Could Danny Granger Return Help Put Indiana Pacers over the Top?

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Could Danny Granger Return Help Put Indiana Pacers over the Top?
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

He's almost back.

No, not Kobe Bryant; he's already back. Not Rajon Rondo, either. Danny Granger, the oft-injured Indiana Pacers forwardhe's almost back.

Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears reports that Granger, who has yet to play this season, is on the cusp of returning:

Finally.

Injuries limited Granger to just five games last year, and he suffered a strained left calf during the preseason, preventing him from making a long-awaited return. But according to The Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner, Granger practiced last week for the first time since late October.

"I feel good," Granger said afterward. "I was running, sprinting, playing live for about an hour, so I felt really good."

The better he feels, the better he'll play. And the better he plays, the scarier Indiana becomes.

 

Scoring Punch

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Long before Paul George received his max contract and Lance Stephenson started registering Andre Iguodala-type stat lines, Granger was Indiana's No. 1 scoring option.

Remember that? You might not. It seems so long ago that George wasn't a top-10 star, after all. But that's how it was, and though it will never be like that again, Granger's offensive potential remains a valued commodity.

Not even two years ago, Granger closed out the 2011-12 campaign dropping 18.7 points a night. Before that, he averaged at least 20 points per game for three consecutive seasons, one of which (2008-09) included an All-Star selection.

For all the things the Pacers do right, consistently lighting up the scoreboard isn't one of them. They currently rank 13th in offensive efficiency, a vast improvement over last year's 19th-place finish, but still middling.

Powerhouses need reliable attacks on both ends of the floor if they wish to continue lording over everyone else. Look at the Miami Heat, who rank in the top six of both offensive and defensive efficiency. Or the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are in the top seven of each. Or the San Antonio Spurs, who presently rank in the top 10 of both.

Indy has the best record in the league, better than all the teams we just mentioned. But they've also had the fourth-easiest schedule of anyone, too. It's about sustainability at this point. In order to remain at the top, the Pacers must be a recurring force on both ends of the floor.

Granger, when healthy, provides relief in their weakest area. George is the only Pacer presently averaging more than 13 points a night, a troubling notion that Granger can change. 

A collective defect Granger can transform into a strength.

 

Feared Depth

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Pacers took great lengths to deepen their bench this season, and thus far, it hasn't worked out.

Indy's second unit ranks 26th in scoring, up only three spots from last season. Not a single bench player is scoring in double-figures either, increasing the burden coach Frank Vogel must place upon his starters.

Imagine Granger, who is averaging just over 18 points per game for his career, returning as a sixth man. Think of what that would do for the Pacers. They suddenly have a go-to option when George isn't on the floor, someone who can actually lead the second-unit's charge.

This is all assuming Granger will remain a reserve, which he should. On the off chance Vogel sees a need for playmaking off the bench and inserts Granger into the starting lineup for Stephenson, the ripple effects remain the same.

Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Granger can be the bench scorer Indy desperately needs.

The Pacers are certainly deeper on the bench with Stephenson as well, not to mention there's still one extra player to assign minutes. That's beyond important. 

Vogel has done a nice job divvying up the playing time, ensuring no one sees more than 36.5 minutes of action every night (George). But each member of the starting five is logging more than 30, most notably the 33-year-old David West, who has struggled to match his output from last season.

Age happens. Get used it. West will always play with the same fire, but having an extra body keeps him fresh for the playoffs. Think Dwyane Wade, only not as tragic.

Granger, while not a traditional power forward, can be used as a stretch 4. That's an option the Pacers will now have, one that allows them to matchup with smaller, faster units when the situation calls for it. 

Running smaller is something they've actually already started to do as well, so it's not like this represents a stark systematic change. See for yourself:

Via Synergy.
Via Synergy.

Spreading the floor leaves space for Granger, Stephenson and George to create their own shots, while allowing the Pacers to embrace their three-point touch. They rank in the top 12 of long-ball conversion rates (36.3), another aspect of the game Granger, a career 38.3 percent three-point shooter, can help improve.

More options. More depth. Granger gives the Pacers both.

 

For the Best

Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

That sound you hear is most of the Eastern Conference's teams running for their lives. 

Adding Granger to the fold will be an adjustment for everyone. The Pacers run better than a well-oiled machine, boasting levels of chemistry most opponents should fawn over. But that doesn't mean Granger's return is a bad thing. 

Once the Pacers get past the initial shock and disorder that comes with integrating a prominent new piece, this could be a great thing.

If healthy, will Granger make the Pacers better or worse?

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In his heyday, Granger was an offensive draw who could play above or below the rim. Who could put points on the board in a hurry. 

Aside from George, Indiana doesn't have that now. Nor does it have enough depth in general.

The Pacers need someone to balance their two-way attack. Someone who won't kill them defensively. Someone whose offensive chops give them a legitimate No. 2 scorer. 

Someone like Granger, who, if healthy, can push the surging Pacers toward unflappable dominance.

 

*All stats from this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Dec. 10, 2013 unless otherwise noted.

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