Welcome to our annual Clippers season in review series. Every day until the end of July, we’ll be taking a look back at the players who ended the season with the Clippers (apologies to Malik Fitts and Mfiondu Kabengele). Today, we continue with Paul George.
Name: Paul George
Years in the NBA: 11
Key stats: During 54 regular season games, George averaged 23.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and a career-high 5.2 assists per contest. He had a shooting slash line of 51.0/41.1/86.8. In the playoffs, George averaged 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. His shooting numbers were 51.4/33.6/84.4.
Future contract status: George is entering the first year of a four-year max extension that he signed during the 2020 offseason. He will make $39.3 million this year.
This was a strong bounce back season for Paul George, and a necessary one after he had a playoffs he’d rather forget. He was third-team all-NBA during the regular season and among the top five postseason performers as he took his game to another level.
George benefited from better health in 2020-21. Aside from a bone edema in his right foot that cost him nine games, George was mostly available throughout the year, only missing the occasional game for load management, a decision that surely paid dividends in the postseason. He had a cold shooting spell immediately after returning from the foot injury; otherwise, he was elite from 3-point range throughout the year until the month of May, when the Clippers packed it in.
During the regular season, George took advantage of the tutelage of assistant coach Chauncey Billups, who helped George hone his playmaking. George was essentially the backup point guard, running the show when Kawhi Leonard was resting, even if he was playing next to Lou Williams. That led to some growing pains throughout the season as George dealt with turnovers, but it ultimately helped the veteran wing expand his game and become more impactful as a scorer.
Once the playoffs began, George recaptured his Indiana Pacers postseason form and raised his level befitting a superstar. He absorbed an extended minutes load — it became almost obscene once Leonard went out — and attacked the glass in smaller lineups.
If anyone on the Clippers needed redemption in 2020-21, it was Paul George, and he came through. Whatever shortcomings the team had in the playoffs couldn’t be placed on him. The Clippers made history this season by making the conference finals for the first time, and that doesn’t happen without George.
George had an outstanding shooting season. He made 51.0 percent of his twos, his highest percentage since his rookie year, and 41.1 percent of his threes. That resulted in the best true-shooting percentage of George’s career as he posted his highest-ever usage (31.2 percent of possessions). The Clippers run beautiful actions in Ty Lue’s offense, but George pulling up from three — he made 40.3 percent of those looks — can be just as good.
Just as it did with Leonard, George’s playmaking took a massive jump in year 11. His previous career high in assists was 4.1 per game, and that rose to 5.2. He assisted on 23.9 percent of the Clippers’ baskets when he was on the floor. He’s still figuring out the intricacies of the pick-and-roll, but he managed 0.97 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball handler in the regular season and bumped that up to 1.02 in the playoffs.
George was better at initiating the offense by setting up and drive-and-kick situations. He wasn’t as good as Leonard — who is, really — but he got to the cup 11.6 times per game in the regular season and 16.6 times per game during the playoffs. He was often guarded by a player smaller than him, and he took advantage of the disparity. Either he finished at the rim, where he makes 60 percent of his shots, or he initiated the swing-swing 40 percent of the time.
George met the moment in the playoffs. He was a capable second fiddle to Leonard during the Dallas series, making his mark on the boards and on defense while still chipping in 20-plus points. Then when Leonard got injured, he took on the alpha role. He led the Clippers to a Game 5 win in Utah, arguably the biggest game of his career, then repeated the feat in Game 5 against Phoenix, though the Clippers would come up short in that series.
The stage seemed too big for George in 2020, but he just needed to get comfortable with the Clippers first. That wasn’t possible with his shoulder rehab in year one, and he and Doc Rivers were never on the same page. The bond with George and Lue came instantaneously, and a healthy George responded with a season worthy of the trade package it took to acquire him.
George can be a bit careless with the ball — he has one turnover per game that is particularly galling where there’s no chance his pass could have hit the intended target, and it’s an easy two points for the opposing team in transition. He handles the ball a lot, so one turnover isn’t the end of the world, but it’s always so bad that you can’t understand how George could have possibly made that decision.
His shooting is also streaky. Out of 19 playoff games, George made a third or fewer of this threes 11 times. If he’s not making multiple 3-pointers, even two, the Clippers aren’t winning, so he has to figure out a way to be more consistent with his jumper. It looks so smooth that it doesn’t make sense when he misses as often as he does.
Future with the Clippers:
George re-upped with the Clippers for four more years last offseason. He has said he wants to retire a Clipper, and considering his age, the investment the front office made in him, and the proximity of his family, that seems like a reasonable proposition.
Not only does George plan on being in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future, he hopes that his decision inspires his teammates to do the same, as he said after the team’s last game of the season, “One of the commitments I made signing my contract was to show I’m here for the long run, and I’m committed to this team. Hopefully that weighs on anybody’s decision.”