SF: Paul George, Harrison Barnes
Paul George of the Indiana Pacers had a breakout season in 2012-13. George was the 2012-13 Most Improved Player, first time All-Star, All-Defensive second team member, and made the All-NBA third team. George led the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals and narrowly lost to the the eventual champion Miami Heat.
For a player thrusted into the spotlight following a season-ending injury to his team’s star player, George made his statement. When Danny Granger, Indiana’s star forward, returns from injury, it will be difficult for the Pacers to relegate George to second fiddle.
In the playoffs, George saw all his numbers increase across the board to 19.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game. At just 21 years old, George has shown that he can elevate his play to meet the needs of his team around him. Going forward and given the opportunity, George will find his name alongside LeBron and Durant as the league’s premiere small forwards.
Harrison Barnes completed his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors by starting in 81 games. Though his numbers regular season numbers are not eye-popping, Barnes’ durability and consistency should not be overlooked.
As the Warriors progressed through the playoffs, Barnes became their most dependable player. With injuries to Curry, David Lee and Andrew Bogut making them ineffective, Barnes stepped up and became an offensive and defensive playmaker. From the regular season to the playoffs, Barnes saw his offensive rating increase from 102 to 111 and his defensive rating increase from 107 to 108.
Going forward, George and Barnes will be two of the best players in the league. Athletic, smart and durable forwards are a luxury in the NBA. As both of these guys improve, their marks will be made.