Paul George excelling at the free throw line

Paul George leads the NBA in free throw shooting at 92.5 percent. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Paul George has become a force at the free throw line. A big-time weapon. Almost automatic.

He’s “eating” at the stripe, as some in the locker room like to put it.

Through 39 games, the now four-time NBA All-Star has gone 184-of-199 at the foul line — good for a NBA-best 92.5 percent.

He had his finest evening of the season Friday night in a 115-111 overtime win over the Sacramento Kings. George scored 33 points and made 16 — a career-high — of 17 free throw attempts, including the first eight. His accuracy at the line has become a real strength for the Pacers, who improved to 24-22 on the year.

“Especially how this team [Sacramento] guards. Holding, grabbing almost the whole game,” George explained postgame. “I was trying to stay aggressive, stay in attack-mode, and I was able to get to the line.”

It’s not just George, though. As a team, the Pacers are tied for the best percentage in the league with San Antonio, of course, at 81.8 percent. The Pacers have four players shooting 84 percent or better: George (92.5), C.J. Miles (85.5), Jeff Teague (85.2), and Monta Ellis (84.0)

“It’s huge,” McMillan said of George’s success. “Both he and Jeff are really good free throw shooters. We have one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league. When a game is going down the stretch, you need those guys that can shoot free throws, especially when you get into the penalty early.

“It puts a lot of pressure on that defense when you are in the penalty and you have guys such as Jeff and Paul, who are capable of drawing fouls and they shoot 100 percentage at the free throw [line].”

On Friday night, they were 5-for-5 from the line at the break. They simply weren’t getting there enough. Then, over the final two quarters plus overtime, the Pacers got to the line 28 times … and sank 24 of them.

“We figured how this game is going to played, how they are going to play me, and (matched) their physicality,” George said. We raised the level.”

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Prior to this year, Paul George’s best overall season at the line came the year before his injury, during the 2013-14 season when he made 86.4 percent of the 464 free throws he attempted.

He is getting to the line more than five times a game, which is not often enough, and hitting nearly every one of them. In his seventh season as a pro, his goal is to get 10 tries per game.

“I’m real comfortable. That’s the first shot I learned,” George said with a grin. “I feel good every time going to the free throw line. As they used to say, it’s like being at home. That’s how you have to visualize being at the free throw line.

“I’ve always tried to attack and get to the rim, and put the pressure on officials to make calls, and finish through contact. I’m getting calls now so it’s been good.”

Two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry of the Warriors paced the league during the 2015-16 season. He shot 90.8 at the line (compared to George’s 86-percent clip). This season, Curry is second (91.7) and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (91.4) is third.

“[He’s] a great free throw shooter, a great shooter, period,” Teague said of George’s accuracy. “When he’s attacking and being aggressive like that, getting into the lane, it’s a tough cover for anybody.”

One thing George is always aware of is how he matches up against Reggie Miller, a player he hopes to surpass. The two first developed a relationship during the 2012 NBA Playoffs thanks to an introduction by David Benner, the Pacers’ Director of Media Relations.

“I don’t want you guys to take this out of context, but he’s somebody that I look at and at the end of the day, I want to say I was the best Pacer to play here,” George said exactly three years and 10 days ago. “He set the bar high, he set the limits high and that’s just out of respect.

“I feel like if I get to that point and the next up-and-coming guy is ready to take that, I’ll be all for it. I just want to challenge him for it and it’s another bar that I can set, and be happy to accomplish.”

Among the many things Miller, a Hall of Famer, was known for was his efficiency at the stripe. Over his 18-year career, all in Indianapolis, Miller shot 88.8 percent. In eight of those seasons he was better than 90 percent, with his final season — 2004-05 — being his best at 93.3 percent.

“Oh yeah,” George said positively. I’m on pace.”

What George didn’t know was that Miller isn’t number one.

Chris Mullin still holds the franchise record for free throw percentage. He shot 93.9 percent during the 1997-98 season, his first season with the team.

Over his career, George is a 84.7 percent foul shooter. But that is clearly going up, and his efficiency has become a huge weapon for the Pacers.

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