Since entering the NBA in 2010, Paul George has outplayed any and all expectations that were initially set for him. Along the way, he’s transformed his game from part-time starter to third place finisher in the MVP race. In the “what have you done for me lately,” way of thinking that has been adopted by the majority of the mainstream media, George has been dubbed both an overrated player and a playoff underachiever. Those biased arguments not only downplay George’s importance, but they also completely miss the mark in his evaluation. With the return of the NBA, and playoffs just weeks away, what better time to dismiss those biases? Now, more than ever before, Paul George is certainly underrated, and vastly under-appreciated, so let’s go ahead and discuss why this narrative surrounding him should be squashed.

At just 23 years of age, George quickly established himself as a household name by leading his Indiana Pacers team to consecutive conference finals appearances, before eventually falling twice to the then back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat. He led his team in scoring throughout both playoffs runs, while also being tasked with defending each team’s elite wing scorer. Although those Pacers teams came up short, that outcome was generally expected against the superteam Heat. However, the NBA seemed to have a young star in George that would rival LeBron James for years to come. He was well on his way to superstardom.

In the midst of his rise to stardom, George suffered a compound fracture to his right leg during a 2014 Team USA summer scrimmage. The injury would interrupt the beginning of his prime and raise questions about whether he could return to a high level of play. Much of George’s remaining years in Indiana seen almost forgotten. He spent his time leading mediocre teams to the bottom of the playoffs before bowing out to far superior teams, such as the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers, in the first round. What doesn’t get brought up enough during those final seasons is how much George’s game evolved. While he never quite regained the high-flying capabilities he had once possessed, he was able to round out other areas of his game to make himself more complete.

After recovering from his injury, George came back to an NBA that was tailor-made for him; a game of spacing and three-point shooting. Since returning, George has become one of the truly elite shooters in the NBA. According to stats provided from Second Spectrum, from 2015 (his first full season back from injury) to the time of the 2020 NBA restart, George is attempting 7.8 three-pointers per game, while shooting them at 39 percent.

For comparison, Damian Lillard, a widely-renowned and feared shooter, attempts 8.4 per game while shooting at 37 percent. George finished three of those seasons in the top six in three-point field goals made, including a second and third place finish. Also over that period of time, Second Spectrum shows that George has shot 40.3 percent on his catch & shoot three-point attempts, 37.1 percent on pull-up threes, and has converted 45.2 percent of his wide open three-pointers. Smaller guards at his position aren’t often able to affect his high release, and bigger, slower defenders aren’t able to recover quickly enough once George uses his ball-handling to create separation. Being this versatile of a shooter at 6’9, George has unlocked so much creation within the offensive schemes of his teams and has become one of the toughest covers in all of the NBA.

The defensive side of the ball is where George has always made his mark. Using his long arms, and good footwork, George is often able to keep his defender in front of him while being strong enough to absorb contact and stop penetration. Once he stops the first action, he uses his length to bother shots, and/or disrupt the dribble. However, where George is the most prominent on defense is off the ball (which is somewhat less glorious and harder to evaluate than on-ball). He has a knack for anticipating actions before they happen and getting into passing lanes to cause turnovers. During his DPOY challenge in the 2018-2019 season, George finished as the league’s leader in total steals and steals per game after finishing second to Victor Oladipo in the season prior. The physical and mental traits that George displays allows him to be effective at guarding multiple positions.

George requested to be traded from Indiana during the 2017 offseason with hopes of returning home and landing with the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead, the Pacers dealt George to Oklahoma City, and a disliking for George would begin to form.

Unlike his time in Indiana, George would now play on a team with players of the same upper echelon as he. For the first time since the 2013-2014 season, George would not be the lone all-star player on his team and would not have to do all of the heavy lifting throughout the season. The playoffs neared and the world was introduced to “Playoff P”, a self-named, and self-proclaimed “fun guy to watch,” and “out-of-body person.” Naturally, he became an easy target for criticism once the Thunder were ousted by a rookie-led Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. Overall, George played about as well as he did throughout the season, but nothing more than that. He saw more highs and lows from game to game rather than his usual consistent play, which was in part due to how he was being used in Billy Donovan’s system.

