Could he be the best of his draft class?
Covering the 2011 draft, I noticed a different vibe when Paul George was mentioned. There was a distinct buzz. Drafted 10th by the Indiana Pacers, admittedly I didn’t know much of the Fresno State product out of Palmdale, CA. Someone showed me a few highlights and I immediately knew he was the type of player who could become a NBA star. You could tell in his demeanor he’s always on the level…almost like a quarterback…he’s never too high or too low. Some say he is similar to Tracy McGrady (I say Scottie Pippen) and the comparisons are understandable being T-Mac is athletic and skilled. Paul George is a tremendous athlete…one of the best in the game…but there’s something different about him. Before George and I talk, I got some words from Frank Vogel…who himself is a young up and coming coaching talent. The contending Pacers are playing well early and get production from all over the floor. That versatility is something Paul George has a firm grasp of and it’s no question the young player will be fun to watch.
Michael Tillery: Coach talk about the talent that is Paul George.
Frank Vogel: His talents are significant. He’s got star potential. He’s 6’9″. He’s got great length with his arms. He’s got a knack defensively to use his hands. (Since we’re in Philly) He’s on the level of an Eddie Jones or Allen Iverson with his ability to anticipate and steal the basketball…deflect the basketball. That’s serving him very well on the defensive end…allowing him to guard ones, twos or threes. He guarded Derrick Rose in the playoffs last year and did a tremendous job.
Offensively he’s really come. We were just trying to get him to keep defenses honest with his jumper. He really worked on his jump shot this off season. He’s shooting (at the time) over 60% right now. I’m sure he won’t sustain that but it’s still a very positive sign. He’s really our most willing passer. He puts it on the deck, uses pick and rolls and makes smart decisions and he can post. He’s great in the open court. We’re very very high on him. The sky is the limit. We’re excited to see what he’s going to turn out to be.
MT: Coach Vogel spoke very highly of you. Coming into the league, people were very aware of your skill set and potential but you somehow were relatively unknown to fans. Now that everything has come into play, everybody is beginning to whisper…Paul George.
What’s that like?
Paul George: It has its pressure that it gives you, but I think that’s the pressure that keeps me working. It’s the pressure I want. I wanna be known on the court as the kid that can create and play, can score and defend…rebound and do all of those things. I’m happy with the pressure I put on myself now.
MT: You speak of versatility. What were some of the things you did to implement that versatility?
PG: I was always around team basketball. Since I’ve grown up, it always has been more than my shine. I like having players around me that I can get going. It’s always been a team atmosphere. I was shorter. I was a guard, but I was shorter at the time. That’s where my guard skills came from. I shot up to this size now. Just thankful I have the same abilities.
MT: When did you get a growth spurt?
PG: I grew three inches two summers straight. I was 6’3″ on summer, the next I was 6’6″ and now I’m 6’9″ so in that two year span I got most of my growth.
MT: I spoke with Lance and Tyler (be on the lookout for their interviews) about you having this young team that’s full of talent. It’s a different type of dynamic we are used to reporting on but it’s older teams that seem to gel through free agency and such. This team is relatively young with a chance of becoming very very good. It has to be exciting…
PG: Yeah it’s exciting. Everyone in this locker room wants to get better. We don’t have any egotistical guys. We all enjoy working and getting better with each other. That’s just simply said.
(Jeff Foster’s locker is next to Paul’s so I thought I’d shout out the cagey veteran)
MT: Whenever I talk to Metta World Peace, he speaks of Jeff Foster. Being a veteran holdover with battle tested playoff (53 games) experience, what do you all pick up from him or what does he impress upon you and the rest of the younger cats?
PG: There is so much to learn from Foster. He’s probably the best teammate to have. The energy…the toughness. It’s good to have someone in the front court that’s willing to be the enforcer. That’s the guy in Foster. He’s just a great dude.
MT: In your soul, when did you know you were going to be an NBA player?
PG: My freshman year in college I knew I had the chance to become a professional. I got a big dunk that happened to be on ESPN…
and that’s what really put me on the map.
MT: Tremendous athletic ability. Hereditary?
PG: No not really. My Mom was probably a better athlete than my Dad. She played volleyball and also was a gymnast. I have a sister (Teiosha) that played professional basketball and another sister that played college volleyball (Portala, who played for CSU San Bernardino). I think it was more in our genes as siblings.
MT: Doing research, I didn’t find anything else on your but basketball. Was it always basketball?
PG: It was always basketball. I’ve never played any other sport but basketball.
MT: Interesting because a lot of versatile players I come across in many sports played multiple sports. Was it days where you said I’m going to get better at defense, shooting the weak side jumper or using my left hand. I want to give readers a sense of why you put such a priority on becoming a all around player.
PG: Oh ok. I see what you’re saying. I’m a very self motivated person. Every day I practice I want to get better…even on off days. I want to come in and at the very least get a workout in. I watched the greats. I watch Kobe. I watch LeBron. I like watching those guys operate. I like watching NBA games to see the moves that they use, how they get open. I’m just a student of the game. The versatility comes from me being observant of other guys, taking it to the gym and working on those same moves.
MT: Speak of the team. Something similar is going on in the other locker room with Doug Collins implementing his system…his routine and the team is responding and gelling together. I see the same thing over here. You get a sense of it walking into the locker room.
PG: Yeah. I think for both teams…we’re young talented teams. I think what we share in common is enjoying each other. Same here. Everyone is pulling for one another. Everyone is trying to make each other better at practice. This is a team that’s willing to work together. Like I said earlier, there’s no egos. We don’t have to worry about guys not getting along. Everyone is cool here and that is what makes it better.
MT: Has Danny (Granger) pulled you aside? What is the impact he’s had on you?
PG: Danny means a lot. I’ve been working out with Danny for almost two years now. During the draft process and this past summer during the lockout I worked with him.
He’s been like a big brother. He’s been a mentor. Teaching me the ins and outs. The mid post area. Shooting. Spotting up. Taking contact. Danny has helped a lot and I hope to continue to work with him.
MT: Why did you think you flew under the radar but again really didn’t? Does that make sense?
PG: Oh definitely. You’re absolutely right. I went to a mid major. A team that doesn’t get a lot of pub…at all at Fresno State. I really wasn’t seen. I’ve always been under the radar. Even in AAU ball. I really didn’t get that shine but it took a good team to find me and now it’s time to show the world what I really can do and also do whatever I have to do to help my team win.