Can George and Granger mesh effectively for the Pacers?
His return prompts optimism because of his potent scoring ability, as he has led the Pacers in scoring in each of the previous five seasons. In 2012-13, the Pacers have been stellar without him, but the natural thought is that they become all the more fearful with him.
However, is this true? Will Granger's presence actually disrupt the chemistry the Pacers have built in his absence?
More specifically, how can Paul George and Granger thrive together?
This is an especially pertinent question as the playoffs near. With Granger missing, George assumed the "alpha dog" role of this ball club for the season's first four months. And he didn't disappoint.
George earned himself a spot on the Eastern Conference's All-Star team and the 22-year-old has compiled an all-around breakout year, averaging 17.7 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game and 1.8 steals per outing.
He has looked perfectly competent and confident in taking the reins of this squad. Therefore, will he now willingly hand them back to Granger?
More importantly, is it even wise for George to attempt to defer back to Granger?
The reality is the Pacers must discern how to best utilize George and Granger together. This takes distinct strategy, because they shouldn't plug Granger back into the alpha dog role while George's role diminishes, nor should they minimize Granger's involvement in which his talents are under-utilized.
They need a proper balance, where George can maintain the momentum he has attained this season while also allowing Granger to establish a still productive, yet slightly lesser, niche.
Currently, Granger is working his way back into the rotation, seeking to gain comfort after recovering from an injured knee. His minutes have been limited in his first few appearances, netting just 19 minutes in each game.
His production has also been limited. In his first couple of games, he went a combined 2-17 from the field and showed significant signs of rust. However, in his third game, the rust appeared to be wearing off, as he tallied 12 points on 5-10 shooting.
As his rhythm and confidence ascend, so should his minutes. The Pacers must then plug Granger into a role in which he only heightens this team's ceiling.
The core matter in seeking a strategy for Granger and George to thrive together is this: George shouldn't change a thing. If George becomes less assertive, this will not only inhibit his confidence, but it will also create chemistry issues.
With that said, George must now realize the weapon he has in Granger to kick to for open jumpers.
George has revealed an adept passing ability this season (4.0 APG), and he must now be keenly aware of where Granger is on the floor.
The bottom line here is that George should be Indiana's playmaker. This doesn't mean Granger should never receive isolation opportunities, but George should be their featured creator while Granger roams open areas off the ball.
This dynamic places opponents in a tricky situation.
George's penetration abilities are growing by the day. Allowing him to attack without help defenders in range is foolish, because George will typically find a high-percentage look near the bucket.
Yet if a team decides to help, they will inevitably leave a decent shooter open, namely Granger. George Hill (36.9 percent) and Lance Stephenson (35.6 percent) are also capable three-point shooters.
With this offensive scheme in view, will this result in a considerably lesser role for Granger? No, Granger's role should ultimately be altered in a slightly lesser manner.
This means that instead of averaging in the 18-20 PPG range (typical for Granger), he should now anticipate 15-17 PPG. It also means that instead of hoisting 15-plus jumpers a game, he should now anticipate 10-13 shot attempts an evening.
The chart below reveals Granger's shot attempts average the past five seasons. Note how his shot attempts have decreased the past couple of seasons. Well, they need to decrease even more.
This lesser role doesn't mean Granger should greatly adapt his game. He should approach the game the same way—looking for his mid-range jumper and not hesitating to cash open threes. The only difference in his 2012-13 approach should be patience.
The Pacers have no need for Granger to look for his shot aggressively anymore.
If it's there, he should take it, but with George emerging and Roy Hibbert and David West providing two solidified options in the low post, Granger should possess no urgency in putting the team on his back.
If Granger can make this minor adaptation and implement patience, then not only will the Pacers become even better, but he will become an all-around more efficient player.
In the past few season, Granger's field goal percentage has been subpar (42.8 percent in 2009-10, 42.5 percent in 2010-11 and 41.6 percent in 2011-12). Newfound patience will enable his percentage to rise because of more quality looks while also creating more opportunities for his teammates to find their groove.
George, in particular, must not lose his groove.
He is now the face of the franchise. This doesn't mean Granger is no longer a main member, but it does mean that Granger must be willing to make slight adjustments for the betterment of his teammates and, most importantly, the team.
If George and Granger are able to mesh together in this fashion, the sky's the limit to what the Pacers can do come May and June.
If their chemistry gains fluidity as the season's climax nears, then it wouldn't be shocking to see Indiana dethrone the Miami Heat in the playoffs—with George and Granger leading the way.