iggy unfairly is considered by many to be a step below Paul. The 23-year-old Fresno State prospect is from an archetype abyss, a player with very few precedents in the league.
Because of his unique combination of average (at best) offensive skills, evaluating PG as a player in the here and now is incredibly difficult. Even more muddied is the picture of his career path. Without divine intervention tightening his ball-handling, or the emergence of a scoring repertoire to mirror Kevin Durant it is possible that George has already reached his ceiling on the offensive side of the floor. He will certainly keep working to improve his offensive game, and he’ll almost definitely continue to be one of the league’s lockdown defenders. But that defense, even if it improves, won’t by itself drive the Pacers’ future.
So in turn, we unfairly tear George down as a player. His knack for the kinds of plays that are deemed “unconventional” coming from the team’s superstar leads to skepticism of him being worth his contract, and even further leads to comparisons between George and players who haven’t entered his stratosphere. Just because Paul is a foreign commodity, we try to swiftly devalue him.
George will likely struggle to become a typical superstar player, and it’s almost entirely due to his offensive limitations. So what? Sure, George falters as the first option in an offense which led to his incredibly inefficient season last year. Maybe he relies on passing more than Kevin Durant ever would. Maybe he also relies on off-ball cuts and being hyper-aware of what the flow of the offense has been for the possession. These are all true, and so what?
Take Carmelo Anthony, a player many would rather have on their favorite team than George. Carmelo’s offensive peak will most likely be much higher than Paul George’s, but that doesn’t mean Paul is any less valuable. There are many high volume scorers in the league, and while Anthony is one of the best, finding someone to be in that role isn’t exactly difficult in basketball. What George brings to the table, in the matter in which only few can, is incredible.
Paul completed his third NBA season last year, yet is already close to every bit the defender Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen are in their current states. George had a Defensive RAPM last year of 3.1, which measures up well to Iguodala’s mark of 3.3. What is even more impressive is Andre’s mark in his third season was 1.6, or about half of George’s defensive impact at the same point in their careers. Meanwhile Tony Allen’s marks for his third season and last year are 0.5 and 3.5, respectively. Sure, George has plenty of room to develop on that end of the floor, but the straight talent on the defensive side of the floor is transcendent.
As for offensively, George’s skills are more from the working class than the upper class, but that’s what makes him so special. He’s not a scorer. 12.4% of his plays come from isolation plays, which is eerily close to the number of plays he is involved with coming of an off-ball screen at 12.2%. This kind of distribution is way closer to Luol Deng than Carmelo or Kevin Durant. Can he take someone one-on-one and make the tough shot with the best of them? Not necessarily, no. However his willingness to work off the ball allows a guy like Danny Granger to potentially step into the fold and keep his value for a hard-nosed defensive team like the Indiana Pacers. Pairing two guys who like the ball in their hands too much can be poisonous to the chemistry for a team’s flow.
George’s tenacious play on the defensive end of the floor makes it possible that he is worth his newly signed extension. If he continues to realize his offensive shortcomings, or even possible grow out of those shortcomings, it may be in store for the young player to become the type of guy on the floor many dream of. However, what Paul is in his current state is enough to warrant Indiana’s desire to lock him into the team’s long-term future.