It’s been easy to forget about Paul George this year.
In a season full of so many breakout players, George’s regression from his stellar 2018-19 campaign leaves his solid 21-6-4 season in the dust. Why talk about that when one could discuss the rapid improvement of Luka Doncic, the emergence of Jayson Tatum as a no. 1 or the step-up Bam Adebayo has taken? Because PG-13 will play a crucial role in the upcoming months of the postseason.
As little as he is talked about, George’s overqualified status as the number two option on the Clippers gives them a massive edge over every other team in the West. Without him, no one would give the Clips a chance over the Lakers. Injuries have derailed the star’s prime throughout the past few seasons, but given the rest, he got from missing 22 games and playing reduced minutes, George may be healthy enough to be the x-factor on a championship run for the Clippers.
Paul George suffered a compound fracture in his right leg during a Team USA scrimmage in 2014, his first major injury. He missed nearly the entire 2014-15 season then, after battling some minor injuries, played the 2019 playoffs with a torn tendon in his right shoulder. Before he started to have shoulder problems that season, he was firmly in the MVP race, and played well enough to place third.
A lot of people forget how high of a level George was playing at last season, and injuries have prevented him from reminding them. He missed the first 11 games of the season after getting shoulder surgery and later missed another window of nine straight games.
According to Fox Sports, PG had a nagging hamstring injury that set him back over a third of the team’s games. His versatile scoring is huge to the Clippers offense who don’t have another shot creator in the starting lineup besides Kawhi without him. Still, it has to be worth noting that without George, the Clippers went 14-8 and even beat the Lakers.
A Slight Regression
It may not be Paul George’s fault, but his string of injuries has caused some regression since his previous four years. Over the past five years, George is averaging the least in points, free throws, rebounds and steals this season. A lot of this has to do with his reduced amount of minutes, but George clearly isn’t up to his usual standards, and only time will tell if he’s saving it for the playoffs.
Role in the Playoffs
George sets the Clippers up a tier from the rest of the West teams with the Lakers for the same reason that Anthony Davis does: Both of them are overqualified second bananas. On their own, they’re each strong enough to put up an MVP caliber season and lead a dark horse playoff team. Paired with another slightly better star, however, and they transform that team into a favorite to win the title.
PG-13 and Leonard’s duo translates to so much success because their play styles and strengths mirror each other. Both are elite perimeter defenders, with Leonard is at an all-time level and George on one slightly below it. They each are dangerous from beyond the arc and drive enough that they each draw a decent number of fouls.
The key is, late in a playoff game that they’re coming back in, either could catch fire and take over, and either of them could be a real option to take the last shot in a close game. Though George hasn’t lived up to his lesser-known nickname of Playoff P in the past few years, as a second option he could be lethal.
George has the advantage of being able to fit into almost any system and plugged in at various roles. He’s proved on Indiana and Oklahoma City that he can be a strong number one scoring option, and with his catch and shoot ability (where he shoots 40 percent from three) he’s equally dangerous.
His ability to play off the ball and space the floor for the Clips adds another dimension to their team.
George has another advantage in that he has experience guarding smaller wings before. He used to play shooting guard in Indiana, which made had him guarding faster players with good ball handling. George, who almost has the body of a power forward, is able to guard the other team’s 1-4 positions, a unique strength that only a few in the league can do.
This helps in the coming playoffs, where he can help defend the talented pool of guards in the West, including the likes of James Harden, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell and Russell Westbrook. On a small team like the Clippers who lack big men, it’s valuable to have someone that can also guard bigger players like Danilo Gallinari and Jaren Jackson Jr.
PG-13 often gets left out in naming the best defenders in the league. Sure, he’s taken a step back with his quickness since his gruesome 2014 leg injury, but don’t forget he finished third in last year’s voting for Defensive Player of the Year.
Features image courtesy of News Break.