Danny Granger's Knee Injury Will Make Paul George Blossom into a Star

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2012

Oct 20, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA;  Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) on the free throw line against the Memphis Grizzlies at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-US PRESSWIRE

When you've been as successful as the Indiana Pacers have been lately, it isn't easy to wait for your young talent to take the next step.

Paul George took an important step last season, just his second year after being drafted with the 10th overall pick out of Fresno State. He played about 30 minutes per game, averaging 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 steals in the process. Just as importantly, he further established himself as the club's best perimeter defender.

Now what?

The super-athletic swingman appears to be on the verge of something, though what that "something" is remains uncertain. 

Danny Granger is only now returning from a knee injury that created an opportunity for George to take on a more featured scoring role during the preseason. IndyStar.com's Mike Wells reports that Granger's struggles aren't over just yet:

I'll always have soreness, but it's a different kind of soreness than you expect, Granger said. It's not like my knee is sore and I should lay off. We have to put stress on it and break up some of the scar tissue.

Wells explains that Granger's minutes will be limited early on and that he'll be watched closely for any setbacks.

In other words, George could remain the go-to guy in this season's early going. How that translates into improvement is still a bit murky. 

The 22-year-old's preseason performance has been mixed.

Through his first five games, George averaged over 16 points per game, but he's been shooting just 36 percent. Ultimately, this is a small sample size, and it's not terribly unusual for a perimeter shooter to struggle early on.

The important thing is that he's getting and taking the shots.

George hasn't attempted fewer than 10 field goals in any of his preseason games, and he got 21 shots off in a losing effort against the Orlando Magic. To put it in perspective, this is a guy who averaged just 9.7 shots per game in his sophomore campaign (2011-12).

Perhaps more importantly, George has been getting to the foul line. After averaging just 2.8 free-throw attempts last season, he got to the charity stripe 11 times against the Atlanta Hawks and eight times against the Minnesota Timberwolves this preseason.

Although the dunk artist has come a long way as a shooter (making nearly 39 percent of his three-point attempts last season), he still hasn't reached his full potential as a slasher—an important reason for the scarce number of trips to the line.

Given his finishing ability and touch from the line, getting to the basket will be a key development. With an improved handle and a better appreciation for exploiting driving lanes, that next step shouldn't be a problem. 

Filling the vacuum left by a recovering Granger certainly won't hurt.

Whether George can sustain some elite play over the course of the season remains to be seen. He's still young and he may never fully flourish until moving from shooting guard to the 3-spot, which Granger currently occupies.

But we're almost sure to see more and more flashes of brilliance. If George's time hasn't come just yet, it's getting mighty close.