However, what tends to go overlooked in that series is how badly the rest of the team performed. Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook was outperformed by Ricky Rubio during consecutive losses in games 2 and 3 of the series, which in turn led Westbrook taking a staggering 82 shots over the final two games of the series. Carmelo Anthony set career lows across the boards, averaging just 13.2 points on 38 percent from the field and 21 percent from three-point range. By the final few games of the series, Anthony had been relegated to the bench to close games in favor of Jerami Grant.

Ultimately, George took the brunt of the blame for how the series ended after totaling just five points on 2-16 shooting in the season-ending loss, while being trolled by Joe Ingles. The media was quick to take jabs at the “Playoff P” nickname and claimed that George’s performance proved he had “checked out” and was ready to make his move to the Lakers during free agency. That doesn’t ring true, however – while his numbers were below those in the regular season, 24.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per gam on a True Shooting of 54.5 isn’t bad at all.

The Lakers have one of the largest fan bases in all of professional sports, so when George revealed during his three-part ESPN free agency series that he would be returning to Oklahoma City, a lot of folks were rubbed the wrong way, and the national media began to turn against PG. He had turned from up-and-coming star to success story to overhyped veteran, all in just a few years.

George seemingly heard the hate and disrespect and used it as motivation to turn in the best season of his career. He finished the 2019 season third place in both MVP and DPOY voting despite having to play the final months of the season with two shoulders that would need to be surgically repaired.

George put together a few big-time performances in the playoffs, but his shooting was mostly inefficient as a result of those shoulders. He was also forced into a lot of poor offensive possessions due to nobody else on the Thunder having the ability to space the court and provide shooting. Still, he led his team in scoring, and was easily the best player on the team throughout the playoffs.

The Thunder would lose again in the first round by way of a near-half-court buzzer beater from Damian Lillard right in the face of George. That viral moment when Lillard waved goodbye to George and the Thunder as they walked off in defeat somewhat overshadowed the strong performance from George earlier in the series. Nevertheless, the Thunder would go on to blow up their team during the offseason, and the “Playoff P’ disrespect would reach new heights. Again, this doesn’t match the numbers, as PG averaged 28.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game with a True Shooting of 58.3%. His three-point shooting was cold, but he more than made up for it by getting to the free throw line a staggering 9.8 times per game. That’s certainly not a “bad” performance by any standards.

Between the first-round exits, the spurning of the Lakers during free agency, and the whole “Playoff P” moment, much of the general perception of George has seemed to be formed purely off of people’s emotions towards him. People feel those emotions and turn them into dislike, which then biases their ways of thinking while watching George perform.

This process of opinion-forming really isn’t all that unfamiliar, however. As an NBA fan, I saw the world try to discredit Lebron’s greatness early in his career when he couldn’t beat the Celtics, who had three Hall-of-Fame players in the final stages of their primes. Chris Paul was deemed overrated because of the Clippers’ playoff disappointments during his tenure, although his playoff stats would tell you that you were witnessing one of the better playoff performers ever. To this day, James Harden is denied his magnificence because for three postseasons he couldn’t get past the Golden State Warriors dynasty, one of the best teams ever assembled.

Now that George has made his way to the Clippers via trade, he’s in one of the best situations of his career to seize playoff success. But basketball is a team game, and everyone is going to have to play their part in order for success. The shooters must knock down shots, the defenders must know their assignments, and the coaches must dial up the perfect game-plans. Coupling the “Clippers are the little brothers” narrative alongside the “Paul George is overrated” narrative, the nonbelievers are louder and more hopeful than ever to see him fail.

All you have to do is turn on your televisions or open up your Twitter feeds to see some extremely cold takes, pushing a false narrative to try and obtain more clicks and more views. However, you shouldn’t those narratives cloud your vision. There is a reason why that when Paul George’s name is brought up, only a handful of current players can compare to him. There aren’t many players who have been able to sustain consistently great play on both ends of the court throughout the course of a career – and so far, Paul George is one of them. Let’s not take Paul George for granted.

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