For those of you that haven’t heard, Paul George agreed to a max deal (5 years, $90 million) with the Indiana Pacers last week. He parlayed a very good season and a lot of hype in the postseason into a max contract. It reminds me of Kim Kardashian, the only difference is Paul George actually does deserve to make millions. Pacer fans, does he deserve max contract or will he join the ranks of the overpaid in the NBA (there are more of these than Cincinnati Bengals arrested in the last 5 years). Let’s find out.
There are four main criteria that I look for when making a determination such as this: 1) Individual Statistics 2) Value to Team 3) Upside and 4) Team Flexibility going forward. We will break these down 1 by 1 and see if the pieces fit.
Last season, Paul George scored 17.4 points per game, which put him seventh among all NBA small forwards. He averaged 7.6 rebounds per game, which put him sixth. While his percentages weren’t great, he was first in the NBA in 3 pointers made from the small forward position with 170. He was also first among NBA small forwards in steals, averaging 1.81 per game. He shot 42% from the floor, which puts him in the top 20. From a purely statistical standpoint, I feel like he is a top 5 small forward in the NBA.
Next, let’s analyze his value to the team. Last season, the Pacers were sans Danny Granger for the entire season. Paul George played exclusively small forward and was outstanding. Most nights, he was matched up against the opposition’s best perimeter player. He made All-NBA Second Defensive Team, so I would say he did a pretty good job. With Roy Hibbert charged with locking down the lane, George was in charge of locking down the 3 point line. He also gave the Pacers an added dimension with his 3-point shooting. With Granger hurt, I was worried the Pacers would hit less three pointers than Dwight Howard makes free throws. Granger gave them the ability to stretch the floor and open up room for his teammates. When it comes to the max contract, my main concern in this category is Danny Granger. Danny Granger will be healthy and ready to return this season and he and Paul George will need to find a way to coexist. I believe George is good enough to make this work however, if Indiana plans to keep them both long-term, I am worried that George will not be as valuable to the team due to a decrease in offensive production.
Next, is a term more common in the NBA than any other, UPSIDE! Yes, we hear it all the team. It’s one reason the Minnesota Timberwolves (my team) has been so terrible for the longest time. Many teams draft on upside only while overlooking more established players (think Johnny Flynn for Steph Curry or Darko Milicic over, well anyone). I am not sure about the upside of Paul George. Paul George was the go-to outside scorer last season but with Danny Granger’s return, there will be another mouth to feed, so to speak. I do feel that as George matures, he will become a more proficient shooter. However, as an elite defender already, I am not sure that there is a lot of offensive upside with how the Indiana roster is currently built.
Finally, I want to analyze this deal with regard to the positioning of the Pacers financially going forward. Starting next season, when the Paul George deal kicks in, they will have $50 million committed to four players: Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill (Hoopsworld.com). The salary cap for the 2013-2014 season is only $58.679 million. The Pacers have more money tied up in various players for next season also. They likely will want to resign Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson next season but they don’t have a lot of cap room to do so. The Pacers, as currently built, are extremely good but my concern with this deal is that it leaves them very little flexibility to improve their team going forward.
I came into this article certain that the answer to this question was no. I was going to tell you how they overpaid for George and that he was not worth it. That being said, I have changed my tune somewhat. In a league where the two best players are small forwards, having someone who can make them work on both ends of the floor is paramount. That being said, I do have a couple of concerns.
First, on a team that needs to win now, I am concerned that this extra money will limit the ability of the Pacers to keep this current elite team intact. Paul George, while a tremendous talent, is not LeBron James or Kevin Durant. I am not sure that he has the talent to take over a game and win it.
Second, I just don’t know how much better Paul George can get. I know he is only 24 years old but I am just not sure about his upside. He reminds me a lot of Scottie Pippen. On a team where he is the second best player, he might be the best second-option in the league. I am not sure that George has what it takes to be that elite level talent.
So, what is the final verdict? In my opinion, this deal is worth it to Indiana RIGHT NOW. They overpaid for Paul George but they are another Derrick Rose or LeBron James injury away from being the best team in the East. With Granger back in the fold, they are very, very deep and are primed to make a run at a championship. With all of their salary cap issues looming though, they are basically paying George a max deal and hoping they win a title this season or the next. If they don’t win soon and they start regressing, I am concerned that in 5 years, this deal will be looked upon as a bust if the Pacers never reach the NBA finals.
What do you think Pacer fans? Are you happy about the deal or do you have some of the same reservations? Please feel free to comment here or give me your feedback on twitter @weigel_a. I want to give a shout out to all the Browns fans who gave me feedback to my article on Trent Richardson. I tried to reply to all of you individually and always love chatting with fellow sports fans! Thanks for reading and I hope you’re ready for the NBA!!! 1 MONTH BABY!!