Danny Granger grew up in a modest-sized household – parents, an older sister, a younger brother – in a rough patch down in Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. But Danny Granger, Sr. came from a big crew, nine brothers and sisters. His son, the Indiana Pacers’ forward, has “about 30 cousins.” And when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, a whole bunch of them left devastated homes to move into the NBA rookie’s home up in Indianapolis.
So Granger knows a thing or two about fitting in. Despite his status as the family’s most famous member – beyond several square blocks of Metairie, anyway, where Danny Sr.’s tough-love reputation still resonates – Granger gets it that it isn’t always about him. Which should serve him well now.
The Pacers are in full sprint, nearly three-quarters of the way through the 2012-13 schedule. Having won 10 of their last 12 heading into Thursday night’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers (7 ET, League Pass), with a 24-5 record at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they are gaining on the Eastern Conference. They’ve got a breakthrough All-Star in Paul George, a starting lineup second to none, a brash coach in Frank Vogel daring them along and no fear of the Miami Heat, based on the teams’ six-game conference semifinals series last May and a 2-0 mark head-to-head this season.
Enter Granger, the Pacers’ five-time leading scorer and one of their leaders, period, over his first seven seasons in the league. That took a little time – Granger arrived just as Reggie Miller was exiting – but he became Indiana’s shot-taker and shot-maker, the closest thing they had to a go-to guy and a voice among them on and off the floor.
This is going to take time, too. Granger is back after essentially nine months away from the game, at least by NBA standards. Until the weekend in Detroit, he hadn’t played since that Heat series, hobbled by patellar tendinitis in his left knee.
In two games, Granger has been shackled by a minutes limit (20 per game) and hampered by adjustments to the pace, the flow, various tweaks in Indiana’s game in his absence and, of course, rust. “There’s a lot of rust, too,” he said with a slight laugh in a telephone interview Wednesday.
In Indianapolis terms, Granger is just now rolling from the garage onto the Brickyard, about 150 fast, frenzied laps into the race. He’s thinking, “Gentleman, start your engine!” and rolling under a yellow flag while his teammates and their opponents already are rushing toward the checkered one.
Things, as you would expect, are a little out of sync.
“I’m about maybe 60-65 percent of where I need to be,” Granger said. “Part of my rehab process was going to be practicing, and we don’t really practice at this stage of the season. The issue I’m still dealing with, with my knee, is my tendon has to adjust to new stresses. But we don’t really have ‘practices’ now, so we have to do it in games. This is literally my rehab.” (more…)
With the trading deadline just a week away, the Indiana Pacers are poised for a major acquisition. They are about to add a former All-Star and proven NBA scorer, a seven-year veteran, in his prime (age 29), who has averaged 21.6 points and shot 39 percent from 3-point range over the past five seasons. Oh, and they won’t be giving up a thing fo him – not a rotation player, not a scrub, not a draft pick, not a potted plant.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
His name is Danny Granger.
Oh, you might be thinking. So there are some asterisks attached after all.
That is the concern, anyway, among the half-empty folks who have questions as Granger returns to action for Indiana after missing everything to this point left knee injury.
There are questions, naturally, about the level of Granger’s fitness as he hurries to play catch-up this season, about the durability of his bum knee and the amount of rust he’ll tote onto the court with him. Some people are bogged down in the micro stuff, as in “Will he play Wednesday night to make good on the Pacers’ desire to use him a little before the All-Star break? Or will they hold off after all, buying him and them another week before the Knicks visit Indianapolis on Feb. 20?”
Others opt for the macro worries, along these lines: Granger exited, when his layoff began in the fall, as Indiana’s leading scorer and primary shot-taker and maker. He has averaged 16.6 field-goal attempts since 2007-08 and he is used to being the Pacers’ “big dog.” Only now, there’s a new dog in the yard.
Paul George is Indiana’s All-Star rep this weekend and has blown up in his third season. The Scottie Pippen comparisons are starting to look more legit than silly at this point. He has 15 double-doubles and the team is 13-6 when he leads it in scoring. Oh, and George just happens to play Granger’s position.
