The Indiana Pacers' best player and former All-Star, Danny Granger will probably return to the court sometime next month after suffering a knee injury prior to the start of the season. However, the Pacers find themselves with the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference and after a slow start to the season, they seemingly found themselves back on track and atop the Central Division. By playing a tenacious, suffocating defense, the Pacers have made an identity for themselves as one of the best defensive teams in the league and en route to the second most efficient defense in the NBA.
The Pacers currently find themselves at 22-14 without Granger, which is similar to the record they had last season through 36 games. Last season with Granger playing 62 games, he registered a great offensive efficiency of 111, but also a mediocre defensive efficiency of 104, which comes out to be a net point differential of 7.
Granger's net efficiency rating last season isn't far off with that of Paul George and David West, the two, arguably, best players on the team right now—George has an offensive rating of 102, and a defensive rating of 96, while West is at 106 and 98. Both of their respective net ratings (6 and 8) are similar to Grangers. If anything, Granger's offensive production helps the Pacers just as much as his defense hurts them.
If you compare Granger's stats last season with some of the stats of the key players this season, there isn't one stat that stands out among everyone else that leads to greater team success.
Granger's most prominent skill is his ability to shoot and score, but a 6'8" 225 pound small forward who averaged 18.7 PPG on 41.6 percent shooting is far from being an elite scorer.
As a matter of fact, Granger's field goal percentage has decreased every season for the past four seasons.
Let's make this clear—even though Granger shoots a low percentage and took more shots than any other Pacer for the past five seasons, he does help the team on offense. He's not a LeBron James, who can contribute to a team in multitudes of other ways besides scoring, but Granger is good in situations that favor his ability to score, such as post-ups and catch and shoot plays.
For his position and style of play though, Granger is a good offensive player who can score on the average small forward in the league, but a below average defender who cannot efficiently guard the average small forward.
The most important aspects required for a small forward in the league today is defense and versatility. Granger has a good offensive repertoire, but offense is only one side of the spectrum.
His individual on-ball defense isn't terrible, but his defensive versatility is definitely not something to be glorified. Granger doesn't have the length or strength to guard most power forwards, and isn't quick enough to guard faster small forwards or shooting guards.
On the other hand, Paul George, the future face of the franchise and best player on the Pacers this season, has a higher ceiling than Granger will ever have.
Reported as 6'10", George has the length to pose problems for power forwards and quickness to guard shooting guards. He's no slouch on offense either—as evident by his 37-point outburst, which included nine three pointers to prove that he can shoot the ball as well as Granger or anyone else for that matter.
If Granger were to return, it's a possibility that George could be playing his usual shooting guard role and play just as many minutes (though it's not ideal at this point considering his height).
Most logically however, Granger will still take a handful of minutes away from George, even though George will probably prove to be a better player in the near future.
With all due respect to Danny Granger, he is not the same player he used to be four years ago. Whether it's lack of touches or lack of desire, Granger's play has declined the past two seasons and he isn't the explosive scorer he once was when he was considered one of the best small forwards in the league.
He's not in the same category of elite small forwards like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, or Kevin Durant. While other writers have described Granger as the centerpiece of this Pacers' team and that they will struggle without him, that isn't likely to happen because Granger isn't a game changing presence.
In fact, the Granger moments that fans will remember most during the playoffs are his confrontations with James, when he got into altercations and called for technical fouls for three of the games.
Will Granger make the Pacers a little bit better than they are now? Possibly. But the Pacers don't need to rely on him as much as they did when he was "the man" on the team for the past five seasons.
With quality young players on the roster like Paul George, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, and Roy Hibbert (even in his slump), along with a great veteran leader in David West, the Pacers are playing exceptional basketball recently and have a bright future. A future that doesn't have to include Danny Granger as one of their best players.