‘He’s the build’: Why Paul George is the archetype for the NBA’s next gen

LONG BEFORE HE impressed Michael Jordan during a summer workout ahead of the Charlotte Hornets selecting him second overall in the 2023 NBA draft, Brandon Miller discovered his “GOAT” while browsing YouTube.

Growing up in Antioch, Tennessee, Miller stumbled upon videos of a smooth-shooting star with limitless range, the ability to soar for impossible dunks, impeccable footwork and the knack for making big plays.

While others in his generation idolize LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and even Stephen Curry, Miller’s role model is surprising.

“I just never really studied LeBron,” Miller told ESPN. “I don’t knock LeBron. We know LeBron’s the GOAT [for many others], best player for sure. But that was never my objective to study LeBron or study Kobe.

“Paul George is the best player in my eyes … I don’t really watch anybody else as far as trying to get their moves down. Paul George is my GOAT.”

When Miller first made that stunning declaration ahead of the 2023 NBA draft, it prompted ridicule from social media and pundits. But he isn’t alone in revering the 33-year-old whose accomplishments in 14 seasons with the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the LA Clippers include nine All-Star appearances, two All-Defensive first-team selections and an All-NBA first-team selection.

The 6-foot-7 Miller is part of a growing list of younger players who view the 6-8 Clippers wing — and not James or Curry, whom much of Miller’s generation has tried to emulate — as the perfect NBA archetype. George’s blend of size, skill and smoothness is inspiring a new generation of tall wings — from high school and NBA courts to the virtual hardwood of NBA 2K.

“It’s kind of how the league is built now,” Miller said. “Paul George is the right person to study for this generation.”

Even veterans with a championship ring like Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon find themselves analyzing and copying George’s arsenal of moves.

“He has some really nasty s— in his bag,” Gordon told ESPN. “I took a step-back from him. He drops it through his leg, back to the same hand and then jabs you. He steps back and that s— is nasty.”

It’s a style of play that even has inspired another trend — online videos created of George highlights set to the R&B groove of Erykah Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know” as an ode to George’s smoothness.

“He’s so smooth,” Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, one of George’s closest friends in the league, told ESPN. “His game is so fluid. He can do everything on the court. He has a great post-up game, fadeaway, either shoulder, step-back, going either way.

“Psssshhh, he can do everything.”

GEORGE FIRST BEGAN to notice more of what he called “that next wave of guys” approaching him during his 2015-16 season in Indiana.

“Coming into that year is where I slowly started to hear, ‘Yo, you’re my favorite player. I look up to you,'” George told ESPN. “My come up is where the young generation started to kind of gravitate towards me.”

During that time, few players could get by defenders better than George, who ranked fourth in blow-by percentage from 2015-16 to 2018-19. In that same span, George showed he could run an offense as his teams averaged 1.15 points per possession when he brought the ball up the floor, placing him seventh among players, according to Second Spectrum.

Gordon, who helped the Nuggets win the NBA Finals last season, credited an encounter with George during the 2016-17 season for enhancing his approach to breaking down defenders.

During Gordon’s third season with the Orlando Magic, he found George after a regular-season game against the Pacers. George turned what is routinely a brief meeting into a rare tutorial on the court, showing Gordon how to slow down, change the tempo of his drives and manipulate defenders with his dribble moves. George saw how defenders were guarding Gordon’s crossover and instructed the forward on how to switch up his cadence and make opponents relax before attacking again.

“I was making all my moves at one speed,” Gordon said. “And he told me, you can go fast and slow down… That’ll lull people to sleep and then you can go by.”

George’s willingness to share some of his skills demonstrates what an Eastern Conference front office executive told ESPN this season: he’s someone that other franchise players talk about wanting to play with because of his easygoing temperament and complementary all-around game.

“Paul is one of the coolest ball players in the league,” Gordon said. “He’s really influential. Every time we played against each other, he would just give me little tricks of the trade, little pointers here and there.”

Clippers guard Brandon Boston Jr. said he would repeatedly watch a 42-minute video of highlights from George’s Pacers days as a high school junior. He’d memorize crossovers, hesitation and other moves, and then attempt them on the night of his high school games.

“That’s where I learned how to create a space without pushing off and doing an offensive foul,” Boston told ESPN before pointing to the George highlight video playing on his phone. “If you ever see me snatch back, if you ever see me hesi-cross, I got that from PG.

“I feel like a lot of people watched Paul because he’s like a 6-8 Kyrie [Irving].”

CARMELO ANTHONY HAS a theory about George’s increasing popularity among young players. After all, his son Kiyan Anthony, ranked No. 45 in ESPN’s 2024 top 60 recruiting class, also listed George as his GOAT.

“You talking about the mold of [George’s size], can handle, can shoot, a sniper, a killer,” Anthony, the retired 10-time All-Star who was George’s teammate in Oklahoma City in 2017-18, said on his podcast in December.

“Why do you think a lot of kids today are talking about PG? It’s no disrespect to nobody, it’s just that’s the mold of when you create your player on 2K.”

That’s why an avid gamer like George has recognized many trying to clone him as their individually created characters inside the game’s virtual city where gamers gather online to upgrade their characters and play pickup games.

“I’ve come across guys that made players that look like me,” said George, who created his own player, which happens to be a 6-2 point guard. “They’ll be wings and have all of my likeness, my moves. They’re actually pretty good at it.”

According to 2K, George is the fourth-most-popular NBA player template in the game’s “MyCareer” create-a-player mode, behind Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, Dallas’ Irving and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.

