Paul George needs to come back to the Pacers’ as soon as he is healthy enough to do so. The notion that he could disrupt the team’s chemistry is laughable. There will probably be a slight adjustment period where George acclimates himself to playing in the NBA again but that shouldn’t take too long. The sooner George returns the better for both Indiana’s hopes of making the playoffs and making some noise when they get there.
The Pacers currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, holding tiebreakers over both the Heat and the Celtics. Obviously, the race is very tight and with those three teams fighting over two playoff spots, it is still entirely conceivable that the Pacers miss the postseason altogether. This is the first part of where having George back is a necessity. He is the unquestioned leader of this Indiana squad and even if he has yet to suit up for them this year, he will still fill a very notable void. Not to mention that George will be a much-welcomed replacement to Solomon Hill in the starting lineup.
Statistically, George represents an upgrade in every facet of the word. George, in his career, has a better career shooting, three-point shooting, free throw shooting, rebounding, assisting, stealing, blocking and scoring average than Hill has this season. That is an across the board improvement on both offense and defense. George will instantly make this team better, even if he is a little rusty at first and leads to some small adjustments in the Pacers’ play.
From a team perspective as well, the two-time all-star will provide an immediate boost in some key areas. Indiana has struggled all year to score, ranking as the 25th best scoring team in the league. Their leading scorer right now is George Hill, with only 15 point per contest and he has only appeared in 27 games anyway. The next highest is Rodney Stuckey, who is averaging under 14 point a night. George over his last two season tallied roughly 19.5 points per game. He will provide an immediate injection of offense into a team struggling to make baskets. Additionally, the Pacers have been a below average three-point shooting team in George’s absence. His 36 percent career shooting percentage from beyond the arc should provide a boost as well. George is also one of the best on ball defenders in the NBA. The small forward clocked in with the most defensive win shares in 2013 and the second most in 2014, according to Basketball Reference.
Those added benefits should carry Indiana to a playoff berth. Even without George, the Pacers could likely make it to postseason but if he is not on the court, then they have no shot of legitimately competing. I mentioned before that George is the unquestioned leader of this team. He also turns up his level of play come playoff time. During Indiana’s run last season to the Eastern Conference Finals, George carried the team. He posted phenomenal numbers, averaging over 22 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals per game while draining more than 40 percent of his shots from three-point territory. Having a player who understands what is at stake and raises his game when the postseason roles around is invaluable.
If George is playing at full strength come the playoffs, it becomes a lot harder to count the Pacers out. If they were to matchup with Toronto or even Cleveland, it is not unconceivable that Indiana could find a way to win. They have the type of team that can wear you out over the course of a series and if they manage to push it to six or seven games, I would definitely pick the Pacers to win. Another little nugget that should convince you of how dangerous Indiana might be with a healthy George in the postseason is their record in the division. The Pacers actually have the best in division record for anyone playing in the Central region. At 7-5, Indiana ranks higher than Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. Those first three teams all sit ahead of Indiana in the standings and will be part of the playoff field.
It is not guaranteed that George will immediately return to the same level he played at before his injury. But if there is even a possibility he might and he is healthy enough to be in the lineup, then Frank Vogel would be crazy to hold him out. The Pacers are a much better team when George is on the court and if he can play, Indiana might just find itself back in the Eastern Conference Finals once again.