During a scrimmage with the U.S. Men’s National Basketball Team in preparation for the FIBA World Cup, star player Paul George tailgated James Harden for an attempted chase-down block, but instead hit the backboard stanchion. In the process, he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his tibia and fibula. George successfully underwent leg surgery, but will still need another 12 to 18 months before playing in the NBA again.
George’s injury has been compared to Kevin Ware’s injury in the Louisville vs. Duke Elite Eight game in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Although this is a devastating injury for George, Ware had, from his personal experience, some advice for George. “The sooner [George] can get his confidence up and put his leg down, the better he’ll be,” Ware said. “It’s all about his mind over matter, and Paul George is one of the strongest people, so I truly think he can get through this.”
The injury will undoubtedly make it more difficult for George to continue to develop into a superstar and a future MVP. However, we can also look to Derrick Rose’s case for precedent. Although it may take a few extra years of hard work, it is definitely possible for George to regain all of his abilities.
Rose has struggled through three seasons of setbacks and knee injuries; however, he is now finally re-establishing himself as a truly elite player, as his performance with the U.S. National Team has been outstanding. Like Rose, George’s tremendous work ethic is reason to believe that he will make a full recovery. Furthermore, George is still very young, and at the age of 24, still has plenty of time to recover from this misfortune.
Although the Pacers were the top-seeded team in the East last year, Indiana will definitely struggle this season without George and Lance Stephenson. George will be missed on both ends of the court, and even with major improvements to the roster, it will be difficult for the Pacers to replicate the success they have had over the past two seasons.
Stephenson also surprisingly led the Pacers in rebounding last season, and his energetic presence on the boards will be missed. Finally, George and Stephenson were the only players that could create their own shots off the dribble last year, so the Pacers will need to find someone to fill that void in order to be a competitive team this year. Without the two of them, the starting five will likely consist of George Hill, Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, David West and Roy Hibbert.
Indiana will now have to depend on West as its primary scorer. This should not be too tall of a task for West, as he has already averaged 14 points per game playing alongside George. West’s 49 percent field goal percentage from last season will likely drop this season since he will be taking more shots, but his points per game, as well as his player efficiency rating, should go up. The Pacers must hope that West rebounds as consistently as he did last season, especially with leading rebounder Stephenson gone.
Hibbert’s defense will also be key to Indiana’s success next season, so if Hibbert can find his form from the first half of last season, the Pacers may still have a fighting chance at making the playoffs. Apart from Hibbert as a rim protector, the Pacers will lack the defensive presence that they usually have with George on the perimeter.
Miles played 19 minutes a game last season, but his burden will increase as he takes over George’s spot at the 3. Miles is 6-foot-6 and is a natural shooting guard, so he will definitely struggle to defend some of the bigger and more aggressive forwards in the NBA. However, Miles has started to establish himself as an elite 3-point shooter, with a 39-percent mark from downtown last season. As such, Miles should contribute significantly on offense on the George-less Pacers.
Meanwhile, Stuckey will be another option for inside scoring. However, Pacers coach Frank Vogel may have Stuckey focus on serving as a facilitator for West in the paint and Miles on the perimeter. In any case, Stuckey’s assists figure to increase from his measly 2.1 assists per game last year.
Even with Stuckey contributing as a playmaker, Hill will not be able to create enough shots for his teammates. In turn, if none of the other Pacers players are great at creating for themselves, it may be difficult for Indiana to pick up wins. As such, the Pacers may need to consider finding a playmaking point guard on the trade market to fill this large void.
The loss of George and Stephenson makes the bench situation interesting as well. Veteran Luis Scola, although primarily a power forward for last year’s Pacers, should be seeing more time at the center behind Hibbert. C.J. Watson will also play a lot of shooting guard alongside Hill, probably as the sixth man of the team. Chris Copeland will get a chance to take more 3-pointers and notch some points off the bench; Copeland shot 42 percent from behind the arc last season.
The Pacers are clearly not the same team that they were a year ago, and will likely struggle to even make the playoffs in a more competitive Eastern Conference. On the other hand, we all wish George a speedy and successful recovery. The sooner he gets back — and he will be back — the sooner the Pacers can get back on track to competing for a championship.
Contact Ethan Teo at ethanteo99 ‘at’ gmail.com.