Paul George's Impact, Growth as a Playmaker Can't Be Ignored

LA Clippers star Paul George set a career-high in assists in Wednesday night's win over the Sacramento Kings — more evidence of his improved ability as a playmaker.
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Paul George isn't often thought of as a distributor. If anything, he's long been the opposite — a score-first wing who will either look for his shot or try to create one before kicking it out to a teammate. That's not to say he's selfish as much as he is an aggressive scorer, but that's just who he's been for most of his career.

On Wednesday night, though, George's put on display just how far he's come as a playmaker since he entered the league — and, to a lesser degree, since he joined the LA Clippers in 2019.

In a dominant win over the Sacramento Kings, George tied a career-high mark with 12 assists (eight of which came in the first half) to go along with 19 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal across 32 minutes of action. It was the seventh time this season that George had recorded five or more assists in a single game — something he only did 14 times all last season. 

Much of it has to do with Tyronn Lue's offense, which prioritizes ball movement and seems to have made each player on the roster a more willing passer. But George is also making smarter passes and better reads, often finding teammates on the move and leading them to their preferred spots. 

It's not like he's constantly finding the same players, either. George has already developed strong chemistry with each of the team's starters and role players, which is something he never had as much a chance to do with last year's squad. But with another year under his belt and consistent time on the court, George has become one of LA's primary playmakers along with Kawhi Leonard. Together, the two are averaging roughly 11.5 assists per game — a little less than half of what the team is averaging on the season. 

That's also part of the reason why the Clippers don't necessarily need a true point guard on the roster. Lonzo Ball has reportedly been linked to the team in trade discussions, but George and Leonard have been good enough that adding such a player isn't as important as some anticipated it would be.

"It's a fun challenge for me," George said after the game. "It's fun figuring it out, figuring out how defenses are guarding plays, figuring out how defenses are guarding me... I love connecting the team, I love getting guys shots. I think we've been one of the teams that have gotten some of the most wide-open shots, wide-open threes, and so it's contagious. One guy makes a play for another, and our whole team just plays that same style."

George has still struggled with turnovers, which is always a part of the learning process — his 55 turnovers this season are the fourth-most in the NBA — but he's not afraid to admit that he can still improve.

"It's a work in progress," George said. "I probably had a career-high in turnovers too, so I got to work on it, I got to be better, I got to take care of the ball a lot better. But for me it's fun. I play for my teammates so it's not going to be perfect, but I thrive on being on the floor and trying to make my teammates better."

That said, passing is just one aspect of George's game that's been impressive this season. Through his first 14 contests, the two-way star is putting up MVP-caliber numbers, averaging 24.4 points per game and shooting an absurd 50.5% from three-point range on nearly eight attempts a night. He isn't the only reason why the Clippers are the most efficient three-point shooting team in the league, but he's certainly a big part of it.

Time will tell if George can keep this up, but even if he does come back down to Earth, there's no denying that something is fundamentally different about his style of play this season. He's not looking to force things on offense or settle for contested jumpers. Like so many others on this team, he's looking for the best available shot each possession — whether it comes from his hands or not. 

He's playing for the team.