Paul George training for Pacers' lead role

USA TODAY Sports

Despite playing as the Indiana Pacers' first option last year, Paul George didn't head into the season thinking it would last.

The handing of the torch in the NBA doesn't always go as planned, and for Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George the torch found him sooner than expected. Last year, George ended up playing the No. 1 role as Danny Granger ultimately failed to return from a knee injury, but George told the Indianapolis Star this is the first offseason when he has trained to be that first option.

"Last year, we still had Danny and did not know the results (of Granger's injury) coming into the year," George said. "I had a role that I had kind of prepared for and trained for. This year, it was more about training to be the No. 1 guy and lead this team."

George only helped himself this summer in the eyes of USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who said he likes the Pacers forward and especially his versatility that should suit him well in international competition.

But in the NBA, Indiana's improved bench unit and the return of Granger immediately make the Pacers a standing favorite to challenge the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. For George to take his own game to another level after last season's All-Star appearance would be the hat trick. He averaged 19.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game in the playoffs but only shot 43 percent from the field. Generally, that was better than George's regular-season numbers, but in both cases there is room for improvement in regard to efficiency.

It's no surprise George's shooting averages dipped last season, when he was the focus of opposing defenses.

George scored well at the basket but was assisted on 54 percent of his opportunities there. He also hit a good deal of his three-point shots with 82 percent coming off passes from teammates, according to HoopData.com. Inversely, George is a proven playmaker himself.

It's George's midrange game -- the one-on-one scoring -- that will need to improve for him to become a more effective No. 1 option. He shot 27 percent from 3-9 feet, 35 percent from 10-15 feet and 37 percent from midrange out to the three-point line last season.

George, still only 23 years old, probably did more than work on his jumper.

If anything, he's a year more experienced and now has fully accepted his No. 1 role.

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