George shifting to small forward in his injured mate’s absence has been a good thing, too, for Lance Stephenson, a strong shooting guard with raw but considerable skills (averaging 13.4 points on 50 percent shooting the past eight games). So the fear is that Granger’s return – at least than 100 percent initially, certainly – will disrupt the overall pecking order, shift George into the backcourt for some unforeseeable change in performance and stick Stephenson back in the cupboard.
That’s your half-empty perspective, anyway.
The half-full outlook is that the Pacers will instantly get deeper, and bench play has been a problem at times. They will add, in Granger, a shooter with range who can help open lanes and unclog the middle – which can only help power forward David West (who doesn’t need much help) and center Roy Hibbert (who most certainly does). They will add a veteran presence in the locker room and on the floor, not just another guy in a suit. And Stephenson has shown enough to help off the bench as a rotation guy, rather than the project he had been.
And let’s be honest, this is Danny Granger, not Carmelo Anthony – he doesn’t bring nearly the ego that would necessarily disrupt a team and, this being Indy vs. Manhattan, there’d be less wailing all around anyway. Granger could even be shifted to the bench.
So whether it happens tonight against Charlotte or next week against New York – really a small detail – Indiana is going to be better off, not worse, both short term and long.
Shaq is back after a week off to once again chronicle some of the absurd moments in the NBA. This week, Shaq zeroes in on Lance Stephenson, Greg Smith, Blake Griffin,Amir Johnson and Kendrick Perkins. And sad news for his legion of fans, but no JaVale this week. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
Even Perkins had to admit he deserved a spot this week …
That shaqin a fool was so funny, I look like a bone head Lmao— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) January 11, 2013
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Points, rebounds and assists are nice, but plus-minus is the most important stat in basketball.
You win games by outscoring your opponent, and plus-minus reflects how much a team has done that in a player’s minutes on the floor. If you’re not scoring points yourself, you can help your teammates score and also prevent your opponent from doing so.
But in basketball, with nine other guys on the floor affecting what each player does, plus-minus always needs context, and lots of it. Who is a guy playing his minutes with? Who is he not playing his minutes with?
Furthermore, sample size is important. Single-game plus-minus can help tell a story about key sequences or the impact of a player or two on a particular night. But if you really want to get a good idea of how a team performs when a player or group of players is on the floor, you’ve got to look at a large chunk of games.
At this point in the season, we can get a pretty good idea of where teams are strong and weak. Through Wednesday, 224 players have logged at least 500 minutes for one team this season. And when you measure how efficient their team’s offense has been with them on or off the floor, you come across some interesting numbers.
Damian Lillard is the real deal, but he isn’t the best offensive player in the league. Still, the offensive drop-off that the Portland Trail Blazers have suffered when Lillard has stepped off the floor has been greater than the drop-off that any other team has suffered when a specific player goes to the bench.
Measuring the difference in a team’s offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) when a player is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor, here are the league’s five biggest difference makers, as well as one at the bottom of the list.
For all of them, the discrepancy between their team’s offensive numbers with them on and off the floor is as much about the guys replacing them as it is about what they’re doing themselves.
1. Damian Lillard, POR
4. LaMarcus Aldridge, POR
Breaking news: The Portland Trail Blazers have an awful, awful bench. Their starting lineup is good offensively, but not great, scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions. They have lineups with three or four starters on the floor that are better. But they have no suitable back-ups for either Lillard or Aldridge. When both have been off the floor (just 127 minutes), Portland has scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions.
Smartly, Terry Stotts has staggered his starters’ minutes pretty well. Of the Blazers’ 13 most-used lineups, 12 include at least three starters. Out of necessity, three Blazers (Nicolas Batum, Lillard and Aldridge) rank in the top 15 in minutes per game.
2. Lance Stephenson, IND
Speaking of bad benches, Stephenson’s differential is more about how awful the Pacers’ bench is than how well he’s played. But “Born Ready” has certainly improved in his third season and the Pacers’ starting lineup has been ridiculously better offensively with Stephenson at the two (109.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than with Gerald Green there (95.8).
