Although Danny Granger has only played a mere five games this season, and the Indiana Pacers have compiled the second-best record in the Eastern Conference without him, his presence on the court during playoff time will be sorely missed.
First and foremost, let's not forget that Granger has been the best player on the team for the previous five seasons, and he has been a major reason why the Pacers made the playoffs for the past two years.
The Associated Press (via ESPN) has recently reported that Granger will undergo season-ending surgery on his left knee, which has been giving him trouble for the entire season.
In the five games he's played this season, he's registered just 5.4 points per game in 15 minutes per game and a terrible 4.0 PER (per Basketball Reference). He wasn't expected to immediately contribute at a high level in his first few games back, but now we won't even see him back for the rest of the season and the entire playoff campaign.
Granger's absence will unquestionably hurt the already offensively limited group of players. A healthy Granger could mean the difference between the Pacers competing to reach the Eastern Conference Finals and competing for a championship.
Paul George Hasn't Proven Anything Yet
George's improvement has been one of the major stories in the NBA. One of the reasons why he's been developing so quickly is because of his increased minutes, primarily because of Granger sitting on the sidelines throughout the season.
He's been having a remarkable regular season, posting career highs in every statistical category except field-goal percentage, but he has yet to prove that he can perform on the big stage.
In George's previous two playoff appearances, his performances plummeted way below his regular-season averages. His career playoff averages come out to be 8.6 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game on a mediocre 36.7 shooting from the field.
Is he ready to step up and lead this team to a long, successful playoff run? It's not certain, but time will tell. Even if George performs admirably, he will need a proven scorer like Granger to relieve the pressure off of himself.
Offensive and Defensive Efficiency
Last season, the Pacers were ranked eighth in offensive efficiency (per Hollinger's team stats) with Granger in the lineup for 62 of the 66 games. Their offense has improved as this season progressed, but they are still ranked 18th in the league in offensive efficiency without Granger.
The Pacers have the same core of players as last season, so it just goes to show how important Granger was to their offense.
Playoff games are typically more half-court oriented, and the Pacers play at one of the slowest paces in the league. Granger is a player who's capable of creating his own shot, drawing a foul and shooting the ball as well as anybody, so it's a luxury to have someone like that on the team.
Additionally, Granger is one of the most underrated defenders at his position. In the 2011-12 season, he held opposing small forwards to a PER of just 12.7 (per 82games.com). His scoring ability is his strong suit, but his exceptional individual defense over the past few years has been overshadowed by the Pacers' stellar team defense.
Even though the Pacers will still have David West to guide them through the tough playoff stretch, it doesn't hurt to have Granger supporting a group of young players who have very little playoff experience.
Granger could still provide emotional support from the sidelines, but he won't be on the floor to lead his team.
People tend to forget that Granger has been the face of the franchise for the past five years, and is a player who stayed with the team through the difficult post-brawl era.
Now that it's been announced he's done for the rest of the season, the road to a championship isn't looking any brighter.