Indiana Pacers: Where Can They Go When Danny Granger Returns?

After a year of extremely good fortune, in which no starter missed a significant amount of time, the Pacers promptly suffered a huge injury at the start of the 2012-13 season. Danny Granger, the team’s leading scorer went down just before the season started, and his return is approximately one month away. Throughout the season, the Pacers have been adjusting to life without Granger, and the results, while not earth-shattering, are at the very least decent.

David West had an off-year by his standards during his first Pacers season, but this year’s, he’s taken charge, and once again looks like a top-10 power forward. In the past, many wondered if his success came due to the benefit of having Chris Paul setting up easy shots for him, but seeing him play at such a high level with George Hill at the point shows us that it simply wasn’t the case.

Which is not meant to be a knock on Hill. While he’s not an elite guard, Hill does a quietly effective job at running the Pacers offense, and he’s a great scorer. After spending his first few years in San Antonio and Indiana as a guy who provided offense off the bench, but now he’s evolved into more of a leader. When he supplanted Darren Collison as the team’s starting point guard in the playoffs, I was skeptical that he’d thrive as a starter on a regular basis, but he’s proven me wrong. He’s not the best assists guy in the world, but he can get points when the Pacers need them.

The breakout star for the Pacers has certainly been Paul George, who gets a little bit better every year. For the second straight year, his scoring totals have greatly improved, and he is quickly becoming one of the best shooting guards in the league. His versatility is essential to his game as well. With Granger gone, he’s shown that he can succeed in the small forward role, but when Granger returns to the lineup, he’ll likely return to the shooting guard spot, where he already know he can be a big contributor.

As for the Pacers bench, well, that’s continued to be their big weak spot. D.J. Augustin was supposed to be a capable backup point guard. He was one of the few bright spots on last year’s horrid Bobcats team, and it made sense that he’d thrive coming off the bench for a contender. Instead, he’s been one of the worst players in the league. He’s struggled to even get on the court, and when he does, he can’t hit a shot to saved his life. The one good thing about Agustin is that he can’t possibly get any worse, which means the Pacers maybe helped in the second half, if Augustin can even come close to playing like something remotely resembling an NBA player.

Gerald Green has been fun off the bench, even though his numbers have dropped from his excellent season with the Nets last year. He’s a second unit player who can score, and who can usually entertain the crowd while doing it. Even if the promise of his season in New Jersey hasn’t completely been fulfilled, this team is considerably better with Green on it.

So, the Pacers have some solid players in their fold, and before too long, Granger, arguably their best player, will be returning to the lineup.  How far will they be able to go when that happens? Well, based on the amount of talent this team has amassed, they might be able to make another lengthy playoff run. The Pacers really don’t have the deepest bench in the league, but they have an incredibly solid starting five. When Granger is healthy, the Pacers are above average at all five starting positions.

Admittedly, there could be some concerns after Granger gets back. Namely, Roy Hibbert. The Pacers’ center had a breakout year last season, making the all-star game, and establishing himself as one of the most talented big men in the game. He’s dropped off big time this year, however, shooting a lowly .395 from the field. His excellent defense makes up for a lot of his weak offense, but at some point, he needs to start getting some baskets to fall. The most optimistic view of the situation is that when Granger returns, his three-point shooting will allow the Pacers to space the floor, allowing Hibbert to do more damage in the post. If that happens, and Hibbert gets his old form, this team is a force to contend with. For now, Hibbert’s middling offense should be considered a major area of concern.

Still, with Granger around, the Pacers could be a very tough out. Their best hope is that they can avoid drawing the Heat in Round 1. They are by far the best team in the East, and if the Pacers run into them right away, they’ll be gone quickly. If they play well enough to draw a more flawed team like the Hawks or the Knicks, they could put up a legitimate fight. This team is a bit less deep than last year’s, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contend. If Granger returns at full strength, whoever draws them in the first round could be in for quite a battle.

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