The biggest offensive difference between Stephenson’s time on the floor and his time on the bench is turnover rate. Stephenson commits less turnovers than Green, but he also plays most of his minutes with George Hill, who takes care of the ball as well as any point guard in the league.
3. Kobe Bryant, LAL
It’s pretty simple: Bryant is a great player and Jodie Meeks is not. And at 34 years old, Bryant is getting into the paint more than he has since Shaq was his teammate. He’s also playing almost 39 minutes per game. Either way, defense is a bigger issue for the Lakers.
What’s interesting is that Metta World Peace is actually eighth on this list at +10.9 and No. 1 in on-off-court differential (+20.1) when you combine both offensive and defensive impact. World Peace has benefited from playing most of his minutes with Bryant, but the Lakers have been fine offensively (103.4) and excellent defensively (95.5) in the 150 minutes that World Peace has played with Bryant on the bench.
Overall, despite their 15-16 record, the Lakers have the eighth-best point differential in the league, because they’ve won a handful of blowouts.
5. Joe Johnson, BKN
There’s a reason Johnson is tied for the league lead in total minutes with Kevin Durant. The Nets have staggered Deron Williams‘ minutes with Johnson’s as much as they can, but Williams hasn’t been able to carry the bench nearly as well as Johnson has. In fact, the Nets have been outscored by an awful 15.6 points per 100 possessions in Williams’ 197 minutes without Johnson on the floor. In contrast, Brooklyn is a +8.2 per 100 possessions in Johnson’s 293 minutes without Williams on the floor.
MarShon Brooks was supposed to be the guy who spells Johnson, but he’s barely played. And when he has, he’s been a ball-stopping disappointment.
The Nets have also been 4.0 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Johnson on the floor than with him on the bench, so don’t point the finger at iso-Joe for the Nets’ struggles, but do worry how he’ll hold up playing so many minutes at the age of 31, with three more years on his contract after this one.
223. Greg Monroe, DET
At the bottom of the list is the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi (-14.7), but we addressed Indiana’s bench issues above. What’s much more interesting is Monroe’s place just above Mahinmi. Monroe has been one of the only bright spots in Detroit recently and further development could have turned him into an All-Star this year.
Monroe’s shooting numbers are down from his first two seasons, but his on and off-court numbers are mostly about the Pistons having two entirely different lineups. The Pistons’ starters are a defensive unit and just not very good offensively. Point guard Brandon Knight is still early in his development. Wings Kyle Singler and Tayshaun Prince aren’t guys that can create shots for themselves or others, and power forward Jason Maxiell has limited range.
The Pistons’ bench, on the other hand, is a group of gunners, led by point guards Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey, that plays free and loose. It’s a complete contrast in styles. The Detroit starters play like the Pacers and the bench plays like the Rockets.
Furthermore, rookie Andre Drummond has been an athletic and energetic revelation. And only 127 of Drummond’s 664 minutes have been played with Monroe.
No one ever told Frank Vogel this NBA head coaching stuff would be easy. But he could have been forgiven had he started to think that way, given the arc of his first 22 months on the job.
Vogel landed the job on Jan. 30, 2011 when he took over for fired Jim O’Brien. He steered a team that had played 10 games under .500 to a 20-18 finish and a playoff berth, and that – coupled with the Pacers’ feistiness in their first-round series against Chicago – shook the “interim” tag loose from in front of his title.
Last season, Indiana won 16 of its first 22 games, chased the Bulls in the Central Division with a 42-24 mark and put a scare into the eventual champs from Miami by grabbing a 2-1 lead and homecourt advantage in the second round.
Everything seemed to be onward and upward again this season after the Pacers re-signed free agent center Roy Hibbert, committed to George Hill as starting point guard, brought back talent czar Donnie Walsh and added pieces they valued such as D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi and Gerald Green.
What has followed, though, has been the first hiccup of the Vogel era. Indiana sputtered to a 3-6 start. At the season’s quarter pole, things have perked up somewhat, but 10-10 still is well below expectations. The Pacers hardly have seized control of the weak NBA Central.
“We’re trying to get a feel,” forward David West said the other night on a stop in Chicago. “We’re trying to pick up wins and put together complete games. We’re just going through the everyday ups-and-downs of the NBA season. Y’know we believe in what we have.”
