Nobody thought Paul George would be a star when he was selected in the 2010 NBA Draft. That likely includes the Indiana Pacers — and they were the ones who drafted him.
The Pacers landed George with the No. 10 overall pick. That was four spots after the Golden State Warriors selected Epke Udoh and two after the Los Angeles Clippers took Al-Farouq Aminu.
Both of those guys are, at best, role players. George is a legitimate MVP candidate, scoring a career-high 43 points in the Pacers’ 106-102 loss at the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.
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The Pacers made the playoffs in George’s first season, as the No. 8 seed in the East. Neither the Pacers nor George were considered anything all that special. Attendance was low and the Pacers got bounced in the first round.
They made it to the second round the next year, then all the way to the conference finals last. It was then that everyone began to notice George.
He stepped into the starting small forward spot vacated by the injured Danny Granger, and the Pacers took the defending (and eventual) Miami Heat to seven games. George received some praised from the victors, the television cameras capturing Heat star LeBron James shaking George’s hand after the series had ended.
It was as if James were saying, “Thank heavens I’m done having to match up with YOU.”
Clearly, there’s more to the Pacers than just George. Everyone from center Roy Hibbert to power forward David West to point guard George Hill to , yes, shooting guard Lance Stephenson knows his role and is capable of erupting.
But the Pacers are hardly pro basketball’s version of “America’s Got Talent.” Coach Frank Vogel has them playing team basketball in the truest sense. Defensively, they’re extremely gritty, attacking opponents while displaying an edge. They’re intimidated by no one and really believe they can beat the Heat (and everyone else).
The Pacers’ biggest issue is turnovers. They commit 16.2 per game, compared to 15.8 for opponents. That’s not uncommon for teams who play more of a grind-it-out, slower pace. But the Pacers say they know that number needs to improve.
As for George, he seems comfortable in his own skin, one of those superstars who has gotten over himself and just wants to win. This season, he’s averaging 23.8 points and 6.1 rebounds.
And yes, George has indicated he’s perfectly content in a colder and smaller market, such as the one in which the Pacers play.
“You have to look at the bigger picture and the bigger picture here is we’re all young, we did so well last year, (and) we have a core group of guys who are going to be here for a while,” George said in an exclusive interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “There’s no need to go to a big market when I have a market where I can win here.”
So the Pacers are lucky to have George, just 23 years old, and he is fortunate to fit in so well with them.
Right now, it’s resulted in a lot of fun, a lot of wins and a lot of success for a man who no one figured would claim such a major starring role.
• It’s probably safe to believe in the Blazers now. Besides possessing two of the league’s best in power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard, they’re not nearly as soft as last season. Their bench scoring is also up. The Blazers now boast wins over the Pacers and San Antonio Spurs, and are 8-2 on the road.
• First-time head coach Jeff Hornacek has done a masterful job with the Phoenix Suns. Hornacek isn’t considered a defensive or an offensive guru — the Suns just play smart, disciplined basketball and are doing most everything well enough. Along with Hornacek, guards Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green have been very good, In case you didn’t know it, Bledsoe and Green are also two of the league’s most fun to watch.
• With teams such as the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets struggling mightily, and the Chicago Bulls losing Derrick Rose yet again, it will be interesting to see who finishes with the third-best record in the East.
• Of course, you could say the same thing about the West, but no one in that conference will be backing into the third spot. Just the opposite, actually. To be No. 3 (or any playoff seed) in the West, you’ll have to really earn it.
• The Utah Jazz started 1-13 without rookie point guard Trey Burke. They’ve gone 3-2 with him, including Monday’s win at the Houston Rockets.
• Final Pacers-Blazers note: After the game, Hibbert tweeted that the Pacers will see the Blazers in the Finals.
• Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, signed as a free agent in the offseason, is coming along nicely. But what Spoelstra probably really meant is the 7-foot center is coming along slowly. According to several sources, the Heat don’t expect to integrate Oden into the rotation until sometime around the All-Star break in mid-February. Even then, the Heat aren’t planning on much more out of Oden than 8-10 minutes per game this season. Oden signed a one-year deal.
• When asked to name five guys who he felt could be traded this season, one NBA executive offered the following names to FOX Sports Ohio: Bulls small forward Luol Deng; Rockets center Omer Asik; Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson; Philadelphia 76ers swingman Evan Turner; and Nets small forward Paul Pierce, “if the Nets don’t get their act together soon.”