Nov 14, 2013 3:49 PM EST
The Indiana Pacers have started the 2013-14 season about as well as you can. They haven’t lost through eight games and once again possess the best defense in the NBA, but the uncertain future of Danny Granger, and how he will fit into such a cohesive unit, does provide reason for trepidation.
Granger, who played just five games last season because of a knee issue, is dealing with a calf strain. He worked out with his teammates for about an hour on Tuesday afternoon, but was held out of practice on Wednesday because of soreness.
A journey back to the court that began last September remains an inexact process. The Pacers and Granger insist that the calf injury was expected due to inactivity following knee surgery this past April. The best case scenario seems to be that Granger will play in a real-life NBA game as early as next week.
The worst case? It’s hard to determine at this point.
The Pacers pushed the Miami Heat to the brink last June without Granger, who was an All-Star in 2009 and led the club in scoring for five-straight seasons from 2007-08 through 2011-12. You could argue that a healthy Granger, who would have provided a much-needed offensive punch, might have pushed the Pacers past Miami and into the NBA Finals.
However, that’s a tough sell given what transpired with Granger sidelined. Paul George emerged as the team’s No. 1 option and Lance Stephenson blossomed into a starter-level player as he absorbed a majority of the minutes that had been allocated for Granger. It’s impossible to project how the 2012-13 season would have played out if Granger had been at least healthy for the playoffs as the franchise initially expected.
If that was the case last season for a 49-win team that was 48 minutes from the game’s greatest stage, then it’s still the case for a team that through Wednesday night hadn’t lost a game.
Further complicating the situation for both Granger and the Pacers is that his $14 million contract is expiring. After spending his first nine NBA seasons with Indiana, Granger will be free to sign with any team this coming summer.
As far as Granger is concerned, he has two short-term priorities regarding his long-term future. He has made approximately $66 million in his professional career, but the safe assumption is that Granger, 30, hopes to play for another six years. In order to become a coveted player on the open market he will need to prove to suitors that he is 1) healthy and 2) focused more on winning than individual goals.
In talking with a handful of executives around the league, the popular belief is that Granger will absolutely be a good solider when it comes to reintegrating into the rotation. There is no reason to predict otherwise. You have to remember that Granger wasn’t your classic volume scorer during the years he led the Pacers in scoring. The team needed him to take on the scoring load as they rebuilt their roster.
During that stretch his No. 2 scorers were Mike Dunleavy (twice), Troy Murphy, Darren Collison and David West (in his first season with the team).
Granger averaged 16.74 shots (and 35.4 minutes) per game over his five-year run as the leading scorer. During the 2011-12 campaign, when West and George Hill came aboard and George and Roy Hibbert started to mature, Granger attempted just 15.2 shots.
When looking to fit him back into Indiana’s rotation, a standard has to be formed. When Granger does return he will initially face a minutes restriction, but I’m going to project that once he gets the full green light that he’ll average about 20 minutes. Frank Vogel has said that he will absorb some of the time currently going to Orlando Johnson (15.2 MP, 4.4 FGA) and rookie Solomon Hill (9.3 MP, 1.6 FGA).
Given George’s quick transformation into a full-fledged superstar over the first few weeks of the season, it’s hard to believe his minutes and looks will be affected. Stephenson, however, may not be as lucky.
The fourth-year swingman, who recorded the first triple-double of his career against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, is second on the team in minutes (35.3), points (14.3) and shot attempts (11.8), fourth in rebounds (5.9) and first in assists (5.8). His continual emergence has created an argument for another time -- how much will he make as an unrestricted free agent next summer? Will the Pacers pay to retain him?
The best case for Indiana over the long-term may be that Stephenson’s numbers decline upon Granger’s return, lowering his market value at the same time. That would make it easier for the Pacers to re-sign him eight months from now. That’s a macro view on a team with micro goals, but it is certainly possible.
Impeding the development of Johnson and Hill, who have provided strong minutes, is worth the gamble of having a healthy, prepared Granger for the playoffs. Things get tricky, however, when you consider what it might do to Stephenson.
