Fans and analysts have sent out their MVP predictions for the coming 2021-22 NBA Season. It contains the usual suspects: Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers. Obviously, these are all worthy candidates, and there's really a good chance one of them will win. However, there's one lone player — given his team's circumstances and his rekindled desire for perfection — who may upset them all. That's none other than LA Clippers forward Paul George.
The Clippers will have to dig deep through the 2021-22 NBA Season without two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. The forward suffered a partial ACL tear in the last postseason. While the Clippers have not released a timeline, we can go by the assumption that Leonard will miss a good chunk or probably the entire season. That's the timeline for most ACL injuries. For Leonard, who can be a stickler for health, he won't mind resting up until he's a hundred percent.
This situation has triggered fans and analysts to outright dismiss the Clippers' chances at making a deep playoff run or even qualify for the postseason at all. Tyronn Lue's team is stacked. But Leonard brings something else to the table that cannot be filled by just anyone.
People somehow forgot that a healthy Paul George is still in the fold. Fresh in their memories is his lackluster performance in the bubble. A host of air balls, poor shooting, and boneheaded plays come to their mind. Not to mention the alias "Pandemic P," which trends whenever he has a bad game.
But at training camp, Ivica Zubac shared something about George, particularly his quest for perfection. Zubac is entering his fourth season with the team, and he saw, for the first time, a much more meticulous Paul George.
"In training camp, there were a few situations when we didn't start out practices like we were supposed to, our energy was not there, we was not locked in where we were supposed to be for training camp," Ivica Zubac said before shootaround Wednesday, per Josh Mei of SB Nation. "and [PG] stopped a drill a few times and stopped whatever we were doing to let us know, 'We can't be doing this, we gotta pick it up, we just gotta get locked in and focused'. And he did that a few times, and that's something he wouldn't do before as much, and you can really tell he took that role seriously and he's doing it."
It is these little anecdotes at the beginning of the season that people tend to ignore. But when the victories start piling in, it's these types of tales that they thirst for. That was something new for Zubac and probably for the rest of his teammates. But for head coach Tyronn Lue, he knows George is capable of such and a whole lot more.
"He's carried teams before. He's a great player," coach Tyronn Lue said, per Beth Harris of the Associated Press. "This year we need more from him, more leadership, and to continue to play the way he played last season."
People had forgotten that before "Pandemic P" there was MVP candidate Paul George. In the second and final year of his stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder, George actually finished third in MVP, voting behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. The fact that George overshadowed teammates Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony was a great feat in itself.
These words from Zubac and Lue assure Clippers fans that the team won't go out without fighting. It will hurt without Kawhi Leonard in the fold, that's for sure. But George has entered another realm this summer. And we may see the rebirth of Playoff P this season.