Years pro: 6
Status: Has three seasons remaining on his contract, with a player option for the final one.
Key stats: Averaged 23.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.3 turnovers in the regular season, all career highs. Improved in the playoffs, averaging 27.3 points on better shooting.
If the NBA still gave out a Comeback Player of the Year award, Paul George would surely have been a serious contender for it. One season after playing just the final six regular season games, George came all the way back from the broken leg suffered on Aug. 1, 2014. All the way and beyond.
He averaged career highs in points (23.1) and assists (4.1) along with seven rebounds while playing in 81 games. He was available for the 82nd, the last of the regular season at Milwaukee, but was held out for rest. The only statistical negatives to his regular season were turnovers (a career-high 3.3) and his field goal percentage, which dropped to .418, a career-low excluding the previous season’s abbreviated run.
He was even better in the seven-game playoff series with Toronto, averaging 27.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2 steals and 3.3 turnovers. His shooting percentages improved across the board, as well – .455 from the field, .419 from the 3-point line and .953 from the foul line.
Paul George’s Top 10 Plays of the 2015-2016 Season
Perhaps the best thing about his playoff performance, however, was his stepped-up leadership. George, a congenial, laid-back personality by nature, was content to sit back and let his performance speak for him most of the season as he tried to get back in the rhythm of an NBA season. He was noticeably more serious and outspoken in the playoffs, however, and his performance backed it up.
“It’s … about being the one willing to do anything and everything, being the most physical guy out there,” he said during the series. “I think my teammates have been drawn to the way I’ve approached this series. I’ll be the one to make the first leap and have them follow.”
George‘s statistical numbers hide the difficulty and inconsistency of his season. He was brilliant the first month, when he earned the league Player of the Month award for November. Toss aside the first four games as part of the rust-shaking procedure, he averaged 30.7 points on 47 percent shooting (48.5 from the 3-point line) and 8.2 rebounds over the next 16 games.
He faded in the middle portion of the schedule, citing mental and physical fatigue. Over the 15 games from Jan. 6 through Feb. 3, he averaged 19.4 points on 38 percent shooting, and just 30 percent from the 3-point line.
The breadth of his performances was summarized in one brief stretch in December. He scored 48 points on 15-of-27 shooting at Utah on Dec. 5. Eight games later, he finished with seven points on 1-of-14 shooting at San Antonio.
Other poor games followed sporadically throughout the season. He seemed disengaged at times, and admittedly wasn’t the defender he had been before his injury. He also admitted to struggling to find a niche within the team. Should he go all-out looking to score, or try to get his teammates involved? He walked that tightrope all season, finding his best balance in the playoffs.
George is a Hall of Fame caliber player if he continues the level of play he displayed last season, and still has time and potential for improvement. His field goal percentage should be higher than it was last season, and his turnover average lower. Perhaps a new halfcourt offense will help in both regards. He frequently went one-on-one, which often led to forced shots, bad passes or lost dribbles.
He believes in some respects last season was but a warm-up to the rest of his career, a chance to get reacclimated to the 82-game grind and regain confidence in his body.
“Another season, another year of working out and conditioning my legs, I think I can gain everything back,” he said during the season.
by Mark Montieth