Indiana Pacers Are Still Better off with Danny Granger as Key Foundation

Haddon Anderson@HaddonAndersonAnalyst IJanuary 6, 2013

Is Granger still a key foundation of the Pacers?
Is Granger still a key foundation of the Pacers?Michael Hickey-USA TODAY Sports

With the emergence of young weapon Paul George, there's reason to wonder if Danny Granger has become expendable for the Indiana Pacers.

There's all the more reason to consider this since Granger has yet to play in a game this season. In early November, he received an injection in his left knee to treat patellar tendinosis; the recovery time is typically three months.

The Pacers are thus awaiting his return in early February, but the question to be asked is this: Do they really need him?

They currently boast a 20-14 record and sure seem like a playoff-bound team without Granger.

Granger's absence has enabled George to emerge as a more potent offensive threat. George is pouring in 16.4 points per game, which is up from the 12.1 PPG he averaged in 2011-12.

George is just 22 years old and is very likely the face of this franchise for years to come. He is the type of player to build around, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint. His length and athleticism have even drawn comparisons to Scottie Pippen (although that is getting ahead of ourselves).

When Granger returns at some point in February, this could potentially halt George's development. His shot attempts will almost surely decrease and he'll inevitably play a less-featured role in Indiana's offensive sets.

Is this the best direction for the franchise? Are the Pacers still better off with Granger as their key foundation, or has his time passed?

Pacers fans should certainly be excited about George's progression, but this doesn't mean that Granger should now be viewed as expendable.

George and Granger are needed if the Pacers are going to be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. Granger is currently the difference between the Pacers being a fringe playoff team and a team that could potentially oust a top-seeded team like the Miami Heat.

If you disagree on this, consider the Pacers' record last season when Granger was active for 62 out of 66 games: 42-24. That equates to a winning percentage of .636 and it helped them lock up the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Granger's presence was at the core of this success, and it was also at the core of them giving the Heat a run for their money in the second round (the Pacers lost to the Heat in six games).

At 20-14, the Pacers currently possess a winning percentage of .588. Once again, this is likely good enough to squeak into the playoffs, but the Granger-less Pacers have given us no indication that they could make major noise come playoff time.

What's more, consider the following statistic. The Pacers are averaging 91.4 points per game on the year, which gives them the second-to-worst scoring output in the league.

In 2011-12, they tallied 97.7 points per game, good for the 13th in the league.

One doesn't have to be a basketball guru to figure out a major difference between this year's scoring output and last year's. The absence of Granger has clearly limited what Indiana can do offensively, and their winning percentage has diminished as a result.

This is the chief reason why Granger remains a key foundation of how far Indiana can go. His offensive abilities take this team to another level (he has led the Pacers in scoring for the past five seasons).

He can stretch the defense with his three-point ball (has averaged at least two three-point makes per game the past five years), knock down the mid-range jumper in transition or in a half-court set and post an elite percentage from the charity stripe (84.7 percent on his career from the foul line).

These dimensions that Granger brings to the table should still be valued. If they don't have him as the season unfolds (especially come playoff time), don't expect the Pacers to be pulling any shockers come April and May.

But assuming he returns to his usual form, the Pacers are a squad for all opponents to fear. Just ask the Miami Heat.

The Pacers were up on the Heat two games to one in the 2012 playoffs' second round, but exceptional performances from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James doomed Indiana the following three games. But it took those valiant efforts from Wade and James. The Pacers undoubtedly proved in that series that they can bang with the best of them.

But they can't bang with the best of them without Granger, at least not now. They have nobody on their roster to adequately replace him, and he thus remains a crucial piece to their 2013 outlook.

It's too soon to deem Granger as expendable to the gritty Pacers. Once he returns, he may need to accept a lesser role that enables George to continue developing, but he certainly shouldn't be devalued or perhaps cast off in a trade (unless it's a "can't-miss" deal). They need him because he's the type of "go-to guy" who can be the difference-maker in tight ballgames.

The bottom line is that if the Pacers don't witness Granger at all this season, they can kiss their hopes of a joyous 2013 playoffs goodbye. He's a key foundation of the brand of basketball they play, and it's far too premature to conclude otherwise about the 29-year-old.

*Stats used in this article were as of January 6, 2013.