Losing six straight to drop to 15-29 on the year and owning the fourth worst offense in the NBA, it’s no secret the Indiana Pacers sorely miss superstar small forward Paul George.
To hear teammate and center Roy Hibbert tell it, the 24-year-old George looks like he's near full strength during practice only five months removed from major surgery to repair one of the most gruesome leg injuries in recent memory. George was injured during a U.S. national team scrimmage on Aug. 1, suffering a compound fracture in his right leg. Doctors expected a full recovery would take 12 to 18 months, but George seems to be progressing a little faster than some expected.
But as of now the Pacers seem intent on keeping George out until next season, even as they drift further down the Eastern Conference at 3.5 games from the last playoff spot.
Just last week George gave Pacer and NBA fans a glimpse into his recovery after a quick six-second clip showed him spinning and elevating for a reverse dunk during practice.
Hibbert told The Indy Star the dunk was nothing compared to what George has done behind closed doors. The 7-footer also emphasized George’s overall status for the rest of the season.
"You guys don't see it, but I see a lot of the stuff that he does in practice when there aren't cameras and it's 'amazing' that he's able to do that stuff at this point after what he went through," Hibbert said.
Hibbert didn’t touch on how George is recovering psychologically after such a traumatic injury, one that was played over and over again on ESPN and throughout the Twitterverse. It’s a factor the Pacers are likely considering, given how difficult it’s been for the Chicago Bulls to fully re-integrate point guard Derrick Rose following two major knee surgeries.
George has made it known publicly that he wants to play this season, and he’s expressed his determination for months. In November, he was cleared to run lightly, four months after the injury.
One of the best two-way players in the game, George was coming off the best season of his career, averaging 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game. There’s no question a healthy George would have once again made the Pacers a title contender in the East.
In November, George would tell The Star it is a goal of his to play this season, but that his and the team’s future remains far more important.
"You haven't seen some of the stuff he's doing," Hibbert said. "He shoots with us. He doesn't do any contact stuff, but he does shooting drills and stuff like that.
"I mean, he's looking 'good' but not necessarily (that) he's heading back (this season)."