There was perhaps only one time during this past season in which Paul George truly played as a third or fourth option on his team, as opposed to being the team’s foremost facilitator.
In the game, George racked up 41 points and hit nine 3-pointers. Funny how that works.
If you can’t recall that Pacers game off the top of your head, you may be forgiven, since it wasn’t a Pacers game at all, it was the 2016 All-Star Game. And, much like he will be during the Olympics, George was surrounded by the world’s most elite players, allowing those around him to create the openings.
“The versatility,” said George of the best attribute of this year’s Olympic squad. “Getting a chance to play with Carmelo (Anthony), KD (Kevin Durant), DeAndre (Jordan), Kyrie (Irving), it’ll be a fun group, a lot of talent. I’m looking forward to seeing where I can make my mark and where I can be unique at.“
George is correct in his thinking that he’ll need to explore where he can best make an impact on a Team USA squad loaded with players who control the ball for their respective teams.
One place he can certainly make his presence felt is on the defensive end. With supremely talented scorers on all sides of him, PG should be able to focus on extinguishing each international team’s top guards and small forwards.
On offense, however, George is already eager to find new ways to impact the game while not being the facilitator that he usually is with the Pacers.
“I’m so used to playing with the ball,” he explained, “but you know, we got five guys out there who know how to score and now it’s about learning how to play off the ball.“
The way George sees it, playing a new style will give him a leg up, and perhaps enable him to add to his bag of tricks for next season.
“I think that’s where guys take the next step, is learning how to space the floor, learning how to cut, learning how to play on the boards — battle on the boards — I think just playing off the ball is when guys take that next step.“
Although, George made it clear he isn’t relegating himself to being the sixth or seventh man on the team, he’s still hoping he can be a primary threat for his country, but recognizes the caliber of players he’s sharing the court with.
“If I have to I have to,” said PG of playing back in the rotation. “I’m hoping it doesn’t get to that point, I want to be a top-three (option), but really it’s whatever (Coach Krzyzewski) needs me to do.“
That attitude well help both George and Team USA in their quest for Gold, and may even influence PG in the 2016-17 season. It’s one of the main reasons coaches and organizations often push their players into Olympic play.
“I spent seven years with the national team and every year that we coached that team all of those guys showed improvement coming back from the Olympics and World Championship,” head coach Nate McMillan said. “It’s an opportunity for him to represent his country, he’s never been able to do that, he’s on the big stage, the Olympics, he’s excited about that.”
by Greg Rappaport