It appears George is approaching — or already has approached — that status.
With stellar performances in back-to-back wins against the East’s first- and second-place teams, the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks (albeit without Carmelo Anthony), George is making the basketball world take notice of his marked improvement as a game changer on both offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
The Pacers, third in the East at 22-14 and the NBA’s top defensive team, this week held both Miami and New York to season-low scoring totals (77 for Miami and 76 for New York), and George was a huge factor in each effort.
He went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Tuesday’s 87-77 triumph over the Heat, outshining either in the second half while James and Wade, arguably the best in the business, combined for nine turnovers.
On top of his 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists Thursday against the Knicks — he keyed the 13-0 run in the third quarter that was the first real display of sustained offense by either team — George tallied a career-high six steals to highlight the Pacers’ 13 total takeaways that translated to 19 points.
It’s true the Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony, who served a one-game suspension for an altercation with Kevin Garnett following New York’s contest at Boston earlier in the week.
However, the absence of a leading scorer on an opposing team has little to do with George’s fundamental soundness on defense thus far in the 2012-13 season. He’s in all the right spots, as are his teammates, and that gives him enough confidence to get aggressive and attempt to force turnovers (and he’s been highly successful in those attempts). He also generally does a good job on his man — he held J.R. Smith, who assumed much of the Knicks’ shooting responsibility in Anthony’s absence, to 34.5 percent from the floor (25 points on 29 shots).
He also is more assertive as a scorer — granted, that’s probably been somewhat expedited by the absence of Danny Granger, the Pacers’ leading scorer each of the past five seasons who has not played this year while nursing a knee injury — but he is such nonetheless. He’ll go to the rim without fear. He’ll create for himself, taking the contested shot.
Certainly, it remains to be seen whether George truly can ascend to the level of the NBA’s top players and perhaps vault the Pacers into legitimate championship contention. He still needs to produce at this level in the playoffs. However, this much is true: the Pacers have a lot to be excited about in George, both this year and over the long haul once Danny Granger moves on. At the very least, I’d expect an All-Star nod for the third-year man this year.