The start of the NBA season is as confusing as it is mesmerizing. It's difficult to dampen reactions to both the incredible and awful over small sample sizes, but trends are nevertheless taking shape from Game 1. Everything begins somewhere.
October 6, 2010, was where it all began for the Indiana Pacers and Paul George. George made his debut with the Pacers during a preseason game against the Memphis Grizzlies, scoring four points on 2-9 shooting in 26 minutes. Fast forward to the present, and George just wrapped up his eighth straight game with 20 or more points for the undefeated Pacers.
The Pacers gave George a five-year max contract, a leap of faith that assumed offensive improvement from George. Boy has he delivered. The 2013 Most Improved Player has made a significant leap is scoring, averaging 24.9 points per game with a 61.1 True Shooting percentage, one of the top marks for any perimeter player in the league.
Where is this newfound offense coming from? Some good ole fashioned mid-range shooting.
Yes, the mid-range jumper has become something of a dirty word in a world of maximizing efficiency. It's not a corner three and it's not a shot at the rim, but the in-between game fills the gaps. George is valuable to the Pacers' because he brings a dimension otherwise absent from the team.
Comparing his mid-range shooting to the Pacers' other starting lineup wings reveals how he fits perfectly in this role. George has made 52 percent of his field goals taken between 8-24 feet of the basket, going 26-for-50. Lance Stephenson and George Hill, on the other hand, combine for five made field goals on 32 attempts in the same area, according to the NBA's stats-only website. The three players therefore balance each other out; George gets his space, and Hill and Stephenson can play to their strengths as three-point shooters and drivers.
Here's a look at George's suddenly-lethal mid-range jumper through the start of the season. Notice how often the shot is well-contested (also, poor Luol Deng):
There's no telling if he'll continue sticking jumpers in defenders' faces, but the first eight games have provided something that looks like a blueprint for George and the Pacers. Frank Vogel deserves credit for being creative in how he has made George the focal point of the Pacers' offense. The Pacers haven't become reliant on George beating his man in isolation. They are moving George off the ball so he can either catch and shoot or comfortably get to his spots. He is also handling the ball in the pick-and-roll, using the big body of Roy Hibbert to create separation from his man.
Note the difference in the type of possessions George is taking in the Pacers' offense to another mid-range dweller, Carmelo Anthony. Anthony has attempted 61 field goals between 8-24 feet this season, making just 35 percent of his attempts, according to the NBA's media-only stats website. Their possession usage rates were within .1 percent of each other as of Sunday, according to Basketball-Reference. But here's a look at what play types their field goals are coming from, according to MySynergySports.com:
Different plays, different results. Whereas Anthony is spending so much time in the mid-post, where ball movement tends to die, George has operated more in the pick and roll and has a much more diverse range of plays in general.
That versatility allows the Pacers to develop an offense that can cater to George's ability to work his mid-range game without stagnating the rest of his teammates. It'll be interesting to see if George's mid-range proficiency keeps up, but it's a good sign for both him and the Pacers that they're learning where George can be effective in half-court sets.
All we can do is wait to see if the shots keep dropping. Something his defenders are learning a thing or two about.
The top-five players in field goal percentage, minimum 50 field goal attempts, according to NBA.com's stats page:
|Detroit Pistons||Andre Drummond||50||32||64|
|Phoenix Suns||Markieff Morris||67||42||62.7|
|Los Angeles Clippers||DeAndre Jordan||61||37||60.7|
|Golden State Warriors||Andre Iguodala||68||41||60.3|
|Chicago Bulls||Carlos Boozer||73||44||60.3|
The bottom-five players in field goal percentage, minimum 50 field goal attempts, according to NBA.com's stats page:
|Chicago Bulls||Derrick Rose||96||32||33.3|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Russell Westbrook||71||24||33.8|
|Toronto Raptors||Rudy Gay||160||57||35.6|
|Los Angeles Lakers||Pau Gasol||100||36||36|
|Toronto Raptors||DeMar DeRozan||141||51||36.2|