There has been a lot of talk in recent years about Danny Granger’s true importance to the Indiana Pacers. As the Pacers rose from the wreckage of four-straight Lottery appearances, Granger became the default No. 1 on a balanced roster built around depth and continuity.
Just nine games into the season, Granger’s value has been revealed to a team that was projected to be among the Eastern Conference elite. He is expected to miss a total of three months with a knee issue. A midseason return can’t come soon enough for the Pacers.
Despite a youthful roster, Frank Vogel’s crew featured a plodding offense (19th in pace) that scored 104.6 points per 100 possessions (ninth) in 2011-12. That may have been a product of the compressed 66-game schedule combined with the team’s depth and athleticism. From 2007-08 to 2010-11, the Pacers ranked 19th, 15th, 26th and 22nd in offensive rating. They are supposed to be a defensive-minded team with an average offense.
Without Granger, the Pacers' offense has been horrible.
The Pacers are scoring just 95.5 points per 100 possessions, better than only the 76ers and winless Wizards. They have maintained a very slow pace (89.8 possessions per 48 minutes, 28th in the league), but their effective field goal percentage has dipped significantly. They rank dead last in eFG% (.433), down from .475 in 2011-12.
Vogel took the ball out of Granger’s hands a bit last season with the addition of George Hill and David West, as well as the emergence of Paul George and Roy Hibbert. His usage rate hit a three-year low of .261, still the highest among the team’s rotation players over the full season. Leandro Barbosa beat him out by a few percentage points as the lead guard off the bench following a midseason trade.
The coaching staff has had to distribute more than a quarter of the team’s possessions in the wake of Granger’s absence. He entered the league as an athletic, defensive-minded wing player, but his improved range allowed him to become a fringe All-Star and pseudo-franchise player.
There have been questions about Vogel’s play-calling and the invisibility of Roy Hibbert after signing a big contract, but Granger’s injury is clearly the team’s biggest problem. Indiana was 11.7 points per 100 possessions better with Granger on the court last season.
He was one of three Pacers to post more than eight WARP in 2011-12. He contributed 8.5 wins above replacement player, ahead of Paul George (8.2) and slightly behind Roy Hibbert (8.7). When news broke that Granger would miss significant time, the belief was that Hill, George and Hibbert would absorb his touches and as emerging talent they would do so effectively. The reality is that their effectiveness has taken a hit.
George had a True Shooting percentage of .555 last season, but through the first two weeks of the season that number has dipped to .479. His usage rate has jumped from .195 to .208.
Hill has seen his usage jump from .173 to .209 without Granger. He posted a TS% of .557 in his first season with the Pacers, but that has dropped to .494 in the early stages of this year.
Hibbert, who came into the season with the highest expectations, has actually used fewer possessions (.212 to .192). His TS% has dropped from .539 to .391. He is averaging fewer than two free throws per game despite a career-high 4.1 offensive rebounds per game. His block percentage (6.1%) is also a career-high, but his numbers of the defensive glass have fallen considerably.
Nine games is a fairly small sample size over the course of an 82-game season, but the panic button is within sight. With just three wins, they are in the bottom third of the NBA despite stellar defense. They have also played just two clubs that qualified for the playoffs last spring, making their record even more alarming.
It is also worth noting that they have already played six games that were decided by five points or fewer, an extremely high rate and performance in those games typically regresses to the mean. The schedule will only get tougher after a rather vanilla first two weeks, especially with the absence of the even more appreciated Granger putting everything into question.
The trio of George, Hibbert and Hill has had time to adjust to basketball without Granger. They now need to step up with increased importance or suffer the consequences. For the team, those concerns relate to playoff status. Hibbert and Hill, they have their multiyear deals, but George is next in line. Instead of increasing his value, his play sans Granger might reduce it.
For the Pacers it has been a case of you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.