Granger’s Absence (And Return) Make Pacers Even Stronger

Indiana Pacers v Toronto Raptors

The Pacers have benefited from Danny Granger’s return to the lineup. (Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

“Addition by subtraction” is a term used a lot in sports, typically to explain the less-is-more results when a name player is traded or lost to free agency, yet his former team does just fine or maybe even thrives in his absence.

Few teams better exemplified that than the Denver Nuggets after Carmelo Anthony forced his way to New York in February 2011; without their scoring star, the Nuggets fired back to go 95-53 (.642) over the next two seasons, their ensemble style tapping into basketball as art.

The Toronto Raptors are a terrific example of that right now, winning nine of 12 games since they traded leading scorer and obligatory first option, forward Rudy Gay, to Sacramento in December. Since Gay played his last game for the Raptors on Dec. 6, they are 9-3, beating Oklahoma City on the road, sweeping pairs of games from the Bulls and the Knicks, toppling the Indiana Pacers Wednesday at Air Canada Centre and rising to the top of the Atlantic Division.

A less obvious case, though, is happening in Indiana. Technically, the Pacers’ version might have to be labeled “addition by subtraction, plus addition” or maybe “addition by intermission,” since that effectively is what losing – and then regaining – Danny Granger appears to have meant to them.

Since Granger began his 2013-14 regular season on the Friday before Christmas, 25 games into Indiana’s schedule, the team’s second unit has been transformed, particularly in the second quarter. Here is a chart showing the Pacers’ drop in production from the first quarter to the second, basically when the starting lineup yields to substitutions (h/t to Tim Donahue):

20140102_ind_wogranger

Now here are the same categories with Granger coming off the bench the past half dozen games. Get a load of the turnaround in Net Rating from a minus-10.3 (with rounding) to a plus-17.3:

20140102_ind_wgranger

Granger, thus far, has come off the bench in all six appearances and, while working with about 22 minutes nightly, has logged more minutes (49) in the second quarter than any other, nearly 40 percent of his total.

Coach Frank Vogel and teammates raved about the veteran forward’s impact after just one game, the 33-point blowout of Houston in which Granger made only one of his seven field-goal attempts. But Vogel liked Granger’s size and presence on defense, he drew opponents’ attention at the other end and generally allowed what already had been a well-oiled machine to purr even more smoothly.

Granger himself – 8.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 33.3 percent shooting (and 7 of 20 from the arc) – isn’t where he wants to be yet. As he told the Indianapolis Star last week: “Just [getting] some consistency, that’s the hardest thing about any NBA season. Even when you’re healthy, it’s maintaining a consistent level of play throughout the whole season. You always have ups and downs, guys go through slumps, guys get hot. I’d just like to see a level of consistency.”

No surprise that’s still missing. Granger was gone a long time, essentially from the end of the Pacers’ 2012 playoff run until two weeks ago. He tried rest and rehab for his bum left knee, played five frustrating games last season, then shut it down for surgery and a fresh start. This fall, a calf strain pushed his return back another two months.

Meanwhile, an odd thing was happening with the Pacers. While there were certain nights on which they missed their one-time All-Star forward, his shooting range and his familiarity in late-game situations, they didn’t sag overall. Indiana went 45-31 in the games Granger missed last season, then pushed all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. Paul George‘s game took a giant step up to All-Star stature. Lance Stephenson emerged, developing from mercurial bench guy to irrepressible starter at shooting guard.

Even as recently as November, as folks projected Granger’s return, there was too much talk about restoring him to his “rightful” spot in the starting lineup and not nearly enough about the ain’t-broke, don’t-fix evolution of the Pacers in their current permutation.

There was, there is, no need to serve Granger’s ego by overhauling the rotation. Vogel can adjust game by game, dialing up more Granger and less someone else based on matchups and scoreboard.

“I think our starting unit is where it’s going to be,” George said after Granger’s debut two weeks ago, “and I think our bench unit – if the playoffs were to start [now], I think this is what our rotations would be. … I’m loving what I see.”

None of this happens, perhaps, without Granger getting – and largely, staying – hurt. If he had been in and out of the lineup last season, even in sub-par form, maybe George doesn’t embrace the responsibilities thrust on him by Vogel and the task at hand. Maybe Stephenson chafes in reserve or tries to do too much when he does get court time. Maybe bosses Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh don’t upgrade the bench quite as much, getting Luis Scola and C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. And so on.

But by experiencing and more-than-surviving a large enough taste of life without Granger – 76 games last season, 25 more this season – the Pacers were able to redefine, realign and reinvent themselves. Granger, who will turn 31 in April, has nothing to prove individually at this point – other than how smartly he can blend his talents into what Indiana already has rolling. None of his teammates has to apologize for their minutes or enhanced roles.

The Pacers are different but better than they were before Granger’s injuries, a rarity of the sort teams such as the Lakers (Kobe Bryant) and the Bulls (Derrick Rose) can only dream. All thanks to addition by intermission.

21 Comments

  1. jdub455 says:

    no matter what… Miami still will get the 3-peat!!!

  2. Kamote says:

    I don’t see the issue why Granger has to be traded. First, He doesn’t need to be the franchise player to any other team due to his prior injuries, unless he wants to play with scrub teams (like what is happening to Gay right now). Second, at 31, he’d rather be in a position where he can win the crown. He won’t be a good fit for Miami and OKC since they have LBJ and KD, you have to play first for at least a year to fit in San Antonio, LAL and Chi are now at a mess, NY and Brooklyn are worse. I guess he’d best fit with LAC and Memphis, but he can’t just barge in have these teams have the patience to wait for him. Indiana though can afford to play him slowly and let him get his groove for the playoffs. Indiana gives him the best opportunity to win a crown while waiting for him to be relevant again. 6th men do often get starter minutes, they just have to earn them. I don’t think it wouldn’t be a problem for Granger to get some of Lance’s minutes once he gets into form, even if he comes off the bench.

