Danny Granger has been without question the face of the post-Reggie Miller Indiana Pacers.
Which makes it ironic that the best team that the Pacers have fielded in recent history has been so effective without him.
This year's Pacers are playing inspired basketball.
They play with passion, hustle and a little bit of a mean streak.
They are easily leading the Eastern Conference in fewest points against (90) and they are stifling their opponents' ability to shoot from the field (41.8 percent) as well as from deep (32.8 percent), both of which top the league.
Meanwhile, Granger has been incredibly slow to return from his knee woes, playing in only five games all season and scoring only five points per game.
So this beckons the question, should the Pacers be concerned about Granger's injury?
Paul George's emergence
When the Pacers drafted Paul George a few years ago, they did so with the intention of boosting the athleticism and size of their wings.
Yet his development came relatively slow. As a rookie and second-year player, George certainly showed flashes of potential and the length and quickness that have made him an elite defender this season.
But often, his development was lost in the Granger-dominated Pacers offense.
In fact, most of the Pacers saw their numbers affected by Granger. Granger is the type of player that needs the ball in his hands in order to create. He can catch-and-shoot, but for him to be most effective, he needs to have the rock.
George certainly was not in danger of becoming a bust by any stretch, but he more than anybody has come out of his shell during Granger's season of injury issues.
George saw his points per game average jump from 12.1 last year all the way to 17.6. And that isn't even the strength of his game. George has been rebounding this year (nearly eight per game), hitting threes (nearly 39 percent) and grabbing steals (just under two per game).
He has cemented himself as the best wing defender in the conference not named LeBron James and has added excitement to a sometimes boring Pacers offensive attack.
Had Granger been around, it is hard to imagine George playing so well this year. It's not as though he and Granger have the same game, but George has a playing style that makes it more difficult to get in rhythm without the ball for extended period of time.
Therefore, in a lot of ways, Granger's injury has been necessary for the emergence of George.
David West revival
When David West was acquired by the Pacers from New Orleans, he was considered to be one of the best post scorers in the league.
He was a solid rebounder who exhibited toughness and the ability to get his shot off against even much larger opponents with his strong body and nice touch near the hoop.
But upon reaching the Hoosier state, West saw his production take a nosedive. For a guy who averaged no fewer than 18.9 points per game during his last four seasons in New Orleans, his 12.8 points and less than seven rebounds in his first season in Indiana were disconcerting to say the least.
West struggled in the offense because he, like Granger, needs the ball in his hands in order to do damage.
West is your classic back-to-the-basket post player. He needs the offense to run through him in order to get the most out of his talents.
Last year, he and Granger did not mesh on the court. Granger was options one, two and three and West tended to only get the scraps.
This year, we have seen a re-emergence by West. He is scoring over 17 a game and has his boards back up to close to eight.
Additionally, his toughness has been infectious to his mates and he has been, in a lot of ways, the soul of this team.
Sure, West is never going to be confused with Ben Wallace defensively, but he does play tough especially near the hoop and just carries himself with a swagger. He is that guy that you just don't want to mess with when he has a scowl on his face.
Had Granger been around, it is hard to see West coming through like he has this year.
Indiana has always been a good defensive team. Even 10 years ago they were a team that could get stops.
But when comparing this year's squad to last year, plenty of numbers stand out.
No, it isn't the number of players that have been brought in, as this is roughly the same team that they fielded a year ago.
They have the same coach and largely the same approach as a year ago.
The difference is that they are getting much better defensive production from their wing players.
With Granger gone, Lance Stephenson has been inserted into the starting lineup and his defensive intensity and athleticism, coupled with George, has transformed this team into the best defensive team in the league.
Sure, they have one of the league's best interior defenders in Roy Hibbert, but what has been most impressive about this year's team has been its ability to keep players out of the lane.
Look at some of the comparisons from last year.
This year's team, as mentioned earlier, is leading the league in opponents field goal and three-point percentage against and are leading the conference in fewest points per game.
Just a year ago, the Pacers were 10th in the league in opponents points per game (94.4), sixth in opponents field goal percentage (43.5) and only 16th in opponents three-point percentage (35.1).
That last statistic is most evident of their improvement this year. By guarding the opponents tough from up to 22 feet out, the Pacers have transformed themselves into an elite defensive team.
For their opponents, this means that they never have a break. The Pacers are always in their face and they are turning their opponents misfortune into easy fast-break opportunities with their athletic wings.
The only real difference between this year's squad and last year, on paper, has been the loss of Granger and the emergence of George and Stephenson.
Playoffs could represent a challenge
So based on the first three points of this article, it would appear that the Pacers have little to worry about should Granger continue to be shelved by his injury.
However, this premise has a major caveat attached.
Sure, they have been incredible during the regular season without Granger, but how will they fare in the playoffs?
In the playoffs, even middling teams turn up their defensive intensity. There are more people watching the games and there is a lot more to play for.
The challenge for a team like Indiana heading into the playoffs will be its offensive efficiency when confronted by tough defense.
But against elite offenses like the Heat that tend to play excellent defense as well, this could be a major issue for the Pacers.
Sure, they can score down low with West and Hibbert and their bench bigs will give some garbage points, but without another consistent perimeter scorer to pair with George, the Pacers could struggle some nights.
The one statistic this year that is most disconcerting when thinking about the upcoming playoffs is 15.1. That is the number of times this team turns the ball over per game.
That is up from 14 last year and figures to go up even more in the playoffs without Granger.
This is a young team that could get rattled at the next level when playing on the road against tough defenders.
It would be nice to be able to lean on Granger's experience when they need a bucket down the stretch.
That's why the bottom line is that the Pacers have been fantastic without Granger this year, but they absolutely should be concerned about his injury woes for the playoffs.
The Pacers are, after all, the best chance the East has to unseat the mighty Heat. But without Granger and his savvy offensive ability, it is hard to see them getting by the defending champs.
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