As hard as it is to believe, the Pacers’ leading scorer for five straight seasons has been the forgotten piece in their outstanding 2013-14 season.
Danny Granger has been out since mid-way through the preseason with a strained calf that turned out to be more severe than anyone expected.
Initially. the Indiana Pacers announced that Granger would miss the first three weeks of the regular season, placing his return somewhere around Nov. 19-25. It’s already Dec. 13th, and we haven’t seen one minute from Granger.
Despite the absence of the former All-star and Most Improved Player, the Pacers have began the season as the NBA’s best at 19-3, with the most notable win coming Tuesday night vs. the Miami Heat.
It appears that Indiana will likely have to play a couple more without one of their franchise faces.
After practice on Thursday, Granger retracted his statement earlier this week concerning his playing status on Friday’s matchup with the Charlotte Bobcats. He had previously stated that he hoped to return to game action for this meeting, but that wasn’t the case on Thursday:
“I don’t like where I’m at with my timing and my rhythm and obviously my conditioning,” Granger told the media after practice. “I don’t think I will (play) Friday. I practiced today, a full-on practice, but I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I dribbled the ball off my foot a couple of times, just things you do when you haven’t played….lost the ball in transition on a pass. My rhythm isn’t there yet.”
This certainly is understandable in Granger’s defense, considering he took a while off from practice due to the strained left calf. No matter how long you have been a veteran in the NBA, it’s simply impossible to avoid the rustiness when inserted back into a full-speed practice or game situation. We were witnessing the same thing from Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant during his practices and even his first game of the season. Expecting Granger to return to his old form is an unrealistic expectation, at least for now.
Keep in mind, Granger hasn’t just missed the first 22 games of this year. He has only played in five of the Pacers’ last 103 regular season games.
Let that sink in a bit. Granger missed 76 of the 81 regular season games last season while battling knee injury, one he eventually decided to get surgically repaired.
It has been setback after setback for Granger since Paul George has decided to immensely step up his game. However, Granger was quick to make it clear on Thursday that no additional setbacks have been the case as of late:
“No, no, no,” Granger answered concerning any physical setbacks. “Just all game legs. I’m not going to go on the court until I’m ready. By all means I could physically play, easily,” he added. “But like I said, it’s more of a rhythm thing. When you’re playing at those types of speeds you have to do it for a while to get used to it again.”
The question of how he will fit into this Pacers’ lineup that has changed monumentally since he was 100 percent healthy in the 2012 playoffs, remains unanswered. The last time Granger played in a meaningful game for Indiana (excludes the preseason), he was their best offensive player. This season, it’s clear that Paul George is the catalyst that leads this team with the ball in his hands during the second half. Roy Hibbert has continued to improve since the days of Granger running the team, so it’s unclear as to how the offense is affected with his return.
The Pacers are slightly struggling as a total unit on the offensive end, ranking only 20th in the league in points scored per game (97.7). Holding the NBA’s top record, it’s quite shocking to see how unbalanced their team is this season. Defensively, it’s hard for even the best offenses to score on the Pacers, especially at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They own the best defensive unit in the league by allowing just 89.3 points per game, but they tend to hit slumps on the other end of the floor.
Superstar Paul George addressed how the return of Granger is going to propel the Pacers into an even more dangerous team:
“I think all the things we’ve been lacking as far as offensive execution, us having a dip in offensive numbers, (his return) will lift us from all of that,” George said.
This couldn’t be more accurate, when you take into account the type of game Granger is accustomed to playing. He enjoys shooting the ball from the perimeter, notably with his teammates setting him up. Adding someone with that demeanor can, and will, further separate them from the Miami Heat in the weak Eastern Conference. Granger gives the Pacers another weapon from the perimeter, as well as someone that can attack and draw fouls. When you analyze the frontcourt this team has played with this season, Hibbert, Paul George, and David West are likely going to be enough to solidify paint scoring. This only means that Granger can play a different role than he is used to: being a primary shooter. The team hasn’t forgotten that he is still their best shooter in the rotation, as Granger has been out-shooting his teammates in friendly 3-point battles after practice. Add that to the mix, and the league will soon witness the most COMPLETE team the NBA has had in recent memory.