Basketballghana.com’s Yaw Adjei-Mintah looks at the reason behind Eastern Conference Player of the Month (November) Paul George’s inspired play after recovering from a horrific injury.
In the NBA offseason, the Indiana Pacers made some drastic changes to their roster that eventually changed their ideology. The Pacers, a throwback to the NBA of yester year where front court dwellers were the main attraction of team’s offense, made a series of surprising moves to alter their playing style to a modern back court oriented one.
The title winning Houston Rockets sides in 1994 and 1995 had Hakeem Olajuwon as their star man, the San Antonio got lucky to have not one but two frontcourt game changers in Tim Duncan and David Robinson. In the East, the New York Knick had Jamaican born Patrick Ewing and the list goes on and on. The modern NBA however, places premium on perimeter than the slow-paced interior play that characterized the league in the 90’s.
The late Flip Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves preferred an offense with lots of midrange jumpers and banging in the paint. Memphis Grizzlies front court tandem make up of Marc Gasol and Zac Randolph, the offensively anemic Tony Allen were retained in the Memphis fold so the grit and grind Grizzlies aren’t changing anytime soon.
But the Pacers seeking a new identity disbanded their frontcourt pairing of Roy Hibbert and David West in order to initiate offenses quickly- a component the aging West and heavy footed Hibbert can’t cope with. Seeing the writings on the wall, West moved to the Spurs whereas Hibbert’s massive 15 million dollar pay check for 2015-2016 was flipped across the Mississippi to the Los Angeles Lakers and in came athletic big Miles Turner and Shooting Guard Monta Ellis.
Since the transactions, results have been evident through Indiana’s 19 games this season. In those games, the team is averaging 0.401 on three pointers according to teamranking.com. Per the same source, the Indiana Pacers averaged 0.352 on three pointers 2014-2015.
Lost in all this is team star Paul George- a prototypical Small Forward who has been turned into a Power Forward (PF) to suit the team’s new identity. Just over a year removed from a horrific injury and initial concerns about playing in a different position, George has been in good form this season-averaging 27.6 points- helping push the Pacers back into the playoffs. They currently occupy the second position in the Eastern conference having amassed 12 wins from 19 games played.
The Small Forward turned Power Forward was recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Month after scoring at least 20 points in 12 straight games in the pat month, which is the longest of his career; he also score a career high 40 points in the Pacers win over the Washington Wizards.
A reason for George’s good form is his ability to use his superior speed- horned from years of guarding wings like LeBron James and Kevin Durant- to beat out slower traditional Power Forward’s. Traditional Power Forward’s like Zac Randolph, Glen Davis and Jared Sullinger have a lot of body weight to ensure they don’t get out muscled in the paint. The downside to adding a lot of flesh is that it robs player’s athleticism to a degree. Anthony Davis bulked up in the offseason (added 12 pounds) and looking at him in his matchup against Stephen Curry in last season’s playoffs and the two encounters this season, Davis has clearly lost a step or two.
Rather than demand the ball in the post, George hangs around the perimeter to draw his opposing number out of the post and beat him off the dribble with pace to a lesser jammed post area. Not to be rendered irrelevant, Power Forward’s are finding ways of making baskets without sacrificing too much of their body. Cavaliers PF Kevin Love who isn’t exactly the quickest Power Forward around has his reliable three point shooting stroke to make amends for his inferior foot speed.
Paul George is also having success scoring because of his slight build. Like the aforementioned point, George isn’t your typical PF who weighs say, 270 pounds; he weighs 220 pounds. Though having to go against bigger, taller players does do damage to a player’s longevity, he is making the most of the size mismatch to score in post up situations.
Being a big body sure does have its’ advantages in post ups but being light gives a player more room to wiggle. In the age gone by, Olajuwon used his comparatively lighter frame to land himself a Hall Of Fame induction to spin opposing players who bodied him up too closely as a way of knocking him off; pretty sure a younger George must have been taking notes of Olajuwon’s quick spins which inspired the iconic dream shake to his advantage.
Aside scoring, PG13 is shoring up Indiana’s offense with his assists; he is averaging 4.2 for the season. The quick spins in the post and quick dashes to lane causes defenses to move towards him leaving his teammates ample time and space to make clean shots.
Paul George is back in the thick of things a position switch isn’t doing him any harm.