The Evolution of Clippers superstar Paul George's NBA career
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The Evolution of Clippers superstar Paul George’s NBA career

Clippers All-Star forward Paul George’s homecoming is delayed about 10 games, until mid-November, as he returns from offseason shoulder surgeries. George’s much anticipated Clippers debut comes after a blockbuster offseason where L.A.’s other team acquired the star and signed free agent forward Kawhi Leonard, another Southern California native. 

George’s Southern California return seemed in the works for years. Rumors about signing with the Lakers surfaced seasons ago but George instead joins their Staples Center roommate this season. The Thunder initially traded for George two years ago when he informed the Pacers of his intent to sign with the Lakers in that upcoming free agency.

Still, George nearly sacrificed L.A. by forgoing free agency for a four-year, $137 million with OKC in the 2018 offseason. After the move, he said he did not care if all Los Angeles hated him for not returning home with the Lakers.

Now, PG-13 joins the Clippers Leonard as one of the best duos in the entire Association. Leonard requested the Clippers add another All-Star player before he joined and George requested a trade from the Thunder to make it all happen

However, George, like Leonard, isn’t even from mainstream Los Angeles. Understanding George’s career and how he ended up on L.A.’s less popular team, begins in the desert suburbs of Palmdale somewhere near the beginning of his career.

L.A.’s Reluctant Super Star

George was always easy to root for growing up  65 miles north of Los Angeles.  His father was a carpenter and his older sisters were collegiate athletes. Of course, he told The Undefeated he only claims L.A. because it was easier for people outside California to place him.

Nonetheless, PG started taking the game seriously at age 10 as a welcomed distraction after his mom’s stroke. George wore No. 24 for Kobe but he loved watching Clippers games like a guilty pleasure because of their selfless play. The lengthy George stuck to the perimeter as he never played center.

George played well for the freshmen team after missing Varsity but he caught attention from the varsity coach for passing too much that first year.

A similar conversation about George’s selflessness happened during his senior year. George developed a rapport with that team but the squad all agreed it would be best if George became the primary option.

Then, Paul George came into his own as a leader including when he called a 10-game winning streak to close the year. George averaged 23.3 points and 11.2 rebounds his final year which earned him the 2008 Golden League MVP and a selection to the 2008 Los Angeles Daily News All-Area boys’ basketball team.

Regardless, he was only a three-star recruit and did not play in the big High School All-Star games. This is the humble foundation for George’s superstardom today.

Loyal and Overlooked

The overlooked George initially committed to Pepperdine, where his older sister played but ended up at Fresno State after Pepperdine made a coaching change. Fresno was a mid-major program fresh off sanctions and probation. It was a surprising decision considering his family loyalty but it did fit George’s underdog mentality.

As a freshman, George played 34.6 minutes per game with 14.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. In his second year, George averaged 16.8 points with 7.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.2 steals. George never made an NCAA tournament but he was reluctant to leave Fresno his last two seasons.

In many ways, this same loyalty surfaced when in extension talks with the Thunder. George went on record in March saying he thought he made the right decision re-signing. George is known for sticking to his word but he said the transaction was about more than loyalty when it happened. It was about building something in Oklahoma.

Sounds similar to how he tried building something in Fresno and how he wants to build something with the Clippers. This loyalty is probably why George stuck around in Indiana too.

George’s NBA Star Potential

Seeds of NBA potential sparkled with George’s infamous dunk as a freshman versus St. Mary’s which earned him a SportsCenter’s top-play and impressions with national audiences.

Indiana selected George 10th overall in a 2010 class with DeMarcus Cousins, Gordan Hayward and John Wall. Some compared him to Tracy McGrady coming out of college. 

Nonetheless, George’s superstardom did not take off in his third season. A young George scored over 20 points four times in that 2013 Eastern Conference finals versus the Big Three Heat, a year after Indiana lost to the same Miami team in the semis. He took a huge leap between those two series after Danny Granger dealt with injuries most of the 2012-2013 season. It was a changing of the guard.

Remember, those Indiana teams played great defense with David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill. George proved himself as a superstar before the team moved to the more modern style of play that naturally suits George’s abilities to score and make plays.

At 22, George emerged as one of the best players in the game by challenging LeBron at both sides of the floor. The World watched the next year when the Pacers faced the Heat again in the Eastern Conference Finals. This time, a young George led the Pacers in a crucial Game Six win with 37 points. 

You might also remember the 2015 USA Basketball game where George shattered his leg. That cost him all but six regular-season games the following year. Still, Paul George did not give up on international basketball by winning Gold in Rio with Team USA in 2016.

Otherwise, George recovered from the gruesome leg injury averaging 23.1 points and seven rebounds in his first full season back. He made four more All-Star games including the 2016 All-Star game when he dropped 41 points and made his return from injury official.

The five-time All-Star also made four All-Defensive teams, the All-Rookie squad in 2010 and Most Improved in 2013. George was on the cover of 2k17 too. The 29-year-old averages 19.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists for his career.

PG-13 Super Star Status Now

George cost the Clippers two players, four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick, and two pick swaps in the trade with Oklahoma City for more than his hometown connection.

At six-nine and 220 pounds, George offers ideal size for the modern small forward but he can play any position except center. He can take away an opponent’s best perimeter scorer as well as pass and get to the rim. He shoots almost 38 percent from the field for his career.

Last season, George finished third in MVP voting after averaging 21 points, 8.2 rebounds and 28 points per game with 44 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from three. He played in 37 minutes per game over 77 games and won the steals title.

A selfless George thrived with another, ball-dominant alpha in Russ. Westbrook did not just give up the ball but his influence made George assert himself as an offensive weapon last year.

George’s willingness to play alongside Westbrook for two playoff seasons combined with experience as the No. 1 option in Indiana makes him an ideal super team player and an ideal second option with an equally unselfish Leonard.

Paul George Coming Home

Everything comes full circle with George’s return to Southern California this year. George told the Undefeated last year he questions why he is so blessed as an NBA star. However, he hopes kids can look at him from afar and witness his hard work and dedication. George said he wants to step up and do more for kids at home then.

Last year, George’s foundation donated $25,000 to the City of Palmdale to refurbish basketball courts at multiple local parks.  He also linked up with 2k for esports facilities and outdoor courts in Palmdale. George hosts an annual Bass Fishing fundraiser there as well.

Now, George is even closer to providing home inspiration as a member of the Clippers. George also gets another opportunity to once again prove he can lead a playoff team after come backing from injury.

George’s next chapter in L.A. opens with a franchise traditionally overlooked like George was out of college and high school. He will showcase the unselfish and overlooked star power that got him here alongside Leonard and the Clippers.

PG-13 can also build a culture, like Fresno, Indiana, and Oklahoma, with a Clippers team that wanted him and gave up assets for his homecoming. That is the unselfishness and loyalty Paul George represents which is why his career fits perfectly with the Clippers now.