The rebuilt Paul George looks more like his old self. Heck, he might be even better.
After a horrifying leg injury cost George most of last season, he said Thursday that he is feeling good, gotten bigger and stronger, and is ready to show everyone that he is back.
”I feel better than the old Paul, I think I’ve improved and I hope to do even better,” he said. ”I think you’re going to see it’s like night and day between Paul (No.) 24 and Paul (No.) 13.”
Before the injury, George was one of the league’s rising stars.
Five months after winning the league’s Most Improved Player Award, he signed a max contract with Indiana. Five months after that, he made his first All-Star start. By the end of the 2013-14 season, George had helped Indiana capture the top seed in an Eastern Conference still ruled by Miami and he was just starting to rake in endorsement deals.
Things changed the instant George’s right leg snapped during a Team USA scrimmage in August 2014.
Most figured 2014-15 would be a complete washout for George and the Pacers.
George beat the odds by making it back for the final six games last season, but he wasn’t himself. The two-time All-Star came off the bench, played limited minutes, missed a dunk in his season debut and gave everyone a scare when was carried off the court with a left calf injury in Indiana’s season finale at Memphis.
Now, almost 14 months after major surgery and with training camp set to open Tuesday, George has regained his footing and his confidence.
Coach Frank Vogel said George has worked out in Indianapolis for the last six or seven weeks, something George did not do previously. And while the Pacers held their annual golf outing at Brickyard Crossing, the course next to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, George took time out to pitch the new MyNBA2K16, a companion mobile app to NBA 2K16 that he knows well.
”I played it (2K) a lot last year,” he said. ”With my leg propped up and me being treated, that’s about all I could do.”
What everyone really wants to know, though, is how close George is to his All-Star form?
‘‘It’s tough to say. I’d say he’s 100 percent healthy and 90 percent back to the explosiveness, rhythm and timing,” Vogel said. ”That hitch in his step seems to be gone. He just needs to get over that last hump with his rhythm and timing.”
Without George, the Pacers missed the playoffs for the first time in Vogel’s 4 1/2-year tenure in Indiana.
So Larry Bird rebuilt the Pacers to conform with the league’s new style – going small and playing fast. The transition includes moving the 6-foot-9, 220-pound George from his traditional wing spot to power forward, where he will be closer to the basket and involved in more action.
How much time he’ll actually play at the four-spot still to be determined.
George isn’t completely sold on making the switch, but he understands why it makes sense.
”We’ll see how it goes. I’m not too thrilled about it, but I’m open to it,” George said. ”I can see where the games are going and how having a slower defender on you there, where the mismatch is.”
Vogel said George is under no medical restrictions and that intends to use George the same way he always does during the preseason – sparingly at first with the minutes increasing as the Oct. 28 season opener at Toronto gets closer.
But Bird and Vogel don’t expect anything to slow down their star now.
”He looks pretty good to me,” Bird told The Associated Press on Thursday. ”He runs a little different than he did last year. He looks stronger, he stops better. He looks like Paul George to me.”