Anyone remember Danny Granger?
I had this post percolating in my mind for a few weeks now, but it really crystallized itself on Saturday watching Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. There, I saw an Indiana Pacers team that I totally thought was outmatched heading into the series completely dominate the Miami Heat en route to forcing a Game 7.
And who was watching from the sidelines in a dapper suit? Danny Granger, their franchise player as recently as the beginning of this season.
Granger has become a forgotten man in recent months as the Pacers have morphed into one of the best teams in basketball behind Paul George and Roy Hibbert, two of the NBA’s most-talented at their respective positions, and the veteran leadership of David West. This happened while getting almost nothing from Granger this season – unless you call five games played, 27 points (total, not per game) and 28 percent shooting a meaningful contribution. His knee issues required another surgery and ended his season at the end of March.
It wasn’t always this way, though. Granger was the Pacers’ go-to scorer from 2007-12, averaging more than 18 PPG each of those seasons, including his banner 08-09 year of 25.1 PPG. He also had some good positional versatility, as the Pacers used his 6-foot-8, 228 lb. frame at the 2,3 and 4 spots depending on how big or small they wanted to go. And before they landed West, they often needed him to line up at the 4.
But he was a star that had his warts. He was never a great rebounder despite his height, only averaging more than six per game once. He always had a reputation as a sub-par defender, and he couldn’t really stay healthy, never playing a full 82 games in his career.
With those pluses and minuses in mind, it’s hard to decide how Granger would fit in next season should he return to the Pacers. One the one hand, he would inject a Pacers offense that can stagnate at times with some much needed scoring. He would give them some actual depth, as right now they basically have their starting five and a bunch of garbage on the bench in the form of D.J. Augustin, Sam Young and Tyler Hansbrough. And he would provide them with an insurance option (albeit not the best one) at power forward in case they weren’t able to resign West this offseason.
On the other, he just doesn’t seem to fit the make-up of the team anymore. The Pacers are built around Frank Vogel’s defensive system, and that’s simply not Granger’s forte. One can only look at how George has pestered LeBron James and the difference it has made compared to how Granger let him have his way in the team’s previous playoff series. Granger also is best at small forward, a position that clearly belongs to George, the player he recommended the Pacers take in the 2010 draft. If you play Granger at shooting guard, then you take a much-improved Lance Stephenson out of the lineup. Could Granger force Dwyane Wade into 3-for-10 shooting and 10 points in Game 6? Doubt it.
That sentiment is one that I did not hold just a few weeks ago when the series first started. I mentioned to SpreeGoogs that if only the Pacers had a better backcourt (i.e. if they had Granger instead of Stephenson or George Hill), they might be able to actually give the Heat a run for their money. He, being the knowledgeable Pacers fan that he is, replied that he loved Stephenson and Hill, that their length, defensive prowess and timely offense were perfect for the team. After having watched the past few games of this series, I could not agree more with him.
What this really boils down to, though, is the blossoming of George. He’s one of the NBA’s best players already. He was so good in Game 1, including his ridiculous game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime, that I almost ready to write a follow-up post to my “LeBron is the best player I’ve ever seen” to say that no, Paul George is really the best player I’ve ever seen. Of course, James promptly beat him for the game-winning layup and I didn’t have to eat my words. But bottom line, with George in the fold, Granger is expendable and tradeable.
If he does go, at least he’ll have his dapper suits to take with him.