Here’s how you know the Indiana Pacers are a remarkable team.
Their No. 1 player is a bona fide star, yet he isn’t the “face of the franchise,” in the traditional spirit of the term. He’s simply a prominent face on a roster stacked with fan favorites.
On any other team, Paul George would be the talk of the town. But in this town, fans on any given day have a lot to say about any number of players, such as David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill — a fact that speaks volumes about the Pacers’ team strength.
They are collective force, not a star-powered spectacle.
Yet they do have a star.
Now a two-time All-Star, George recently was selected a starter for the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans. He received 1,221,318 votes, the second-most in the Eastern Conference, and was the third-leading vote-getter overall.
Only LeBron James and Kevin Durant earned more All-Star votes.
Moreover, George is only the third player in franchise history to earn the starting honor, joining Reggie Miller and Jermaine O’Neal.
By any definition, that’s NBA stardom. But for myriad reasons, you’d never know George has achieved it.
Part of it is because of his easygoing nature. Much of it has to do with the team he plays for.
Perhaps the most low-key star among the All-Star luminaries, George is not — and never has been — a self-promoter. Though highly motivated and driven to excel, the soft-spoken swingman doesn’t get caught up in his own celebrity.
At best, he finds it amusing. At worst, he finds it embarrassing.
Personable and humble, the 22-year-old has somehow avoided the arrogant trappings of money and fame. He signed a wealthy extension during the offseason and is on the cusp of super-stardom, yet he displays no diva-like traits and is genuinely committed to winning within in the framework of a scheme that doesn’t rely on a single player — or two or three or even four.
All five starters average double figures. George, who has flashy skills and the skillful discernment when to make flashy plays, just happens to be the scoring leader.
Teammates certainly marvel at his game, but more importantly, they respect him as a person and how he conducts himself on and off the court. Signing a five-year max extension worth a reported $90 million, a staggering payday, did nothing to move his ego meter a single tick.
“PG’s a humble guy. He’s always been humble,” said veteran West, the Pacers’ undisputed locker room leader. “He has that humility about himself. He’s very appreciative, very thankful about the opportunities that he’s been given. But he understands he’s put the work in. He comes and works, asks questions. He’s been doing that from Day 1, which (is what) drew me to him my first year here, the fact he was willing to ask questions.
“He’s willing to be coached. He accepts criticism. Last year, at times when he didn’t play well, he carries that until he comes back and plays even better. I don’t think any of the things that have happened with him over the last year or so are going to change him.”
All George has done in the past year is improve his game, inspire teammates, earn a starting All-Star nod and join the MVP conversation — which isn’t bad for a fourth-year pro who still has a high ceiling but cheerfully shares the spotlight with whoever is on the floor. It’s why the Pacers have the best record in the NBA, and it’s why they embrace PG.
The face of the franchise anywhere else, he’s just one of the guys here.
Rick Morwick is sports editor for the Daily Journal.