For the better part of a decade, the Indiana Pacers have been defined by their physical, hard-nosed, make-you-earn-it defense. That's no longer their approach this season, dropping it in favor of a quicker, small-ball approach. Team president Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel are on the same page with this change. In fact, the only person in Indiana who doesn't seem sure about it is Pacers star Paul George.
In this transition, the Pacers will put George on the court with smaller lineups. The tentative starting five, Vogel said, involves three guards -- George Hill, Monta Ellis and C.J. Miles -- with George and Ian Mahinmi rounding out the frontcourt. Whether George will be a true power forward is a matter of contention -- SB Nation's Indy Cornrows describes the position as power "fauxward" -- but George will surely spend some time guarding larger opponents.
"Um, you know it's, uh, I was open for -- to try it out," George told Sam Amick of USA Today. "It's definitely a change. It's something new. We'll see how it goes. As the season goes, it might be better for me to just be at my regular position. But I told them I was open to the situation and (we'll) see where it goes."
With a more open court, everyone on the Pacers should benefit offensively. Using George as a stretch-four immediately expands the offense more than the slower David West could manage last season. Defenders have to shadow him anywhere on the court with his shooting ability, and that will help Indiana replicate the environment in Dallas where Ellis had so much success playing off Dirk Nowitzki. Ellis led the league with 836 drives in 2013-14, according to SportVU, and fell just outside the top 10 last season.
George has said his goal this season is to average six to eight more points per game. The scoring opportunities should increase all around, even if Ellis is taking a large chunk of them. While there are still some lingering questions about George's health from the gruesome leg injury last summer, he should find himself less of a nightly target by defenses.
However, George's reluctance likely stems from his defense. George is an All-NBA defender guarding small forwards and at 6'9 and 220 pounds, he has the size to match up against some power forwards. On paper, he's the perfect fit for the trendy small ball approach taking over the league. In actuality, though, the added responsibilities could hurt his play this season.
"It's just being outmatched strength-wise with guys at the four spot is really the only concern," George told USA Today. "It's not really the concern for one game. It's the concern just over the course of a season just how my body would take it, especially coming off the injury that I had and a whole year of rehabbing. Just not sure of how it's going to take it. (We'll) start camp, see how camp goes. Again, I'm not too thrilled on it, but it could change the more comfortable I get at the position. But we'll see. But again, I could very much end up loving it, so it's all up in the air. I'm open to the position."
George's concerns have been echoed by other wing players turned power forwards, like Washington's Jared Dudley.
"With Paul George, it'll be taxing to his body, because they're going to bang him," Dudley said on the Lowe Post podcast. "He's going to have to box out every possession, because every 4's going to go rebound on him."
George will be giving up weight and size to a majority of the players he guards this season. He'll also be expected to do more as a rebounder, where the banging and bruising can really show up after several months of working the glass. Dudley's transition with the Bucks last season wasn't as perilous because his offensive role was mostly spot-up shooting. George, though, is the focal point of the Pacers offense and will exert more energy than ever before throughout a game.
It's possible that small ball proves to be an equal trade-off, with George's less-taxing offensive workload making up for increased defensive exertion. But his hesitation is understandable because the Pacers will be asking more of George than ever before.
Considering he's also coming back from a devastating injury, George shouldn't be criticized for worrying that this transition might be too much.
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