“The guys that handle the ball are always prioritized by our players,” Ronnie Singh, NBA 2K head of lifestyle and content marketing who is better known as “Ronnie 2K,” told ESPN.

“PG being there and not being a primary ball handler is pretty fascinating. I think it really speaks to him being that Swiss Army knife… there are people that play our game that want to do it all… Everybody wants to try to score from all levels.”

Nuggets veteran point guard Reggie Jackson, who has shared the court with George both in real life and virtually, says George is a cheat code in both worlds.

“He’s the build,” Jackson told ESPN. “The way his game is tailored, everybody wants to create that type of player. … He’s once in a lifetime.”

GROWING UP IN South Carolina, GG Jackson wanted to be as smooth as George, but not even a fresh pair of Nike PGs could hide some awkward moments as a kid.

“I got picked on in middle school,” Jackson, a Memphis Grizzlies rookie, told ESPN. “Every day, I either wore some [Under Armour] Steph Currys or I had Paul George’s shoes on with the strap on top. I would be in the hallways making the squeak noise.

“And then I had goggles on.”

But Jackson — who is the youngest player in the NBA at 19 years, three months and nine days — found inspiration in George’s Pacers highlights.

“He would do crazy in-game dunks,” Jackson said. “He had the 360 windmill and different things like that. And then the viral clip where he caught it back at half court, he told the dude to wait and then he pulled it [against the Detroit Pistons].”

“Paul George is one of the most complete players,” Jackson, who also tries to model his game after Jordan, James and Kevin Durant, said. “I don’t have his wiggle just yet, just his size. He has a lot of wiggle.”

During his lone collegiate season at South Carolina, the 6-9 Jackson said he would attempt some of George’s moves during his games — with little success.

“Some of the reckless shots I would take, it would be in his [style],” Jackson said. “A pull-up 3 or a tough fadeaway. I tried it out. It didn’t really go my way.”

Drafted last summer with the No. 45 pick and signed to a two-way contract, Jackson split the first part of his rookie season between the Grizzlies and their G League affiliate. Ahead of a Jan. 12 game against the Clippers, Jackson had hoped he’d be called up so he could watch George and meet him in person.

Not only was Jackson called up, he was surprisingly pressed into action. During the third quarter, Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane injured his ankle on a foul and was unable to shoot free throws. Clippers coach Ty Lue was able to choose Bane’s replacement at the line and picked Jackson, who hadn’t entered the game and had never attempted an NBA free throw.

Jackson missed the first free throw but converted the second, finishing with four points and five rebounds. Meanwhile, George dropped 37 points and buried 7 of 10 3-pointers in the Clippers’ 128-119 win.

Afterward, Jackson ran over to meet his longtime idol.

“I tried to let him know who I was,” Jackson said. “And that in about a year or two, I’m going to build a name for myself like you guys. I told him how he was one of my favorites.”

Since that meeting with George, Jackson has averaged 15.3 points per game and become a surprise first-year standout during a lost year for the injury-ravaged Grizzlies. With his 27 points in the Feb. 8 loss to the Chicago Bulls, Jackson became the youngest player to score at least 25 points off the bench since Bryant in 1997.

When the Grizzlies and Clippers played again on Feb. 23, Jackson, who had signed a standard contract the day after that 27-point game, had to remind himself to not get caught up playing against George.

“‘OK! You got to lock in! You have to lock in!'” Jackson said of his approach to guarding George. “I’m going to try to creep into him, not let him dance around.

“Because if he sees you not wanting to press up on him, that’s a home-cooked meal.”

ALMOST AS SOON as Miller made his pre-draft declaration about George, the veteran’s phone began buzzing with messages about what Miller had said. George reached out to Miller following the viral comments.

“People were making fun of him, about me being his GOAT,” George, who brought Miller on his podcast and now texts advice to the rookie, said.

“And I just had to tell him, ‘Man, be you. Embrace how you feel.’ It’s about who inspires you. I know what he meant by it. Obviously, I’m not the greatest of all time to ever play this game.”

George knows all too well what it’s like to be a punch line. He has been hammered for his “Playoff P” moniker and lack of major postseason success. When the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to Denver in the 2020 playoffs inside the Orlando bubble, George revealed the trolling on social media sent him into depression.

“It was years and years of stuff that I had no control over,” George said. “People made fun of moments where I was injured in the playoffs, but I was trying to play through it.

“The bubble experience is probably the worst [criticism] that I’ve heard. Just because the magnitude of it, and I felt I was just forced to drown and live in that space. There was nothing else, no other outlets to get away from it. So that was probably the worst of my career.”

Miller and Jackson said that his vulnerability and openness also make George relatable to young players like themselves.

“All the players in the league are kind of in this journey together,” Jackson said. “He said he was getting trolled on the internet and different things. I’ve felt like deep down, they were looking at me like, ‘Ah, this draft pick, he’s not really doing [it]. It’s going to take a lot of time.’

“I feel like that’s how I can relate to him.”

When asked in late October about how A.J. Dybantsa — the top-ranked player in the 2025 ESPN 60 recruiting class — called George one of his favorite players to emulate and work out with, George told reporters how it is a “cool moment in my career for someone that’s been dragged through times.”

“It’s nice to know that you have people on your side,” George told ESPN. “Opposed to people that want to mock the career that I’ve had.

“You just never know what extent that my outreach will be. You’re talking about kids around the world, about Kiyan, whose father is a Hall of Famer. It’s different, the kids and demographics that I’ve reached… like, damn, I didn’t know I had that kind of effect.”

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