  3. wakeup says:

    If Granger plays smart and consistent and doesnt mess with chemistry he will make the Pacers good enough to win the championship

  4. Lakers-Warriors-Suns says:

    The Pacers are the team to beat, end of discussion.

  5. rich says:

    The Brooklyn Nets will win the East Conference Championship !

  6. Matt Lee says:

    Granger should come off the bench, become a sixth man, hit some threes and let Paul George dictate the floor. As Paul George’s role become more and more important, Danny Granger basically exchanged roles with him over the past 2 years. If Granger continues to contribute well, the Pacers have a shot at the championship, as they improved much of what they didn’t have last season: a bench.

  7. Mr. Basketball Kobe Bryant says:

    Indiana is the team to beat this year and theres no question about. You just have to be blind not to see it. Sadly there are people who doesnt see the games only the highlights in espn and comment like they do. Those arent real basketball fans! Indiana should win the east if they continue playing like they have. Say Hi to Greg Oden! See U in the Bahamas…. again!

  8. CLIPPER_BOY says:

    Im digging the line up with granger off the bench. Maybe he can become valuable in the 4th.

  9. dru says:

    Danger Granger!!!!

    Indiana Pacers are back and we WILL win that ring this year!!

    LET’S GO PACERS @!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Alex says:

    Comments implying the article is saying they should trade Granger are short sided. Steve is simply saying Granger has made Indiana’s bench that much stronger, and that Granger should continue to come off the bench to put his team in optimal position to win or not play for them at all because they are rolling. The rotation of Indiana as it stands now is sound, and there is no need to shake things up as long as Granger can accept a 6th man role, which I hope he does. Not only does it give them one of the deepest benches alongside one of the deepest starting lineups, but it awards them a lot of flexibility when it comes to matchups.

    With Granger on board, but as a bench player with significant minutes and not a starter, Indiana is a matchup disaster for just about any team in the league. They can effectively shut, or at least slow, down just about anyone at any position, limit minutes even in the playoffs, and this year still put up a decent amount of points. I like their chances in the East so long as they continue to play poised, George continues to thrive, and Granger can accept this new role they’ll hopefully keep him in. So far, he doesn’t seem unhappy and I hope he realizes the kind of chances they have should he become that leader off the bench.

  11. benjie says:

    Pacer are not as good as miami not even close.They are there but not until miami dominates the league they have to settle for the second best.The centre hibbert is a problem. If he wants to play 30+ minutes stop fouling unnecessary personal foul.
    He doesn’t know how to play his minutes.There are some drive to a basket that you have to let go.But because you like to be a rim protector then you’ll sit in the playoffs all the time if miami meet you in the eastern finals.Because wade and james will always attack the basket.And since your the only threat they will foul you out.

    • Rams - Philippines says:

      really?? how many games did you watch the Pacers??

    • Dieter says:

      Wow, not a big fan of the Pacers? The Pacers took a bigger step forward than the Heat, so I really don’t think you’re correct in saying not as good and not even close. If the Pacers can stay healthy I think they will beat the Heat this year. They improved so much, a better bench, the improvement of Stephenson and getting Granger back… If Ray Allen doesn’t step up in the Playoffs, and give the Heat some wins in the final minutes, than I can’t see how the Heat is going to beat the Pacers 4 times.

      • HeatFanSinceWade says:

        @Dieter, How many championships do the Pacers have? LOL until you beat the World Champions you are not the best team period! Why can’t stupid Pacer Fans understand that, its common sense. Miami is the best team until they get beat! So all the talking about what you Pacer fans think doesnt matter, all that matters is The Heat have won back to back and are about to go for the 3peat.

      • Justin says:

        Well at least their not Lebron James falls down at random times I front of people. And Lebron is a ball hog and all the heat have is bosh wade and James. And pacers have granger, George, stepson, Hibbert, and Miami isn’t even that good this year and the only have three people pacers have a bunch.

  12. NBAFan says:

    Doesnt matter..with or without Granger…Pacers will eventually lose east finals with Miami. Not an Indiana Pacers hater but this is truth.

  13. 11 says:

    Is that now the new excuse why they will no longer be number 1 in the east? I love the way pacer got schooled yesterday by the Raptors.. LOL

    • PacerNation14 says:

      Almost as much as I have enjoyed watching Toronto school OKC or as much as watching Philli AND Sacramento school the heat. It happens its an 82 game schedule Bill Nye.

  14. Pre-Lebron Heat Fan says:

    I think they will end up trading him (and should) if he is messing their line up. As the writer says, the Pacers have a good second unit going and Granger is now in the way of that. It’s really sad to see an All-Star become like that but it is a sad reality. If he can’t work with Paul George and they can’t become a good duo when Granger can go back to being a starter (what he is meant to be) then he should want to leave himself. Maybe go to a Bulls team (which is not the best idea but I see it working) as they need talent. Although that franchise has a bad history with injuries but who cares. Granger will psychologically make his team play worse as their chemistry will be interfered with his mere presence!

    • blazeraid says:

      You misread, Granger has made the second unit much better since his return, thats why the writer put in the change from a -10.3 net rating to a positive 17.3

      The writer even said there was a drop off in production in the second quarter until Grangers return.
      Did you read the article at all? Granger shouldn’t be a starter again for this team. He is going to remain a 6th man with a good role, and could even find himself finishing games in the fourth, but the theme of this article was that the Pacers shouldn’t change their lineup like you imply.

  15. Icko says:

    PG24 game dropped since the return of Danny. Anyone else had noticed this?