Danny Granger's Absence Sets Stage for Paul George to Prove He's Real Deal

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 28, 2013

March 8, 2013; Orlando FL, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) dribbles the ball against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Indiana Pacers defeated the Orlando Magic 115-86. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger is slated to undergo season-ending surgery on his troublesome left knee, Paul George will get his chance to solidify his claim as the Pacers' marquee player.

It's a good thing he's been auditioning for that role all season long.

Before we get into George's fitness as a headliner, let's briefly review the hard news on Granger. Per the Pacers' official Twitter feed:

Granger's absence certainly isn't a good thing. With the Miami Heat still looming as a seemingly unbeatable juggernaut in the East, Indiana would have preferred to have all hands on deck heading into the playoffs.

Psychologically, the official shelving of a well-liked and still valuable talent like Granger hurts.

But it's hard to imagine that much will change for George or the Pacers from a practical standpoint. Granger made minimal contributions in just a handful of games this season. In what turned out to be a fruitless rehabilitation effort, his presence in the rotation really felt more like a novelty than an encouraging vision of what the Pacers might become.

In other words, Indiana has been counting on George to shoulder a heavy load since the season began, so it's not like it'll have to make wholesale changes to its rotations now that Granger's absence is assured.

Anyone familiar with the Pacers knows that George has enjoyed something of a breakout campaign in 2012-13, logging 37.5 minutes per game and posting career highs in all of his counting numbers. From an efficiency standpoint, the increased workload hasn't been kind to his rate stats—both his field-goal and three-point percentages are down from where they were last year.

That's bound to happen with heavier minutes and bigger defensive responsibilities, though, so it's pretty safe to call George's campaign an unqualified success.

Besides, many of the young small forward's contributions are of the subtler variety.

That may sound strange, considering George might be most familiar to casual NBA fans for his glow-in-the-dark performance in the 2012 dunk contest, but it's true.

While it's somewhat beside the point to compare the relative values of George and Granger, it's important to have a good understanding of how the young wing fits into the veteran's vacancy.

According to 82games.com, Indiana has been about 8.2 points per 100 possessions better with George on the floor this season. That figure isn't quite up to par with the plus-11.3 that Granger posted in a relatively healthy 2011-12 campaign, but it's nothing to sneeze at either.

From an objective vantage point, it's not even clear that George is presently Indiana's best player. Going by the numbers alone, David West has had a greater positive effect than George has this season. The gritty power forward's team-best plus-10.1 net rating exceeds the one George has posted this year.

Plus, George's numbers have tailed off a bit over the past couple of months. According to NBA.com, his shooting percentages and rebound rate have been in a three-month decline. At the same time, his turnover rate has increased.

But George is just 22 years old, and he's handled the huge responsibilities the Pacers have foisted upon him with remarkable gusto. It should also be noted that Granger believes in George enough to have bestowed a blessing on his young replacement.

For most of the season, George had been playing with the belief that at some point, Granger would be on the court to help soak up some of the spotlight.

But now that Granger's absence is certain, neither George nor the Pacers need to feel they're in some kind of holding pattern until the real team comes together upon Granger's return. The Pacers are who they're going to be—at least for this season.

And ready or not, it's officially George's time to shine.