A collective gasp echoed through the state of Indiana when the Pacers lost All-Star Danny Granger for four to six weeks with torn right plantar fascia (that’s his foot). The team already wasn’t doing so well, having kicked off the season just 6-12 despite a spate of promising signings during the offseason.
How were they possibly going to cope without Granger, the team leader in minutes, points, and steals (and second best in rebounds)?
Well, so far so good. At least not much worse. In the nine games sans-Granger this season, the Indiana Pacers have compiled an unremarkable 3-6 record. Percentage-wise, the Pacers are actually doing as well with Granger as without him this season (both 0.33).
Are the Pacers a better team without Granger?
The numbers, at least on paper, suggest that the Pacers may be better off without Danny Granger. Contemplate this: in the last two seasons, Granger has missed a total of 24 games.
In those games, the Pacers scraped together a record of 12-12 (0.50), which would make them a 41 win team when converted to an 82 game season. Compare this to the record the Pacers had with Granger, which was 33-52 (0.39), making Granger's Pacers a 32 win team over 82 games.
But of course, it is wrong to jump to such conclusions. Looking at the numbers a little more closely, the only "good" team the Pacers beat in those 12 wins (across two seasons) without Granger was the Denver Nuggets.
With Granger in the lineup, on the other hand, the Pacers have beaten the likes of Celtics, Cavs, Lakers, Suns, Spurs, Magic, just to name a few.
The Pacers are no doubt a better team with Danny Granger. This was made abundantly obvious in the last four games.
Against the Grizzlies, the Pacers held a 5-point lead at the half, only to be pounded in the second half to lose by 13 points. Against the Spurs, the Pacers racked up a comfortable 13-point lead heading into the fourth, and ended up losing by one point.
Against the Bucks, the Pacers were up by seven at the half, but a series of mental mistakes down the stretch saw them go down by three at home. And against the Garnett-less Celtics, the Pacers were up by 15 at the half, only to lose by nine in the end.
These games illustrate that without Granger, the Pacers will always have trouble closing out games. They can’t beat good teams and even struggle against the average ones. No lead is safe. Without Granger, the Pacers lack that all important go-to guy, that consistent player to go to when a big basket is needed to break a run, a clutch defender to make that all-important stop.
How Granger’s injury can actually help the Pacers
In the long run, Granger’s injury could potentially benefit the Pacers. Granger’s stats this season have remained strong: 24.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg and 1.0 bpg. However, he has been hampered by a heel injury since opening night, which has limited both his mobility and explosiveness.
As a result, Granger has been shooting a career-low 0.410 from the field, including 0.356 from the three-point line (lowest since rookie season). Even his free-throw percentage of 0.823 is down from the last couple of seasons.
This latest foot injury will keep Granger out four to six weeks. It may take him a while after that to get back into the swing of things, but the time off will give his bothersome heel a much needed opportunity to recover. So hopefully, by the time Granger returns, he’ll be back to his even more impressive form of last season.
Granger’s absence may also help the rest of the team. Despite shooting a worse percentage than the Pacers’ next five top scorers (Murphy, Dunleavy, D Jones, Ford, and Hibbert), Granger had been taking an average of 18.6 shots per game, by far the most of any Pacers player. By contrast, Murphy takes 10.3 shots per game, Dunleavy 10.7, and D Jones 10.6.
It’s clear that the Pacers had been relying on Granger’s scoring ability too much. Even when he was playing far below his best, the Pacers were riding Granger more than they should have. The offense became too stagnant, too predictable, and there was too much standing around watching Granger force up bad shots.
These few weeks without Granger will be a terrific opportunity for the other Pacers to step up, gain some much needed confidence and build team chemistry. And looking at the numbers of their three next-best players, it appears they have and they are.
Mike Dunleavy, who has been rounding nicely into shape following a lengthy battle with a knee injury, averaged 12.2 ppg in the five games Granger also played. In the nine games without Granger, Dunleavy has averaged 14.1 ppg.
Troy Murphy, who suffered a back injury earlier in the season, has been even better without Granger. In the 11 games Murphy played with Granger, he averaged just 11.8 points. In the nine games without Granger, Murphy has averaged 17.9 ppg. More noticeably, Murphy has taken at least 12 shots in six of the last seven games. With Granger in the lineup, he only took that many shots just once all season.
Both Murphy and Dunleavy returned from injury, so perhaps this was just them getting stronger. But for TJ Ford, it’s clear he has stepped up. In 18 games with Granger, Ford averaged 9.6 ppg, including two scoreless games. In nine games without Granger, Ford has scored 11.3 ppg, even though he has come off the bench in the last few.
In the last seven games, Ford took at least 12 shots five times. In the 18 games he played with Granger, that only happened twice. Moreover, in close games against the Spurs and the Bucks, Ford was the guy that took the final shots that could have potentially won or tied the game.
Needless to say, he missed them all, but at least he was willing to take them!
Last season, when the Pacers lost Granger for 11 straight games between February and March, the rest of the Pacers came together to put up a respectable (for them) 6-5 record. When Granger returned, the Pacers finished strong with an 8-7 record for the remainder of the season, and almost came within reach of the playoffs. And remember, this was all without Mike Dunleavy.
The same thing can potentially happen this season. Guys like Murphy, Dunleavy and Ford will continue to get better and more confident. The Pacers will be more cohesive and play as a unit rather than a one-man team.
And when Danny Granger returns (which should be in early-mid January), he’ll be better than before. There will undoubtedly be an adjustment period, but it’s not going to be too hard for an All-Star to find his place in the mix quickly.
So don't despair, Pacers fans. Last season at the same juncture the Pacers were 10-17, only one game better than their current 9-18 record. While they are currently 13th in the East, the Pacers are actually only two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. There's hope yet.