Pacers shouldn't force Paul George to play power forward
Bird envisions a new role for George where he'll play on the wings but also log time at power forward, a wholly new position for George.
It's an interesting idea with some merit, and siccing George on slower power forwards should give him a significant advantage on offense. But pushing George to a new position simply isn't worth the headache.
Getting George to play power forward might be an interesting strategic option, but it only becomes an option if George is on board - and he didn't exactly sound enthusiastic about the transition.
"If I've got to play a couple of minutes at the power forward, I'm fine with it," George told David Woods of the Indy Star.
Bird took a much stronger stance on the issue, reminding George and the fan base of his authority within the franchise.
"He don't make the decisions around here," Bird said.
Bird's actions echoed his words, as he did very little to replace the outgoing David West and Roy Hibbert this summer. The only viable power forwards on the roster are Lavoy Allen, a bench player, and Myles Turner, a 19-year-old rookie.
In other words, George won't be just playing a "few minutes" at power forward. By both necessity and design, George will have to play significant stretches at the four.
George and Bird are the two most important characters within the Pacers' franchise. They need to be on the same page, lest they risk alienating one another.
A difficult transition
Asking a wing to play in the paint isn't an easy transition. By Basketball-Reference's play-by-play estimation, George only spent 1 percent of his court time at power forward last season.
Adjusting on offense shouldn't be a problem, but playing in the frontcourt presents a broad set of challenges on defense. Defending the wing is very reactionary, whereas playing in the paint is anticipatory. It will take time to learn the nuances of the position.
It doesn't help that the Pacers lack an all-consuming rim protector to line up behind George. Their best defensive center is the plodding Ian Mahinmi, who's never once topped 20 minutes per game. Bird acknowledged that there would be a trade-off on defense, but the early transition could be unbearable.
Even if George overcomes the transition, there's no guarantee he'll want to stick it out. For example, New York Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony found great success at power forward, but switched back to small forward last season.
"I don't need to go down there and battle ... If it comes down to it, I'll go back there," Anthony said.
George offered a more measured outlook on playing somewhere new.
"I'm a ballplayer. You put me anywhere on the court, I'm going to make the most out of it," George said.
But that doesn't mean that changing positions will come without a hitch. George spent his entire career on the wing, garnering an All-NBA Third Team nod and two All-Star appearances. Stepping outside of what made him so successful will not be an easy sell, nor an easy transition.
Playing in the frontcourt also means more contact plays. George will be involved in more box-outs and more contests at the basket and bear the brunt of more screens and more inadvertent elbows on the post.
George likely won't be asked to tackle the bigger, more bruising matchups, as Allen or Turner will likely spell him against those units. But it's still a lot to ask of George, who missed most of last season with a devastating leg injury.
The prospect of taking more contact might also force George to bulk up this summer. George currently weighs 220 pounds - passable, but not ideal. George weighs less than other wings who log time at the four:
- LeBron James (250 pounds)
- Jeff Green (235 pounds)
- Carmelo Anthony (235 pounds)
- Paul Pierce (235 pounds)
- Kevin Durant (240 pounds)
However, adding weight while recovering from a leg injury introduces other worries, and players need time to get used to playing at their new size, which introduces another complicating variable.
Altogether, there's just too much downside involved in pushing George to power forward. Asking an All-NBA player to change his game after sustaining a major injury, especially if George and Bird aren't on the same page, is not worth the trouble.