After making the playoffs as a No. 3 seed last season, the Indiana Pacers stumbled out of the starting gate this year.
Star forward Danny Granger has been out with a knee injury and will miss the next couple of months, putting the brunt of the scoring and defensive duties on forward Paul George and center Roy Hibbert.
Thus far this season, George had been decent, averaging 15.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but he has struggled in shooting just 41 percent from the field. Hibbert also struggled, posting just 9.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocks while shooting just 39 percent from the floor.
That is, they struggled until Indiana faced the New Orleans Hornets at home Wednesday night.
In the Pacers' 115-107 overtime victory, Hibbert had a center's triple-double. He only scored 10 points, but pulled down 11 rebounds and swatted away an incredible 11 shots.
His defensive effort alone made his 3-of-12 shooting an afterthought.
George was even better, scoring a career-high 37 points and shooting 13-of-21 from the field. His nine three-pointers were a franchise record, passing Pacers legend Reggie Miller's previous mark of eight.
In this game, George and Hibbert proved that they are ready to be faces of the franchise along with Granger. They are ready to be stars and contribute their fair share, rather than just produce as necessary and let Granger run the show in the clutch.
After slowly learning the ins and outs of playing on the NBA level, they are ready to grow as players.
Look at it this way.
Up until this season, George was known for doing two things: dunking and shooting. Over the first two years of his career, he shot 34 percent from long range.
Against the Hornets, he showed that he wasn't afraid to attempt the hard shots and take risks. The fact that 13 of his 21 field-goal attempts came from long range shows that he's ready to be the one who puts points on the board—be it up close or from afar.
Hibbert, though his field-goal attempts against the Hornets may suggest otherwise, is slowly starting to realize that he's not there to be an offensive force in the middle.
At 7'2", 280 pounds, he just needs to play defense.
Yes, his scoring has increased each of the past three seasons, but his real value is providing height and length in the paint, and he did exactly that in New Orleans.
All that needs to happen now is for George and Hibbert to keep this type of production up. No, that doesn't mean Hibbert needs to be a blocking machine and George needs to score freakish amount of points every night, but they should use their individual performances against the Hornets as a motivating factor going forward.
George just needs to realize that he has a great developing scoring touch on top of being a phenomenal athlete, and he shouldn't hesitate to use it under any circumstances. Similarly, Hibbert can't be afraid to play a physical game under the basket and take a few lumps every so often.
That's what becoming a star is all about at their respective positions.
In their cases, they've taken the first step towards stardom and will only continue to improve as players, which means a bright future both for them and the Pacers.
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