The defense has been strong – Indiana ranks first in defensive field-goal percentage (40.9) and second in defensive rating (99.6) – but then, it has needed to be considering the Pacers’ offense. They are shooting just 41.5 percent with an offensive rating of 99.1 (both stats rank 28th). They’re not getting to the foul line much and turnovers have been a problem.
Yes, Indiana misses forward Danny Granger, its most potent scorer who is in the midst of a three-month layoff (left knee injury). And it has played 12 road games already, seven of its setbacks coming away from Indy.
But it’s been more than that. Augustin – averaging just 3.2 points and 2.4 assists – has been low impact, generating low confidence from Vogel or teammates and not nearly the dream backup imagined when the club jettisoned Darren Collison. The whole bench has been disappointing, as in the 92-89 loss to Denver Friday. The Pacers subs managed just 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists in nearly 71 combined minutes.
Tyler Hansbrough‘s scoring is down, beyond his dip in minutes. Ditto for Green, sputtering to play within Vogel’s system in ways he didn’t last season in his NBA return with the Nets. Mahinmi has been fine in relief of Hibbert, but Pacers fans bemoan the loss not just of Collison but of A.J. Price, with some lobbying for rookie Ben Hansbrough to get a shot at Augustin’s role.
Among the starters, West has been close to his former All-Star form, but Hibbert, Paul George and Lance Stephenson have been inconsistent.
Then there is Vogel, who has kept a calm about him but hasn’t been shy about changing up plenty during these doldrums. Defensively, he doesn’t ask Hibbert to show as much on pick and rolls, content to keep him as a paint factor. The Pacers have tried to pick up their pace, too, and to get away from iso plays for Hibbert, West or others; with Granger and his shooting out, defenses are more effective sagging or digging in such situations.
“Dramatic shift in philosophy,” Vogel called it. “A work in progress.”
The key for the Pacers is to keep seeing progress while, in themselves or in their head coach, not seeing too much stress. The education continues Sunday in Oklahoma City.
ORLANDO — For a player whose nickname in high school was Born Ready, Lance Stephenson has been anything but in two seasons with the Pacers.
So now entering what could be a make-or-break (non-guaranteed contract) year, Stephenson is back at the Air Tran Orlando Pro Summer League to prove that he should stick around and made a statement with 28 points and seven assists in a win over the Thunder.
“I’m here to do anything I can to get better as a player and help my team,” Stephenson said. “I’m working on pick-and-rolls, coming off and hitting my jump shot and trying to get my teammates involved.
“What the coaches have told me is they want me to be more like a point guard, be a leader and take control of situations.”
INDIANAPOLIS – Retaliation comes at a price, and the true cost for the Heat will be totaled up by late Thursday.
Miami will be without Udonis Haslem, whose foul on Tyler Hansbrough was upgraded to level two and the league office tacked on a one-game suspension to boot. Hansbrough wasn’t suspended for his hard foul moments earlier on DwyaneWade, and truthfully, the league didn’t see any malice by the Pacer forward. But Haslem’s hit was clearly a payback, and the intent, therefore, was judged just as damaging than the actual foul.
That’s why Dexter Pittman was suspended (three games, and he probably got off light) for clubbing Lance Stephenson and then winking about it. As if the vicious foul wasn’t enough, Pittman went after Stephenson because the Pacer reserve gave the choke signal to LeBron James. Once again, the intent, as well as the foul, carried equal weight.
Because Pittman is a benchwarmer who seldom sees any light anyway, the loss of Haslem is where Miami could feel a pinch. Coincidently, Game 6 is at Bankers Life, where Haslem dropped four critical jumpers late in the fourth quarter of Game 4, which tilted the series in Miami’s favor. Since the Heat’s supporting cast isn’t especially deep, and because Haslem has scored 24 points the last two games, this could be a price that proves too difficult to overcome, unless someone else steps forward for Miami.
INDIANAPOLIS – Udonis Haslem won’t be playing in Game 6 of the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers playoff series Thursday night. Tyler Hansbrough will be. And Dexter Pittman … c’mon, does Dexter Pittman’s availability really matter?
