Paul George is getting plenty of MVP buzz this season alongside James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s done it through an incredible leap on both ends of the floor, elevating him from a top-15 player into one of the five or six best players in the league today.
Of course, he’ll have to perform at this level in the playoffs in order to solidify his place among the league’s elite, but it’s been the type of year that Oklahoma City dreamt of after giving him a max contract this past summer. There are plenty of aspects of his game to break down, from his all-world defense to his J.J. Redick-like off-ball movement and shooting, but today we’re going to take a look at an under-appreciated part of his game: his scoring acumen in pick-and-roll.
George is a patient scorer in pick-and-roll situations, which gives him time to read his opponents and make the right decision with the ball in his hands. In combination with his improved handle and a nearly fully optimized role next to Russell Westbrook, he’s putting up the lowest turnover rate of his career and is an elite pick-and-roll creator, both for himself and his teammates. The threat of his top-tier three-point shot keeps defenses flying over ball screens, where he has the strength and ball control to keep his defender behind him and attack the paint. Sending defenders over ball screens isn’t particularly rare — in fact, it’s the base defensive scheme for most teams — but George’s multifaceted skill set makes pick-and-roll defense nearly impossible for the Thunder’s opponents.
Like all the best pick-and-roll operators, George’s focus in ball screen actions isn’t on his defender, but on the big man, who has a few different choices when his offensive counterpart sets the ball screen. You often hear players tell the media, “I just take what the defense gives me,” but it really couldn’t be truer for George, who reads the defensive big man and makes the correct decision more often than not.
When the defense is playing more conservatively and drops their big man deep into the paint to deter rim attacks, George has become adept at curling over the screen and sidestepping into a mid-range jumper.