Paul George isn't just back. The Indiana Pacers star is better than ever.
"I think I am. I feel great out there," George said.
While his claim seems impossible -- we all remember THAT leg injury -- nobody is going to argue with the five-year veteran. Certainly not the Wizards, not after what George did to them Tuesday night in Indiana's 123-106 win.
The sleek forward scored 40 points. That's an impressive number and just three off his career-high. However, George's shooting in his first game at Verizon Center since the 2014 playoffs was otherworldly.
He sank 7 of 8 3-pointers and 14 of 19 shots overall. George filled up the basket and the stat sheet, finishing with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Defensively he took on 3's and 4's and even two-guard Bradley Beal.
The season is early, but George's averages of 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the 9-5 Pacers would all set new career-highs.
"He's a whole different animal," Beal said of George's current level.
With their leader back in the lineup, the Pacers are a different team.
After reaching the Eastern Conference finals three straight years, Indiana missed the 2015 playoffs following a 38-44 regular season. George only played six games late in the campaign. He was busy recovering from the brutal leg injury suffered while playing in a scrimmage for USA Basketball.
Recover he did, but he also improved and expanded his already impressive arsenal.
“Well honestly I just feel like I had a year to work on my game," George explained. "Most of the time, players get a good two or three months in the summer to get better. I had a full year of sitting out and just getting better, and just learning because I knew the changes we were going with.
"I was going to have to bring it. They definitely put pieces around me to succeed and it is my job to take us there.”
MORE WIZARDS: WIZ FALL AS PACERS SHOOT LIGHTS OUT
The changes referenced involved Indiana's identity. Similar to the Wizards, the Pacers planned to join the NBA wave of small ball lineups with 3-point shooters galore. For Indiana, that meant two notable departures: Hulking center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West.
Indiana entered Tuesday third in 3-point shooting percentage. These Pacers start four perimeter threats, including C.J. Miles at the other forward spot. Like George, Miles couldn't miss from deep against the Wizards. He sank 8 of 9 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 32 points. The pair combined to make their first 11 3-point tries.
"It was a special night," George said of the tandem troubling the Wizards.
With George back in play, the Pacers are back to looking like a playoff team.
"He's a special player," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of George. "We're obviously a different team when he's out there."
After starting the season with three straight losses, Indiana has won nine of 11 games including three straight by a combined 64 points.
"This team is starting to find its way," George said. "We're starting to have an idea, starting to learn each other. If we play fast and put pressure on teams, it's going to allow [our shooters] some easy opportunities."
The Wizards are well aware of what George can do with shooting opportunities. In Game 4 of the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinal series, he scored 39 points and made 7 of 10 3-pointers as Indiana rallied for a win and a 3-1 series lead.
"It's the same one I saw in the playoffs," Wizards guard John Wall said of George while noting the upgrades. "He just came out aggressive. He's not really the same Paul George attacking the basket, but he's definitely a better shooter than what he was before he had his injury."
Asked about his success in Washington, George smiled and said, "I don't know. I just love being in D.C. I've got to get the President out one game."
Perhaps that happens in the playoffs. With George back playing at an MVP level, the Pacers are headed in that direction.