INDIANAPOLIS — The dust hadn’t yet settled on the Indiana’s playoff elimination last May when its most talented player made a promise to Pacers coach Frank Vogel.
Paul George was already good but wanted to be better. Much more so. It didn’t matter how many jumpers had to be lauanched or wind sprints would be gutted out during the offseason, the freakishly athletic 6-foot-8 guard/forward sought a higher rung on the league’s ladder of talented players.
On Tuesday, every lonely gymnasium moment seemed worth it to George, recipient of the 2012-13 Kia NBA Most Improved Player Award.
Sporting career-best numbers in nearly every category, the third-year player out of Fresno State continues to emerge as the face of the franchise now and into the future.
“Going into the summer I told coach Vogel I would show how dedicated I was to this team,” said George, whose triple-double in Sunday’s playoff opener against Atlanta proved something of a microcosm of the regular season now completed. “I feel I play for one of the best teams in this league. I’m happy to accept this award, and hopefully I can make my teammates proud by accepting it.”
George averages 17.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists a game. He is the fourth Pacers player to be so honored in the award’s 28-year history following Jalen Rose (2000), Jermaine O’Neal (2002) and Danny Granger (2009).
Only the Orlando Magic with such five recipients has produced more than Indiana.
“Over the past three years, but in particular this past summer, Paul has been one of our most diligent workers,” Vogel said. “What impresses me most about Paul is his willingness to play team basketball. Winning basketball. The city of Indianapolis, the whole organization, should be gushing with pride to have such a selfless star.”
George finished the regular season as the only player in the league with 140 steals and 50 blocks.
He received 311 of a possible 1,080 points, including 52 first-place votes, in polling conducted by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Greivis Vasquez of the New Orleans Hornets (146 points) and Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders (141) fiished second and third, respectively.
Teammate Lance Stephenson with a single third-place vote was the only other Pacers player to receive consideration for the award.
As part of its support of the Most Improved Player Award, Kia Motors America donated a 2014 Kia Sorento to George’s preferred charity, Hawthorne Community Center. George also is predicted to be among the top vote-getters when the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award is announced.
George, who turns 23 on May 2, seeks to make himself a viable Most Valuable Player candidate and yet is deliberate in his process of getting there by proceeding one step at a time.
Tuesday proved to be a nice start.