By Rob Mahoney
Danny Granger will be out of the Pacers' lineup for the foreseeable future, leaving a formerly formidable team scrambling to regain its balance. But as Beckley Mason noted over at TrueHoop, Granger's painful absence doubles as a valuable opportunity for Indiana's most promising talent. Paul George will get his fill of touches, shots and playmaking opportunities over the next three months or so, and the Pacers badly need George to turn his sparks of greatness into a steadier flame.
The league is heavy with unfulfilled potential, and George could very well drift toward the ranks of the underwhelming. But these three months without Granger will provide an invaluable opportunity; it's by this kind of high-usage process that all NBA stars come into their own, and George will have talented teammates and a top-10 defense, easing his transition. This is the chance George has been waiting for, and the Pacers have little choice but to commit a bulk of their offense to the 22-year-old wing.
But is George really ready for this kind of responsibility?
Succeeding as a first offensive option demands consistent shot creation, an ability to read defensive coverage and skills that are easily accessible within a particular offense. George has, thus far, demonstrated none of the above. Though he's an exceptional and athletic role player, George's sporadic attempts to assume control of the offense have often ended in inefficiency. To some extent, a lack of ball-handling experience is to blame. That deficit stunts George's sweet shooting and powerful finishes; he can navigate open lanes easily enough, but a single opponent (much less an entire opposing defense tracing his movements) can often derail his bounce and his rhythm:
That's a part of Danny Granger's game that often goes unappreciated. Even if he isn't the sexiest scorer and doesn't put up the most efficient stat lines, Granger has largely been able to put the ball on the floor and generate a respectable shot attempt of some kind. He got to the rim more frequently than one might think. He did a really solid job as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations. He worked his pull-up game effectively and executed moves without turning the ball over all that much. Nothing he did was particularly exceptional, but Granger's handle was sound enough to enable his all-around game. George's isn't, and all too often the Pacers' great hope is left directionless once he puts the ball on the floor. A hard closeout and moderate recovery is often all that's needed to trap George in no-man's land and nudge him into attempts like these:
There's a reason why George, despite having both a size and speed advantage against most of his opponents, has yet to average more than 15 points per 36 minutes. He shoots and finishes but doesn't create. He spent the summer working on his dribble-drive game, but so far that practice hasn't translated to George's NBA performance or much helped the Pacers' currently miserable offense in any significant way. It's a quaint thought and a sound effort, but at this point it only adds to the potential that George has yet to realize.
Even his assist numbers are a bit of a mirage. After posting 11 assists through his first two games this season, George's passing numbers have taken a dive. He's still averaging 3.8 assists per game for the season but has posted just four total assists in his last two games. To make matters worse, the impact of George's assists is offset entirely by his 4.1 turnovers a night, not to mention the utterly pedestrian nature of most of his setups:
George is indeed showing a better sense of when to feed his teammates this season, but the extent of that playmaking often comes through post entry (on which George is routinely fairly inaccurate), swing passes and basic feeds to the open man. All of these actions are helpful, though not entirely creative. George simply extends the natural momentum of a possession as if he were the embodiment of Newton's first law -- content to facilitate and forward without the kind of unbalanced force that exists at the heart of any NBA star. George may yet find that level of skill and influence within himself over the course of his career, but, for now, he lacks the necessary disposition to impose. He'll use this opportunity for experimentation, and he'll likely make progress as a ball-handler and creator. He'll be as brilliant on the defensive end as we've come to expect, and he'll do tremendous work on the boards. But George's game simply isn't ready to stretch in all the ways that the Pacers will need in the coming months, and it isn't yet broad enough to fit the mold of the do-it-all-wing.