Lost in the desire to disregard Paul George is the fact that he’s one of the better basketball players of his era. And right now, he’s on his best stretch of ball since joining the Los Angeles Clippers prior to last season.
Following last night’s game-winning free throws from George, the Clippers have won nine of their last 10, their best run since the season began. George missed a couple of games during that stretch but has been unreal over his previous seven appearances, averaging 32.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists on 54/48/90 splits since April 6. Beyond merely the averages, it’s the model of consistency in which George has performed over these last two weeks. His scoring totals, in order, are as follows: 36, 33, 32, 36, 37, 23, 33, and that’s without shooting less than 48 percent from the floor. The tallies also bring George’s season averages to 23.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game with 48/43/89 shooting splits.
Following last night’s game, DeMarcus Cousins — who is currently on his second 10-day deal with the Clippers — said George needs to be respected.
George is “one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen lace them up,” Cousins said. “We gotta stop the PG slander. It just won’t be accepted around me. One of the most gifted players in this league, and every chance I get, I’ma give him his flowers.”
And it’s a valid point. George has been fantastic throughout his career while making himself an easy target for criticism along the way, which has probably skewed how people have viewed him since. There’s Playoff P, the Gatorade commercial, the comments about Damian Lillard’s “bad shot,” the shot off the side of the backboard, last year, etc.
It’s all held against him, but when he’s on, he is pretty damn good.
The mysterious part of George’s career arc is the early playoff success, which has entirely flipped as he’s seemingly improved as a player, which also distorts the perception of him, justifiably or not. We remember his Indiana Pacer days, particularly the 2012-2014 two-season run, for being the young rising star going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in two playoff series.
In 2012-13, he was the NBA’s Most Improved Player, helped engineer an upset over the 54-win and second-seeded New York Knicks in round two, then led the Pacers to an Eastern Conference Finals game seven with eventual champion Miami Heat. George posted averages of 22-6-5 on 50/47/81 splits through the first six games before a lackluster game seven, where he netted seven points on 2-of-9 shooting. The following season, the Pacers returned to the ECF and lost in six games to the Heat, and George averaged 24-5-4 on 45/38/70 splits in the series. Since then, he hadn’t made it out of the first round until last year.
George will change the narrative about him with a strong playoff showing that lasts longer than a disappointing second-round exit, but with expectations lower on the Clippers this season, maybe channeling his Pacer playoff self will be enough. And furthermore, why should he care about narratives? He’s been great as of late, so just keep doing that. Fuck what we think.