A second-round pick in 2010, the Pacers have invested a lot of time and money into him. They are currently reaping the rewards, but a diminished role will have an untold effect on his confidence. More than anyone else on the roster, Stephenson needs to be aggressive and supremely sure of himself to maintain his current level of production. In the open floor with a head of steam, perhaps only LeBron James is better with the ball in his hands.
The ideal case for Vogel might be to get an equal amount production from Granger and Stephenson, no matter who comes off the bench and who is on the floor for the opening tip. For what it’s worth, I’m in favor of keeping Stephenson in the starting five and adding Granger to an already-improved bench.
I discussed during this week’s edition of RealGM Radio with colleague Danny Leroux whether or not the Pacers, who seemingly have their best shot at their first NBA title since 2000, should go all-in and try to acquire someone like Jamal Crawford to add even more to their bench. The easy answer is no, at least not before they find out whether or not Granger can get back on the floor and how exactly it will effect the entire rotation.
An easy transition back into the rotation for Granger might propel the Pacers to heights they have never before reached, but that isn’t inevitable. For now, that’s the only thing that seems to be between the Pacers and a very memorable season.
Nov 14, 2013 1:58 PM EST
Through the first two weeks of the season, there’s been no team more impressive than the Indiana Pacers, who have the best record (8-0) and point differential (+10.4) in the NBA. After losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami, Indiana came back with the goal of a No. 1 overall seed and homecourt advantage in the playoffs. The Pacers look like a team on a mission; they already have a three-game lead on the Heat.
Before their current run began, Indiana seemed trapped in the dreaded “mediocrity treadmill” -- not good enough to contend or bad enough to rack up high lottery picks. From 2007-2010, they won an average of 35 games and never picked higher than No. 10. Nevertheless, despite picking behind almost half the NBA in that span, they were able to build a title contender through the draft.
The first piece was gargantuan center Roy Hibbert. As a senior at Georgetown, Hibbert averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks on 60 percent shooting. However, those numbers weren’t a huge improvement from his junior season, when he and Jeff Green lead the Hoyas to the Final Four. With his development stalled, he didn’t seem to have the upside of some of the younger big men in the draft.
Hibbert was the No. 17 pick in 2008. Anthony Randolph, Robin Lopez and Marreese Speights were the three picks before him; JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson and Alexis Ajinca went directly after. At 7’2 270, there were questions about Hibbert’s conditioning and foot-speed. A product of John Thompson III’s Princeton-inspired offense, he seemed like a relic in the modern NBA, a low-post dinosaur born a generation too late.
The Princeton offense, with its emphasis on off-ball movement, post play and controlling tempo, is the antithesis of the spread pick-and-roll attacks that have taken over the sport. Instead of mindlessly cutting to the front of the rim, the center is the hub of the offense, hitting cutters and reading the defense from the high post. Hibbert isn’t the only one of Thompson’s big men to be undervalued at the next level; Greg Monroe slipped to No. 7 in 2010.
Hibbert played only 14 minutes a game as a rookie, averaging 7 points and 3.5 rebounds. The big concern was getting him adjusted to the speed of the NBA game; he picked up fouls at a prodigious rate of 7.7 per-36 minutes. In his second season, when he moved into the starting lineup, it came down to 5.0, a number which has decreased to 2.9 in 2013. Like many late-blooming big men, Hibbert didn’t fully grow into his body until his mid 20’s.
For Indiana, 2010 was the draft that changed everything. Instead of making safe picks, they swung for the fences and took two high upside 19-year olds -- Paul George at No. 10 and Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson at No. 40. George was the ultimate sleeper, a sophomore on a 15-18 Fresno State team that finished in 5th place in the WAC. Stephenson, in contrast, had too much of a profile, thanks to a checkered history as a prep star in New York City.
What they shared was an intriguing combination of size, speed and skill. At 6’9 215 with a 6’11 wingspan, George had dunk-contest athleticism and a well-rounded game. As a sophomore, he averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists on 42 percent shooting. Stephenson, at 6’5 230 with a 6’10 wingspan, was an NBA SG with the body of an NFL TE. In his only season at Cincinnati, he averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 44 percent shooting.
