Danny Granger shouldn't look this comfortable. Not this quickly.
An acclimation period wasn't just expected, it seemed like a best-case scenario.
Plagued by nagging knee pain, the former All-Star had gone from being the face of the Pacers to a part-time player (21.4 minutes since the start of last season) and even more infrequent contributor (7.9 points on 34.9 percent shooting over that stretch). A midseason swap sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers, and his subsequent buyout moved him out the waiver wire.
The Clippers took out a free-agent flier on him, knowing even that could prove too costly an investment. On one hand, they were buying low on a player not two full seasons removed from an 18.7-points-per-game scoring average. On the other, they were paying for damaged goods with no guarantee things would get any better.
But things have gotten better. The Clippers have already seen a return on their bargain-bin investment.
Granger has been a difference-making reserve almost from the moment he slipped on his new NBA threads. After a scoreless, forgettable four-minute debut, he reeled off an efficient 10 points (on 50 percent shooting) in 18 minutes his next time out against his new intracity rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers did what he could to keep optimistic fans from reading too much into the numbers.
"You could tell, even though he played really well in the second half, it's going to be a rhythm thing," Rivers said, via FOX Sports' Michael Martinez. "It's going to take a while. ... I don't think you take two years off, then play sparingly and then just walk in our league and play well."
It was preemptive protection, a savvy move that looked all the wiser when Granger managed seven points on seven field-goal attempts.
Yet, that patience talk started losing steam as Granger made it clear he needed none of it. He poured in 14 points on 45 percent shooting in his next game, then turned back the clock with an efficient, productive 18-point, six-rebound performance:
Tonight was Danny Granger's highest-scoring game (18 points) since April 19th, 2012.— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) March 13, 2014
Even Rivers had a hard time hiding his excitement.
"He’s just coming. He’s getting better and better," the coach said after Granger's 14-point effort, via Eric Patten of Clippers.com. "You can see his feet are starting to move a little bit. He can shoot the ball, so that’s really helped. He can put the ball on the floor a little bit."
He can play like the Granger of old—not the old, worn-down Granger.
The only thing containing his stat sheet right now is his playing time.
He's cleared 20 minutes only three times, and never topped 25, through his first 10 games in L.A. With one eye fixated on the postseason, the Clippers don't want to push him too hard, too quickly. Granger has also battled foul trouble (3.9 per 36 minutes), the most obvious sign of the rust that remains.
Whenever that leash is loosened, he seems like he'll be ready for the expanded workload. His per-36-minute marks (20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists) aren't that far off from his per-game averages during his All-Star season of 2008-09 (25.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists).
He might not look exactly like he did in his prime, but he looks a lot closer to that player than the one who struggled just to see the floor over the past season-plus:
@CandaceDBuckner Definitely seems that way.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) March 13, 2014
But don't take my word for it.
Not when there's video evidence to validate that claim.
The Clippers didn't just give Granger a roster spot, they offered him a chance to get his career back on track.
For as much as the basketball gods have frustrated with injuries this season, they seem to have a soft spot for these redemption stories.
Rudy Gay was an inefficient wreck when he left the Toronto Raptors. Now, his 20.5 player efficiency rating in 46 games with the Sacramento Kings checks out higher than All-Stars John Wall (20.1) and Joakim Noah (20.2).
Monta Ellis has all but cleansed himself of the damage done during his one-plus season stay with the Milwaukee Bucks. His field-goal percentage has climbed four points from last season (45.6, up from 41.6), his three-point mark has seen almost the same increase (32.2, up from 28.7) and he's emerged as a sensational sidekick for Dirk Nowitzki on a dangerous Dallas Mavericks team.
DeAndre Jordan went from Vinny Del Negro's doghouse to holding top-five rankings in rebounds (13.7 per game, first) and blocks (2.4, third). Jodie Meeks traded empty stats (8.0 points on 40.4 percent shooting his first four seasons) for efficiency (15.3, 45.4). Miles Plumlee went from forgotten (0.9 points in 3.9 minutes per game as a rookie last season) to featured (8.3 points, 25.1 minutes).
Granger's fall was longer and harder than any of these players. He fell from a higher post and had more physical obstacles to clear on his road to redemption.
But he knows where he's been, where he wants to go and what he needs to do to get there.
"It's nice that he came from a serious organization and a serious team," Rivers said, via SB Nation's Mike Jaglin. "I know that sounds crazy, but I think that's good because he came in serious."
That's why Granger has found comfort that shouldn't be available to him and why it's easy to believe in the lasting power of this reclamation project after only 10 games.
The Clippers rolled the dice on him as a potential contributor, and he gambled on them as full-fledged championship contenders.
Both are counting their riches now. Both are rewriting their basketball stories, with a possible ending in sight sweeter than anything they've ever experienced.