INDIANAPOLIS – Nine months ago, he made this moment happen.
Standing next to, in front of, or with the NBA’s Most Improved Player trophy Tuesday morning in the IU Health Pavilion at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Paul George was honored as the player who added the most to his game over the 2012-2013 season.
The honor came just two days removed from the forward getting second triple-double in Pacers’ NBA playoff history and a season where his points and rebounds had significant gains.
Yet it was not that Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game One win Sunday over the Hawks or the 82 games that George played before that which were brought up most often during the news conference. Instead it was the effort given in the workouts in the summer before by the third-year player that were cited as the main reasons he captured the award.
“Hard work, living in the gym, working on his shots, working on his game,” said head coach Frank Vogel of George during the summer. “Repetition, improving his body, all those types of things-the blood, sweat and tears they talk about-that you put into the gym, that you put into your game during the summer has all paid off.”
George said his desire to make major improvements over the summer began late in the spring following the team’s loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Heat. During the six-game series, George’s average points a game dropped by three in the regular season as he struggled to have a breakthrough game against the eventual NBA Champions.
“There were a lot of opportunities where I could have played better. I just felt like I was the missing link offensively,” said George. “So coming into this year, I wanted to be able to carry the load if my teammates need me as a scoring threat, I could fill that role and that was pretty much my whole training for the summer.”
Vogel went even as far to say that George promised him that he would come back a completely different player following his offeseason workouts-and indeed the forward followed through. George saw his points per game increase from 12.1 to 17.4 while his rebounds increased by two a contest.
Such a rise in production was critical to the team who was without Danny Granger-the team’s leading scorer the past five seasons-for the majority of the season as he dealt with a nagging knee injury.
“I knew he was going to be missed. He’s been our leader, he’s been a 20-point type of guy. He defends well so I knew I was going to have to carry a lot of weight,” said George of the Granger injury. “I was happy I was able to do so.”
Vogel credits George’s ability to do so to his unselfish nature, which has allowed him to be an effective distributor of the ball as well as a scorer. In front of the crowd of media and team personnel at the news conference, it was the point he stressed the most.
“It’s in his nature,” said Vogel of George. “More than anything that drives him is he wants to win, he wants the Indiana Pacers to win as many games as possible and he wants to bring a championship to this city.”
At the moment, he has brought the fourth Most Improved Player award to the franchise, joining Jalen Rose (2000), Jermaine O’Neal (2002) and Granger as Pacers recipients. But don’t think the bigger picture has escaped the young forward.
“I’ve been to the second round before so I expect to try and get out of the second round and move on,” said George. “I think this team can go pretty far.”
Just like he thought of himself nine months ago.