As you would expect for two teenagers, neither came into the NBA anywhere close to a finished product. The primary concern for George was ball-handling; he averaged over 3 turnovers per game at Fresno State. Stephenson had the broken shot of a guard who had been able to bully his way to the front of the rim his whole life. He shot 22 percent from the three-point line in college, playing like a poor man’s Tyreke Evans.
By the end of their rookie season, George was in a complementary role in the starting lineup. Stephenson, on the other hand, was lucky to even be on the roster after picking up an assault charge (which was later dismissed). If he had been selected by a franchise not committed to his development, his career could have gone the other way. He could have been Willie Warren, an uber-talented guard who didn’t stick in the NBA after being taken at No. 54 in 2011.
In 2011, with George in a starting role and Frank Vogel at the helm, Indiana turned the corner. They won 37 games and lost in the first round. That off-season, rather than making another developmental selection, they turned the No. 15 pick into George Hill, a 3-and-D point guard. They also took advantage of their core being on rookie contracts to gamble on David West, signing him to a 2-year $20 million deal coming off an ACL injury.
By 2012, all the pieces were in place. While there had been missteps and false starts along the way, the Pacers had completed a five-year rebuilding project with a quality starter at each position. Hill, George, Danny Granger and Hibbert had excellent size for their positions, allowing Indiana to become a suffocating defensive team. They won 42 games in the lockout-shortened season and pushed Miami to six games in the second round.
Ironically enough, though Granger had been the Pacers franchise player for over half-a-decade, his injury in 2013 accelerated their development. Without him, George became the primary option and Stephenson moved into the starting lineup. Get Granger back into the fold this season and they will be as talented as any team in the NBA. Either way, after adding Luis Scola, CJ Watson and Chris Copeland to their bench, Indiana is making a run at it in 2014.
Forget whether or not tanking is morally acceptable or whether the top of the 2014 draft is “worth it”. Most NBA franchises are so bad at identifying young talent (and even worse at developing it) that draft position almost doesn’t matter. A team that knows what it’s doing can always find players, no matter where they pick. The Pacers didn’t have to lose a bunch of games to build a championship-caliber team. They just scouted well and developed their draft picks.
Oct 29, 2013 12:14 AM EDT
The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.
Atlanta Hawks: Are the Hawks going to try to bottom out and if not, what is their plan for the future?
Boston Celtics: What’s going to happen with Rajon Rondo's return from a torn ACL and how will the Celtics' front office go about their rebuilding process?
Brooklyn Nets: How will Jason Kidd lead a veteran roster filled with players he competed against for the last 15-20 years?
Charlotte Bobcats: Are Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller legitimate young players to build around?
Chicago Bulls: Do the Bulls need another source of offense to prevent defenses from dialing in on Derrick Rose?
Cleveland Cavaliers: Who will emerge as Kyrie Irving’s sidekick if Andrew Bynum doesn’t return to full health?
Detroit Pistons: Will the Pistons be able to manage a functional offense with three non-shooting big men?
Indiana Pacers: How will the Pacers divide playing time between Danny Granger and Lance Stephenson, and who will be more effective with the starting group?
Miami Heat: Will Shane Battier and Ray Allen be able to remain productive as the key three-point threats in the Heat offense?
Milwaukee Bucks: Can the Bucks trade some of their young promising players for an All-Star?
New York Knicks: Will Andrea Bargnani provide another element to an offense that became stagnant in the postseason?
Orlando Magic: Will the Magic be active in trying to trade some of its young pieces, or will they be patient and hope for another high lottery pick?
Philadelphia 76ers: To what lengths will the 76ers go to make sure they have the worst record in the league?
Toronto Raptors: When will the Raptors trade Rudy Gay and what will they get in return?
Washington Wizards: Do the Wizards need to add a frontcourt offensive threat in order to score consistently?
Dallas Mavericks: If it becomes clear that the Mavericks aren’t going to be a contender, what will they do about Dirk Nowitzki?
