Well, we all saw this coming. Paul George burst onto the scene last year for the Indiana Pacers, won the Most Improved Player award, carried the Pacers deep into the playoffs, and established himself as the future of the club. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Pacers rewarded George tonight with a nice payday.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) September 23, 2013
Whenever I see a max contract being finalized, I ask a few general questions to get an idea of whether it was the right move:
1. Is the new max player the best talent on the team, or does he have the potential to become the best player on the team in the near future?
2. Can you win (or at least be very competitive) for a title with this guy as your best player?
3. If he hit the open market, would he receive a max contract?
For George and Indiana, all the answers are yes. No brainers, even. George is a true two-way player with an expanding set of skills, and the fact that he’s only 23 years old allows you to dream on his potential. With Danny Granger on an expiring deal, George will take over as the number one option offensively yet again, and he should form a potent tandem with Roy Hibbert for years to come.
Indiana virtually had no choice but to give George a max extension, so any argument of value seems silly. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute though, and float this out there. Would you give Kawhi Leonard a max contract? Probably not, right?
Last year, George and Leonard had nearly identical PER’s, with George at 16.8 and Leonard at 16.4. Leonard was much more efficient, notching a true shooting percentage over .60 percentage points higher. The two players put up similar rebounding percentages (George 11.3, Leonard 11.1) as well, but the main difference was that Paul had the ball in his hands quite a bit more, so his assist totals and usage percentage blew Leonard’s out of the water.
Why am I bringing all this up? Because so much of perceived value relies on opportunity. We only caught a glimpse of Leonard as a top scoring option in the playoffs last year, so we’re not sure if he’s capable of handling the full load. But because of Granger’s injury, we’ve seen George handle the load for a full season. It wasn’t always pretty (the Pacers were 20th in offensive efficiency, after all), but there were definite flashes of brilliance. And his defensive abilities and length are absolutely vital to Indiana’s scheme, and are a must-have with LeBron James around.
Still, for George to be worth this max extension, he’ll have to keep improving. His development can’t stagnate, and although it’s highly unlikely it will, he wouldn’t be the first player to receive a max deal and fail to live up to the expectations that come with it.
Is this a good move by Indiana? Again, of course it is. This was the only option. Going forward, however, the onus falls on George to replace the potential he’s getting paid for with improved production down the line.