All season, the Indiana Pacers’ storyline went something like this:
They get it done by committee, with a rock-solid starting five, without the benefit of a superstar.
Frank Vogel takes issue with that assessment. Or at least the part about not having a superstar.
Vogel insists they do. His name is Paul George.
And if the Pacers’ coach is right, we haven’t seen anything yet.
“He’s going to be one of those great players,” Vogel said of the 23-year-old swingman, a first-time All-Star who not only won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award but who managed to elevate his game in the playoffs.
Consider: During the regular-season, George averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. In the playoffs, his scoring rose to 19.2 ppg, and his assists jumped to 5.1 apg. His rebounding (7.4 rpg) was virtually unchanged.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, he averaged 19.4 points during the seven-game series and was, at times, LeBron James-like with his overall production.
Problem for the Pacers was, he wasn’t LeBron-like throughout the entire series. He opened with a brilliant 27-point Game 1 performance and followed it with 22 in Game 2. But in Games 3 and 4, he had 12 and 13 points, respectively.
He then strung together 27- and 28-point efforts in Games 5 and 6 but fell flat with seven in the decisive Game 7.
Superstar? In the eyes of a particular beholder, yes.
Although George wasn’t LeBron-like throughout the entire series, a lot of that had to do with his matchup throughout the entire series: LeBron.
More often than not, George either held his own or put on his own one-man show. Only a superstar can do that against LeBron.
Consistency is just around the corner for a young player who just completed his third NBA season, Vogel insists.
“He’s got a lot of talent. His athleticism, his speed, his hands, his shooting ability, his scoring ability, his defensive instincts,” Vogel said. “To me, his best talent is his hunger and his drive and determination, and that’s the most encouraging thing I see with Paul George.
“That’s the biggest reason why he’s basically shredded our image and destroyed it entirely, the image of the Indiana Pacers are a team without a superstar.”
But George is becoming more than just a star. He’s becoming a leader.
After the Pacers’ Game 7 demise, they huddled on the court for a final time, with one hand each extended in a show of unity. Vogel recalled what happened next.
“A voice emerged from that, and it was our third-year star, Paul George, speaking up about what it’s going to take to get back here further next year,” Vogel said. “I thought that was a tremendous growth step for him and something that I think is going to carry him into the summer and into this next year in terms of taking on more of a leadership role.”
But that doesn’t mean the Pacers will change their approach. They are not taking the Heat approach and putting their fate in the hands of a special player or two.
There will still be room on center stage for Roy Hibbert, George Hill, Lance Stephenson and David West (make no mistake, West will be back). The Pacers will still get it done by committee. That’s how their built, and it’s how they best function.
But when they need a shot of star power, they’ll have it when they need it.
“I do think Paul George is a a legitimate, bona fide superstar, but we’re a team team,” Vogel said. “We’re not any individual’s team.
“And I don’t think anybody on our team would have it any other way.”