Denver Nuggets: What will the Nuggets do about the highly paid trio of Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee if they do not make the playoffs?
Golden State Warriors: Will Andre Iguodala hurt the Warriors’ three-point attack that was so vital to their success in the postseason?
Houston Rockets: Will the Rockets keep Omer Asik and have the best backup center in the league while experimenting with coexisting with Dwight Howard, or will they trade him to bolster their rotation elsewhere?
Los Angeles Clippers: Do the Clippers need to make a move for an effective third big man in order to become a legitimate contender?
Los Angeles Lakers: How angry will Kobe Bryant be if the Lakers find themselves on the verge of missing the playoffs?
Memphis Grizzlies: How will the Grizzlies maintain a good balance between shooting and perimeter defense at their wing positions?
Minnesota Timberwolves: Will Derrick Williams have an opportunity to live up to his potential as a former second overall pick despite not being an offensive priority?
New Orleans Pelicans: How will Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon mesh in the backcourt?
Oklahoma City Thunder: Who will emerge as the new third scoring option behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?
Phoenix Suns: Is Eric Bledsoe capable of being the Suns’ point guard of the future?
Portland Trail Blazers: If the Trail Blazers struggle, will LaMarcus Aldridge’s name reemerge in trade rumors again?
Sacramento Kings: Is DeMarcus Cousins good enough for the Kings to put up with his immaturity?
San Antonio Spurs: Will Tiago Splitter develop enough to become a factor on both ends in the playoffs?
Utah Jazz: Will Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter work together in the frontcourt?
Aug 16, 2013
Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.
Jul 01, 2013
With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.
Jun 28, 2013
Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.
Jun 04, 2013
The Pacers committed 21 turnovers with a trip to the NBA Finals just 48 minutes away, allowing the Heat to easily advance to the championship round for the third straight year.
Jun 02, 2013
Roy Hibbert and Paul George stepped up for the Pacers, who forced a Game 7 back in Miami, while LeBron James received little support from his teammates.
May 31, 2013
The difference for the Pacers has been Lance Stephenson; they win when he plays well and lose when he doesnít. Itís been this way the throughout the playoffs where Stephenson has shown the world he has potential to be a really good player if he can become more consistent.
May 31, 2013
Paul George was more assertive offensively, but LeBron James and the Heat owned the third quarter as they pulled away and took Game 5.
May 29, 2013
The Pacers dominated the Heat on the glass and in the paint to tie the Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece heading back to Miami.
May 27, 2013
Beaten down from trying to defend LeBron James, Paul George had just 13 points on 10 shots as the Heat clicked offensively on Sunday night.
May 25, 2013
After letting Game 1 slip away, Roy Hibbert dominated and the Pacers earned a much-needed split in Miami as the Eastern Conference Finals shift to Indiana.
May 23, 2013
The Pacers gave the Heat all they could handle, but questionable decisions cost them in overtime as Miami won a buzzer-beater by LeBron James.
May 20, 2013
One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.
May 19, 2013
The Pacers were led by a different player in each of their four wins over the Knicks and in Game 6 it was Lance Stephensonís turn. The balance of their first five is what gives the Pacers their bets chance against the Heat.
May 17, 2013
Players that failed a concussion test and returned this season Ė John Jenkins, Nikola Vucevic, Darrell Arthur, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Chris Kaman, Pau Gasol, Marvin Williams, Jeff Pendergraph and Anthony Davis Ė missed an average of 11 days.
May 17, 2013
In a game that the Knicks should have run away with, the Pacers narrowly missed an opportunity to steal one on the road and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in the process.
May 15, 2013
With another good showing on the glass and scoring from George Hill, the Pacers now have three chances to close out the Knicks and advance to a likely showdown with the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
May 12, 2013
The Pacers used an inside-out approach in their 82-71 win over the Knicks in Game 3. Typically, the Pacers feed Roy Hibbert early to establish an inside presence. On Saturday night, Indiana hit a number of outside shots in the first quarter and rode Hibbert late.
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