Indiana’s Music Man
In 1922, an orchestral group called Persimfans formed in the Soviet Union a reflection of the firm Marxist belief that people are created equal. Persimfans itself is the Russian abbreviation for Pervïy Simfonicheskiy Ansambl’ bez Dirizhyora, which in Russian means “First Conductorless Symphony Ensemble.” There was no baton to follow behind and play music off of; this group of musicians was lead by committee, much like their home country ostensibly was. This eventually proved to be an unsuccessful tactic; in music, as in basketball, a group almost always needs a leader in order to be elite. The symphony disbanded after only ten years of playing, and never attempted a comeback.
In both sport and art, the tempo can’t be controlled with multiple people running the show. Classical music is reliant on how it waxes and wanes. With few, if any, vocal performances, the only way to garner the audience’s attention is through having the music change up when needed. Without a conductor, this simply can’t be done effectively; the attention-grabbing moment that is supposed to suck them back in just as their concentration threatens to wander actually turns them off to the main attractions of the show when it floats through the air without a semblance of guidance.
In basketball, teams need a certain player to be the heartbeat of the team. Sometimes there are certain players who take over this responsibility for a night, but when the going gets rough they usually turn to the player that is deemed as “the guy.” Someone is suppose to set the tone for everyone else, and a team is often unable to adjust through the changes of a game without that.
At least for a night, on Tuesday against the Detroit Pistons, Paul George hit that level. George was the conductor and the orchestra, encapsulating his team’s soul on the hardwood like music does to the listener. He was the percussion section laying down the smooth beat with the relative ease with which he made the net snap, coupled with volume similar to a blaring brass section with the alley-oops he was completing.
He was never supposed to be this type of player, however. With an awkward dribble and a jump shot that seemed inconsistent, he was looking to be a three-and-d type player at best. He was supposed to be a complementary player to Danny Granger, easing the load on defense by guarding the opponent’s best player and relieving Danny on the offensive end by hitting open jumpers. Granger was the franchise scorer, and George was never supposed to get in his way.
Last season, when Granger went down, many assumed the Pacers would become a modern-day Persimfans on offense. But a funny thing happened, as George stepped up to take the baton and keep the music flowing. The Pacers soon ran the offense through George as the de-facto number one, and the orchestra-by-committee never even got a chance to take the stage.
Tuesday night, Paul George was introduced in that all important last spot when the starting lineups were announced for both teams. A symbolic moment for what is something that has become more and more apparent this season. Paul is the Pacers’ conductor on the team, and his diverse offensive abilities have become the baton that the other players follow. When the team was down three coming into the third, George broke out for a 14-point quarter that put the team up 11 going into the fourth. This is no surprise however, as the team’s success surely followed behind the baton’s effectiveness in guiding them.
The level in which he lead the Pacers offense was that of a bonafide MVP candidate Tuesday night. The Pacers offense without him would have been utter chaos, yet he played with an aura of composure that was blissful in an ugly Pistons-Pacers slug-fest. Last year, he played as if he was an overwhelmed player trying to emulate a number one option that he had seen in the film room. This year he has been a living breathing version of the player he wants to be. Yet that is beautifully a culmination of his short NBA life. Every single time there is doubt that he could make that next leap, Paul always comes through. He adapts to what is required to him, just as that conductor adapts to the flow of both the music and the crowd provides.
Through four games, George has a 57.7 effective field goal percentage. This is light years apart from last season’s 49.1% mark last year, which is the vast difference of an extraordinary player and a below-average player. This change is statistically the best sample of just how vast a change he has shown as a player already this season. Last season he felt like the off-beat leader of a struggling symphony, but he somehow now is the man behind the podium for the NBA’s last unbeaten, and he looks great doing so.