“Stat Just Happened” is our series where we’ll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.
That’s what Paul George is shooting this season on shots with four or fewer seconds left on the shot clock.
I know what you’re thinking: that’s bad.
Bad news, Clippers fans: It’s far worse than bad.
In fact, of the 226 players who have taken at least 25 such shots this season, George ranks dead last.
When Kawhi Leonard opted to sign with the Clippers after winning the NBA title last June with the Toronto Raptors, he did so for a variety of reasons. One of them? To play with a second established marquee star that could take some pressure off of him during big spots. While the Raptors won a championship with a very solid supporting cast around Leonard, absent was the type of player who could reliably and single-handedly take over a game at a moment’s notice.
Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam each had their moments. Fred VanVleet received a Finals MVP vote. Even Serge Ibaka brought the goods for key stretches during the Game 7 rock fight with the Philadelphia 76ers.
And yet time and again, despite the collective team effort required to get the job done, it was Leonard who survived an NBA battle of attrition to cross the finish line and take the checkered flag. Doing it once proved more than enough and for a player synonymous with “load management” who may never play close to a full slate, the 28-year-old Leonard took stock of his own health, evaluated the lay of the land and in part determined that his best long-term move would be to do as seemingly every other A-lister has done and team up with another elite player.
Over the course of two seasons playing next to 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook, George emerged as perhaps the league’s premier second banana to the point where he finished the 2018-19 season second in the league in scoring and fifth in the league in total clutch-time points. In George, the Finals MVP now had a fellow top-five MVP candidate and hand-picked peer to relieve the pressure and ensure that he wouldn’t need to rev the engine at full throttle from start to finish on every possession.
When comparing Kawhi’s new sidekick to Leonard’s pack of Raptors from 2019 and his other current teammates in Los Angeles, it’s clear that in this respect George has been a colossal disappointment.
Of course, anyone can cherry pick numbers to amplify any choice narrative. But in the case of George, there’s far more evidence beyond an inability to execute late in the shot clock that suggests he’s had a rough go in the Robin role thus far.
All is not lost.
George has spent much of the season recovering from offseason surgeries on both shoulders and prior to the season’s suspension, the Clippers were starting to round into form as they went 7-1 with their new starting lineup following the acquisition of Marcus Morris. And even if George doesn’t morph into a late-clock assassin, he still brings enough to the table as an All-Star level difference maker on both ends of the floor that could result in the first championship in Clippers history. The Clippers don’t need George to be anything he’s not and for what it’s worth, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in these situations last year either as he shot 28.2 percent on over 100 attempts in the final four seconds of the shot clock.
Fact of the matter is that George won’t be judged until the playoffs roll around. With three months off and eight games to ramp up before the postseason gets underway in Orlando, there’s still time for PG-13 to emerge as the MVP sidekick many expected when Leonard signed on the dotted line with the Clippers last year.
But make no mistake: the clock is ticking. And when the shot clock hits four, keep in mind that one key number…
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.