Larry Bird on Paul George at PF: Offensive benefit outweighs defensive cost
The NBA's continued move toward amorphous positions and the increased value of versatile and flexible players is not lost on the Indiana Pacers.
With Roy Hibbert jettisoned to the Los Angeles Lakers in a move designed to help head coach Frank Vogel push the team's tempo, the Pacers find themselves with a somewhat thin frontcourt. There are role players in Ian Mahinmi, Lavoy Allen, and Damjan Rudez, intriguing rookie Myles Turner, and the incoming Jordan Hill, but that's a somewhat uninspiring group for a team with eyes on the playoffs.
Enter Paul George, who is set to see time at power forward in his first full season back from a broken leg. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound George has manned the four sparingly in his five-year career, but team president Larry Bird is confident in his idea proving successful.
As Bird told NBA TV at Summer League on Thursday:
He'll play a lot of the power forward and small forward and he might defend some twos at times. Paul is going to play a lot of different positions for us this year. I'm the one that thinks he can play the four position. I think the mismatches on the offensive end is far greater than the defensive liabilities sometimes he'll have against the strength.
It's unclear if George will start at the four or only shift their in smaller units, but Indiana's roster presents a handful of smaller five-man looks that could be successful.
The offense-defense trade-off is a fair concern but one that can't be evaluated until Vogel's defensive scheme is apparent, and until the Pacers show how well they can execute a faster-paced attack. George should be able to torch most opposing fours off the bounce and help stretch the floor, and he's long enough to check some power forwards. But battling on the block and on the boards could be a challenge, and George's post-up game may be less effective against larger defenders.
The bigger concern may be George playing inside and banging with larger forwards one year removed from a broken leg. He was able to return for six games late in the 2014-15 season to shake some rust off, and all indications appear that his only remaining health issue is a minor calf injury.
It's always something the Pacers can pull back on if George finds the toll too taxing, but it's a worthwhile experiment in the meantime.