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East MVP of the First Trimester: Paul George, Pacers

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

LeBron James, by now, should probably be an automatic choice in this category.

It is his presence, after all, that accounts for why you can't find a pundit on the NBA map daring enough to project anyone other than LeBron's Cavs as the East's representative in the NBA Finals come June‎.

Leave it to us, though, to complicate matters and scour the ‎other 14 teams to the right of the conference divide in search of competition for The King.

It's a process that inevitably leads you to Indianapolis, where Paul George's comeback probably hasn't received the appropriate amount of national spotlight that it should, largely because Steph Curry and his Warriors have soaked up so much of the available oxygen devoted to such matters.

So allow us to rectify that here by adding to George's November Player of the Month honors in the East and crown him as the conference's individual standout one-third of the way through the schedule. Assuming you'll never forget how gruesome George's compound leg fracture was in Las Vegas in August 2014 -- and if you likewise remember how limited he was in the six games he played late last season before having to shut down his comeback -- you have to be wowed by his across-the-board, at-both-ends impact.

Largely through George, as well as coach Frank Vogel's ingenuity, Indiana has established itself as a top-10 team defensively with aspirations of home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs ... with PG-13 tossing in three of the four highest career scoring games along the way as a bonus.

Perhaps we're grading James on an unfair curve, given how much of a load he had to carry early with Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert unavailable through injury when the season started. The only real quibble with James' game, to this point, has been some of his shooting, with his 3-point shot (.250) not nearly where it should be while the rest of his nightly stat line sits at the usual wrecking-ball levels.

Errant long-distance marksmanship, mind you, isn't why we're going non-LeBron here. It's simply the totality of George's story -- as well as the fact that the unexpectedly high number of competitive teams in the East convinced us to broaden our scope -- that makes it tough to resist him as the choice at this formative stage, ahead of James and Detroit Pistons upstart Andre Drummond.

With Drummond on pace to become the first player to average at least 18 points and 16 rebounds since the late, great Moses Malone did it in 1978-79 -- and with his Pistons at a surprising 17-15 -- ‎Detroit's big man deserved a mention as well. Drummond already has 17 games with at least 15 points and 15 boards; Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard are the league's next closest in that category with five.

(Yet as we mentioned in the Power Rankings earlier this week, Drummond's subterranean free throw shooting undoubtedly complicates the evaluation equation on him.)