The afternoon-after officiating of the flagrant-foul frenzy in Game 5 probably got it right: Haslem, Hansbrough and Pittman all had their flagrant-1 fouls upgraded to flagrant-2 violations, but Haslem (one game) and Pittman (three games) also were handed suspensions for striking the head and shoulders of their intended Indiana targets.
Haslem must sit out Game 6 without pay for his two-armed chop on Hansbrough, which came less than a minute after the Pacers forward put a hard foul on Miami’s Dwyane Wade. Wade got hit in the head and shoulders, too, but in the view of Stu Jackson, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, that was a foul that fit within the context of basketball. Who hasn’t seen Wade, after all, get up some acrobatic continuation shot that dropped after a defender fouled and let him go?
Haslem’s and Pittsman’s moves, in real time, in replays and in context, were retaliatory moves. That wasn’t included in the league’s news release on their suspensions, but it was evident to anyone in the building or watching the game. Haslem “had” Wade’s back and Pittman apparently decided to do for LeBron James what Juwan Howard had only yapped about. Lance Stephenson, remember, was the Pacers’ deep reserve who made a choke gesture courtside when James missed a free throw in Game 3.
The Heat won’t be happy about losing Haslem, who has given them value scoring, rebounding and toughness (most of it clean) off the bench in the past two games. Will it swing the series? Hard to say. But the NBA would have been remiss – and didn’t offer any explanation for why the game officials got their rulings wrong – if it had let the Heat’s two hammerings go without further punishment. Those veered into hockey, bordering on pro wrestling and had a distinctly dirty feel.
Remember, all Stephenson did was act stupid and disrespect James from afar. He didn’t get physical with anybody, yet wound up getting clotheslined across his collarbone by Pittman’s lunging elbow.
Expect a more buttoned-down Game 6, despite Larry Bird’s “soft” challenge to his Pacers in what might be their elimination. A couple of key transgressors won’t be active and the referee crew almost certainly will have quick whistles, lest things get uglier.
HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – The Indiana Pacers left Miami nursing their wounds, both physical and emotional, after a second straight deflating loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But they won’t get any sympathy at home, not from Pacers president Larry Bird, who made it clear late last night where he feels his team went wrong in this series.
Bird unleashed on his own team after the Heat unloaded on both Tyler Hansbrough and Lance Stephenson with a couple of wicked hard fouls from Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman, respectively, telling Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:
“I can’t believe my team went soft,” Bird said on the phone. “S-O-F-T. I’m disappointed. I never thought it would happen.”
When asked to elaborate on those comments, an obviously frustrated Bird said, “That’s all I have to say.”
You had to know Bird was going to let loose on someone after watching his team get wobbled repeatedly in the last six quarters of this series. Bird and his Celtics never shied away from a challenge during his Hall of Fame playing career, so it’s no surprise that went off on his own team.
MIAMI – Maybe someone on the Miami bench got the memo from Pat Riley.
Whatever it was, the days of the Heat scoffing at the Indiana Pacers’ “tough” tactics – mostly embodied by Danny Granger’s yapping through the first four games – ended with a thud – and an oomphs and a crunch or two – in Game 5 Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Granted, Tyler Hansbrough initiated the physical stuff Tuesday in what became Miami’s 115-83 blowout victory, good for a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven playoff series. Hansbrough smothered Dwyane Wade on a drive to the basket and opened a cut above the Miami shooting guard’s right eye, sending him to the bench for some corner work and earning Hansbrough a flagrant-1 foul.
That was at 10:23 of the second quarter. Only 41 seconds later, Miami got some payback that seemed right from the old Riley playbook (New York days especially) of smash-mouth basketball. And he is the Heat team president, after all.
Udonis Haslem – who had suffered a similar bloody gash over his right eye in Game 4, thanks to an errant Louis Amundson elbow – saw the opening when Hansbrough got the ball on the left wing and came forward, jumping to shoot. The Heat power forward went up with two arms high and brought them down hard, way right of the ball but hard at Hansbrough’s head. Down went Hansbrough, as the Miami crowd roared.