Danny Granger works out before Wednesday loss to the Miami Heat (Getty Images)
The Indiana Pacers are about to add a former All-Star, one that is still on the fringes of his physical prime, to their rotation for absolutely no cost. Danny Granger may be coming off of a 19-month layoff ( save for a five-game stint in 2012-13) to return to the team on Friday night, but that shouldn’t worry Indiana Pacer fans in the slightest. Any little bit helps, and Danny Granger should act as far more than a “little bit.”
One can’t overstate this, even if we run the risk of overrating someone like Danny Granger – as many people tended to do during his time as a go-to guy for the Pacers a few years back. Granger was a solid enough scorer and efficient enough worker, and he did top out at nearly 26 points per game in 2008-09, but if he was your lead dog, your sled needed some help. Granger always seemed to be in the same position that San Antonio Spur Sean Elliott worked from years ago, a third option miscast closer to the top of the bill.
A few things about that comparison cling, though. Elliott had David Robinson to work alongside during much of that time, and in his peak Robinson was likely the third-best player in the NBA behind Michael Jordan. Granger had no such help.
Secondly, Granger’s production in his peak far outpaced that of Elliott, despite their seemingly similar styles.
Most warming of all, to Pacer fans? Granger won’t be asked to be the lead dog. He won’t even start. Hell, he may not even take the most shots among a second-tier crew that has fabulously paired starter Lance Stephenson with Luis Scola. Instead, Granger will be asked to spread the floor, shoot when he’s ready, and poke and prod offensively when his timing returns. That may take until midseason, as Granger hasn’t really warmed to NBA speed since May of 2012, but the Pacers don’t mind.
The team would mind an upswing in what Granger does (or did) best – perimeter scoring. The team is both a decidedly average three-point shooting outfit and overall offensive squad, and even if you boast the best record in the NBA as the Pacers do, every little bit helps. Granger’s size and versatility, at least before his injury, allowed him to remain virtually indistinguishable when it came to choosing a position, as he can either spell or sport alongside either Paul George or Lance Stephenson in various Indiana lineups.
In an interview with the Indianapolis Star’s Candace Buckner, Pacers coach Frank Vogel relayed as much:
"I don't think of them as both being (small forwards)," Vogel said. "In our system, it's guards, bigs and wings. They're both wings. They certainly can play together.”
There’s no minutes controversy, here. As Buckner pointed out, Granger has remained embedded with his team in spite of his absence from the court, traveling on every road trip and remaining in the locker room. His skill set seemed to conflict with Paul George’s heading into this season, but with George’s ascension as an all-around player in 2013-14, Granger can easily adapt as a spot-up shooter and sometimes slasher. The same goes for Lance Stephenson, who has taken on more of a playmaking role in his fourth NBA season.
The key here – and hell, the key for the rest of this snake-bitten league – is whether or not Granger can return to full health. He swore up and down that the calf injury that kept him out of Indiana’s first 25 games was unrelated to the knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2012-13, but 30-year olds don’t tend to miss 102 out of a possible 107 games, not including playoffs, with minor injuries. There is a very good chance Granger will look severely diminished in comparison to the guy that once dropped 25 a game with regularity.
The Pacers will take that near-approximation, though. They don’t need Granger to be at his All-Star best, or to earn every penny of that $14.1 million salary. They need a good enough shooter with size to spread the floor and allow others to maintain their particular games without much interference. They’d like it from now until June, and they’d like it if Granger improved to a point to where he’d have several free agent suitors this summer, when the tax-averse Pacers are ready to say goodbye.
Seems like a good deal for both sides, even if the Pacers didn’t have to give anything up to re-acquire their former All-Star. Welcome back, Mr. Granger.
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