The Republic Masthead

Pacers plucked a gem of a player, by George


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I never understood why the NBA uses All-Star weekend as the designated midpoint of its 82-game regular-season schedule. The Indiana Pacers have played 53 games. The Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets entered their break at 56 and 55, respectively.

Story lines dominating this, uh, first half range from San Antonio’s quiet efficiency in compiling the league’s best record to location meaning everything to the formerly faceless Nets franchise. LeBron James is proving once again he’s the NBA’s premier individual talent, and the locomotive known as the Lakers left the tracks weeks ago and hasn’t been seen since.

Then there’s that young guy with the Pacers. Dang, what’s his name again? George somebody.

That’s not me talking. I’ve watched 6-foot-9 swingman Paul George play enough to realize Indiana plucked an absolute gem with the 10th overall selection in the 2010 Draft. (Note: Those who booed this pick at the Pacers’ Draft Party must either turn in their playoff tickets or spend an hour at a Pacers practice taking charges from David West and Tyler Hansbrough.)

When you play in a small market like Indianapolis, the extraordinary is required to achieve superstar status.

Reggie Miller’s outrageous shooting displays and well-placed trash talk made him the most-despised person in the planet’s second-largest city. Those who later became the franchise’s supposed go-to talents — Jermaine O’Neal and Danny Granger — were victims of circumstance and poor timing.

Now there’s George, author of 16 double-doubles this season, including eight in 15 January contests. His averages to date are 17.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.8 steals.

George might not be the NBA’s best all-around player, but he’s in the top five. His lone triple-double thus far, a 23-12-12 in the Pacers’ rout of Charlotte on Wednesday night, served as the latest example of the 22-year-old’s ability to take over a game in a multitude of ways.

He won’t challenge Durant or Melo for a scoring title anytime soon, find himself in the 11s in assists like Boston’s Rajon Rondo or possess the pickpocket hands of Clippers’ guard Chris Paul. The statistical category in which George presently ranks highest among his NBA peers is ninth (steals). He’s 23rd in scoring and 28th in rebounding.

Paul George isn’t great at any one thing, just very, very good at many things.

The Pacers waited seven long years for a charismatic player loaded with basketball intangibles to make its fan base dream large again.

The 22-year-old George has done just that.

As evidenced by those fans wearing Pacer jerseys during home games, the No. 24 phenomenon is beginning to take on a life of its own. Ask young basketball players from this state who their favorite all-time player is, and George more often than not is the man.

Indiana needs a deep playoff run for the rest of the country to notice what we’re beginning to take for granted.

It’s his team. Period. And with Granger expected to return from injury any day, it will be interesting to watch what direction George’s numbers travel in the various categories. Probably slightly lower averages in points and boards, but who really knows?

As long as it’s more victories, all will be well this final half of the regular season. According to the Pacers’ schedule, that means 29 games.

Mike Beas is a sportswriter for the Daily Journal, a sister newspaper to The Republic. Send comments to sports@therepublic.com.

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