There was a Warriors’ possession in the second quarter of Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma City when Paul George was guarding Klay Thompson. Thompson was weaving and sliding around the court to get himself open, but George mostly mimicked his movements and stuck with him. Then, for a split second, which is an eternity in the NBA, Thompson lulled George into watching the ball before slipping away to the right corner. George quickly recovered and rushed to get to back to Thompson — but there was a problem: George’s path was blocked by one of his teammates who Thompson was basically using as a pick. So, George knocked his own teammate over. He pushed him out the way to get to Thompson and managed to deny Thompson the ball, which went inside to David West instead.
Thompson ended the game with 12 points, but it felt like he either passed the ball off whenever George was his primary defender or spent the entire possession running around trying to find some space.
What’s really amazing about George is he never seems rushed in any action. It comes in stark contrast when he’s playing next to Russell Westbrook, who spent the first quarter demonstrating for Patrick McCaw and the rest of the Warriors what an exploding star looks like up close. Westbrook, in his own words, plays every game the same way, and that’s true. He’s always full of energy. George stays the same as well, except he looks like he’s in cruise control.
George always remains calm, which isn’t to say he’s lackadaisical, but rather that he’s not susceptible to extremes. In the case of Westbrook, his high-energy play sometimes leads him into undoing all his good work with reckless and careless plays, as he started to do later in the game against the Warriors. That stage is where a partner like George comes in handy. Well, he’s great in any stage of the game, but is perfect in the part of a high-energy contest where the natural tension of the game infects the players and sees them reach their boiling point. Like Tuesday with Westbrook’s reckless plays, Steph Curry’s almost-outburst against a referee, or Draymond Green eventually being ejected.
When every other player was pulling out the spectacular, throwing their hands in frustration, or showing all of their emotions after great plays, George went about his business. He was focused. He does the incredible and celebrates but it never takes over him. He never looks in danger of stepping outside of who he is. He dunks on Zaza Pachulia, flexes, and shoots his free-throws, but then could slink away from the spotlight and back to doing the little things. While Westbrook blows the doors down with the inevitable later danger that comes from having a bull in a china shop, George keeps the team together.
Another thing about George, which pairs wonderfully with his emotional stability is he’s incredibly intelligent and disciplined, which goes back to the way he defended Thompson and the way he plays defense in general. His offense is wonderful, but his true genius is in his defense.
His head is always on a swivel, so he knows where his defender is, where the other players are, and what play is developing. He’s not just defending his man, he’s aware of his greater surroundings. To aid this awareness, he keeps his hands and arms active to feel for his man when he’s looking away and to prevent passes from coming over his head when he’s turned away from the ball. It seems like simple things, but the magic of it is he sees everything and can intercept or deflect passes that even the passer doesn’t know he’s anticipating.
That’s not to say anything about his actual man defense, which is one of the best in the league.
George looks like he’s in flow when he plays. Flow is Wikipedia-defined as: “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”
This flow makes the athlete look especially graceful and slows things down so that to the watching audience it looks like they’re both moving faster than everyone else and playing with a sense of clairvoyance. In the case of George, the way he anticipates passes looks like he’s reading the mind of the passer, who regrets the pass as soon as it leaves his fingertips since George is already moving to intercept it. This goes to him swiping the ball away from opponents who dare to take a millisecond to relax and analyze their situation.
When all of this fails, when George himself loses concentration and his opponent manages to get away, George also has no problem colliding into his own teammate to make up for the mistake. So you have a ridiculously talented and disciplined player on both sides of the ball, who doesn’t fall into extremes and who has no problem taking the unorthodox path when the situation calls for it. He’s not perfect but George is a really special player.