When Paul George was a member of the Indiana Pacers, he picked up a superstar’s reputation without really putting up a superstar’s stats.
This was partially attributable to the terrible team he was on; after all, Indiana without him was basically a G-League team, and PG13 was practically 2006 Kobe in terms of singlehandedly carrying a bad team to the playoffs.
With no chance of signing him when his contract expires, Indiana traded him to Oklahoma City, where he has joined Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony as the Big Three on a so-called superteam that really isn’t very super.
Sure, the Thunder are 21-17, a winning record, but they won 47 games last year with just Westbrook averaging a triple-double and breaking the record for Usage Rate as the only NBA-quality player besides Steven Adams on that whole roster. Sure, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, the guys for whom George was traded, have emerged as a genuine superstar and a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate, respectively, in Indiana, but nobody saw that coming at the time of the trade.
But all this dances around the point. Paul George is thought of as a superstar because the NBA media says he’s a superstar. So this week, we’ll ask this question:
Is Paul George a genuine superstar-level NBA player? Or is he at best a guy like Chris Bosh was in Miami, a guy you can’t win with unless he’s your third-best guy?
Let’s do some science.
The Counting Stats
George is averaging 20.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, all big dropoffs from his last year in Indiana…but you’d expect that. Westbrook is the primary scorer. PG13 is also shooting just 42.7 percent from the field, which would make him a low-efficiency volume scorer…
Except he’s shooting 43 percent from three, by far the best mark of his career, as three-pointers have also come to make up 44.6 percent of his overall shot attempts. That will hold overall field goal percentage down while actually being more efficient; indeed, PG13’s eFG%, at .523, is the second-best mark of his career, down from last year’s .534 but still very solid.
Oh, and he’s leading the league in steals with 2.5 a game. People forget that the younger pre-injury Paul George was one of the best defenders in the game.
The Advanced Stats
Speaking of defense, PG’s 102.3 Defensive Rating is 13th in the NBA. He’s third in Defensive Win Shares, and even his block percentage is a career best, better reflecting that he is, in fact, a 6’9” shooting guard and small forward.
Where we run into trouble is where his offensive stats don’t keep up. His career-low rebounding percentage and second-worst-of-his-career assist percentage…
…wait. He’s on a team with Russell Westbrook. Objection withdrawn, Your Honor.
Seriously, if you think you’re going to be putting up secondary offensive stats on a team with Russ, just ask Kevin Durant how his numbers started looking when he got to Oakland or James Harden when he got to Houston.
If Paul George is on the Lakers next year, as the rumors foretell, we’ll see career highs in those two numbers.
So let’s not slam him too hard for that 1.6 OWS; normally a great defender doesn’t land at just .144 WS/48, but that’s not fair to George.
When PG13 was in Indiana, the question became whether his at-times horrid shooting was due to his natural inability to shoot the ball or whether he just didn’t have a good set of reliable passing outlets on that Pacers team.
Now that he’s in Oklahoma City as the best teammate Westbrook’s had since Durant left, you start to realize PG13 is an ideal second banana; if he’s the second-best player on your team, you’re going places. And if he’s your best player…well, look at Indiana in 2016 and ’17 without him. Those teams were straight-up bad, but they made the playoffs both years.
And while as second bananas go, he’s not quite David Robinson or Scottie Pippen or even Dwyane Wade, PG13 is a genuine star…especially on defense. There’s a good reason all the finger-pointing wasn’t at him but at Melo when things went wrong early in the season. This one’s Confirmed.