As NBA training camp got underway, Indiana Pacers star forward Paul George let it be known that he wasn’t completely thrilled with his team’s new direction.
Like many teams in the NBA, the Pacers are going small – shifting players up a position to put more guards and wings on the court to spread the floor on offense.
George, at six-foot-nine, 220 pounds, will be asked to play power forward, or the “four,” in these lineups, something he’s not totally comfortable with.
“I’m not thrilled on it,” George said on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis during training camp.
He later added to Indianapolis Star’s Candace Buckner, “It’s not what I came into the league as. I don’t think I’m at that point in my career where I should be changing positions.”
Still, George admitted he could see the benefit of the plan when on offense, the Pacers will have more speed and shooting, and he can use his athleticism against bigger, slower defenders.
However, after one preseason game – a 110-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans – George sounds ready to abandon the plan. He told reporters after the game (via Bucker):
“I don’t know if I’m cut out for a 4 spot. … I don’t know if this is my position. We’ll sit and watch tape and I’m sure I’ll talk with coach (Frank Vogel). I’ll talk with Larry (Bird) as well to get both their inputs on how the first game went, but … I’m still not comfortable with it regardless of the situation. It’s still something I have to adjust to or maybe not. Or maybe it’s something we can go away from.”
He also said he struggled with the physicality on defense, something that surely wasn’t helped by going against Anthony Davis.
“Defensively, it’s rough. It’s rough. It’s an adjustment because I’m not used to doing some of the things out there and I’m exerting more energy, it feels like – from having to hedge on the ball screen, get back down low to a shot going up and now having to box out. So I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“Playing the 3 spot, I always had the luxury of helping the bigs rebound… Can’t do that at the 4 spot. These guys are strong, they’re big. It’s almost like I’m just trying to keep them on my back but they got me in size. That’s the toughest part.”
George played well in the game, finishing with 18 points on 7-15 shooting with five rebounds, but at times he looked overmatched against Davis. Davis himself had 18 points on 8-17 shooting with eight rebounds in 16 minutes. Davis also pulled down five offensive rebounds over George, and the Pacers as a team gave up 19 offensive rebounds.
George did say he’s willing to give the change some time to work out and players need to get adjusted, but it’s not an encouraging sign for the Pacers.
Worse yet, the Pacers don’t have a lot of options on their roster. While George will also surely play his natural small forward position in some lineups, the Pacers have built their roster to go small. They traded Roy Hibbert for practically nothing, and let David West and backup forward Luis Scola and Chris Copeland walk in free agency.
Currently, the only traditional big men on the Pacers roster with NBA experience are Ian Mahimni, Lavoy Allen, and Jordan Hill – not exactly household names. They can play George and Chase Budinger as forwards in small-ball lineups, and rookie Myles Turner can fill in at center or power forward, too, but if they want to play more traditional lineups, their options are slim. This also means that the Pacers are one big injury away from being forced to go small.
While George is still trying to keep an open mind about playing small, the issues the Pacers saw against the Pelicans aren’t going away any time soon. George will give up size in some matchups, he’ll have to be one of the team’s primary rebounders instead of a secondary rebounder, and he’ll have to adjust to the defensive rotations big men make, not what he’s used to as a perimeter player.
There’s still time for the team to work this out, but the Pacers built their roster around the idea that they could go small, and the fact that their best player isn’t welcoming it with open arms is a discouraging sign.