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Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger Fitting Into Bench Role Nicely

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COMMENTARY | Just a few seasons ago, Danny Granger was the franchise player for the Indiana Pacers.

During the 2008-09 season, he was putting up 25.8 points per game, but the team went just 36-46, missing the playoffs.

A lot has changed since then.

Granger missed almost the entire 2012-13 season, playing in just five games. While sitting on the bench not dressed to play, he had to watch Paul George become an emerging star, as he earned the NBA's Most Improved Player and helped lead the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals.

Then Granger struggled to come back this season, not playing until December 20 against the Houston Rockets. Heading into that game, the Pacers were 20-5, and there were concerns as to whether or not Granger would be a liability when he came back.

For a player that was used to taking 19 shots a game, some fans and critics were worried that Granger would want to come out and try to do too much, therefore hurting the team when he was on the floor. The idea is that he would want to be the star player once again, instead of accepting his role as a bench player.

Through 14 games played, it's safe to say that he's not only started to understand his role, but he's also embraced it.

Granger didn't get off to the best start coming back from a calf strain, averaging just 7.4 points per game and shooting just 28.9 percent from the field in December.

But the 30-year-old forward out of New Mexico has started to get more comfortable in his new role. Since the start of the 2014 calendar year, Granger has been putting up 10.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, shooting 40.7 percent from the field. He's now become a player that can come off of the bench and provide a scoring spark to swing the momentum, which is something not a lot of teams have.

Perhaps more impressive has been Granger's willingness to play defense. Over his career, Granger hasn't always been the most dominant defender. According to Basketball-Reference, Granger's career defensive rating is 106, which means he's allowed an estimated 106 points per 100 possessions. This year, however, his defensive rating has dropped to 97, which is the lowest it's ever been in his career.

That number is much more impressive considering how he's been used off of the bench. He's been guarding all kinds of players, from Toronto Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez to Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin. In fact, in their last game against the Clippers, Granger helped hold Griffin to just 6-of-18 shooting when David West was ejected from the game.

Granger is quickly becoming a key piece to the Pacers as they try to make a run at the Finals, and head coach Frank Vogel agrees. Candace Buckner from The Indianapolis Star provided us with this quote from Vogel on Granger:

"I think he's a necessary component to reach our goals of winning a championship," Vogel said. "To reach our goals of trying to get the No. 1 seed, come out of the East and ultimately compete for it all. I think having somebody like that right now coming off the bench, with just the depth at the wing spot with Stephenson, (Paul) George and Danny Granger … that is necessary. We're really excited about the steps he's making and getting back into the fold."

The Pacers were able to take the Miami Heat to seven games last year in the conference finals, but the lack of depth coming off of the bench hurt the team's chances. With Granger emerging as a scoring option along with players like Luis Scola and C.J. Watson coming off of the bench, it looks like the Pacers are ready for a run at their first title in the NBA.

Tyler Brooke is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on ESPN.com, CNN.com, SI.com, and a number of other great sites. Tyler is a current student at Indiana University and the Kelley School of Business. Follow Tyler on Twitter @TylerDBrooke.

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