Paul George is an offensive enigma. Defensively, we know and adore him as one of the game’s premier wing stoppers. The Indiana Pacers led the league with a 96.7 DRtg, not just because of the massive Roy Hibbert, but also because of George’s athleticism and versatility. Any issue with his game is with his offense. And we still struggle to properly evaluate his offensive characteristics.
Through Dec. 31 of this past year, George was having a standout fourth NBA season. In 30 games, he was shooting 39.9% on three-pointers (up from 35.8% for his career). He was averaging 23.8 points per game (up from 12.9 for his career). Not only did the basic metrics show his excellence, but so did the advanced shooting stats.
He had 1.204 Actual Points Per Shot compared to 1.045 Ian Levy’s Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). That means he was far out-pacing the general league average expectation for his shot distribution — by an average of 0.159 points per shot attempt. That’s far beyond elite, way better than possibly expected based on George’s first three years of middling offensive efficiency.
But then what happened after the New Year? The now 24-year-old George came crashing back down to earth. The season-long shot chart via Austin Clemens tells us most of what we need to know:
In the second half, George’s Actual Points Per Shot (1.052) were dead even with his Expected Points Per Shot (1.053). Instead of being a very elite shot-maker, he was back to exactly league average based on his shot distribution.
This phenomenon is generally called regression to the mean. Paul George only had a 54.2% True Shooting percentage on 21.0% Usage in his first three seasons; how could you possibly expect 60.2% True Shooting with 28.3% Usage for the long term? More damning, where can you trust him for the long term shooting-wise? He’s not a great finisher and he takes a lot of above-the-break three-point shots at mostly poor rates. He has a tendency to shoot left baseline jumpers, but isn’t good at them. He has a fairly decent but unspectacular elbow mid-range game.
From the chart above, the only thing that stands out that well is his corner three-point shot. From there, he had a sparkling 48.6% shooting percentage this season, exceeding the league average of 39.0%. He has proven to be very, very good from that zone on each side of the court. The unfortunate part is that corner three-point attempts are dependent on other offensive distributors; 96.2% of those league-wide makes are assisted.
Yes, George does create a decent amount of his own offense (assisted on 36.2% of two-point makes compared to 51.8% league average). But it’s difficult to see where he provides much value in shooting the basketball. He struggled in post-up situations and off offensive rebound possessions, per Synergy Sports Technology. He did shot very well on threes via transition, off screens and spot-ups.
One can only wonder how good George might be offensively alongside a more dominant offensive playmaker. The Pacers did add additional offensive spacing this offseason — in the form of Cleveland’s C.J. Miles and Europe’s Damjan Rudez — but lost the uber-important Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Bobcats. If that happens, it’s possible even more half-court ballhandling duties will fall on George’s shoulders. That likely wouldn’t be good for his shooting efficiency.
Next season, we’ll see if Paul George can re-emerge with that first-half offensive leap he displayed. If not, it will be tough to see where his value lies long-term offensively. Is he much more than an average player on that side of the ball? Is that enough to still make him a perennial All-Star? Time will surely tell.
The shot chart in this post is the work of our own Austin Clemens. Check out shot charts for any NBA player going back to the 1996-1997 season here.