Danny Granger: Forget Me Not

May 8, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Danny Granger (33) points to the crowd after game five in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Orlando 105-87. Mandatory Credit: Michael Hickey-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 will be a contract year for Danny Granger. With the acquisition of Chris Copeland and the inevitable Paul George extension, Granger’s days in a Pacers uniform may be numbered. Nevertheless, Indiana signs his checks for the moment.

Technically, Granger played in 2013, appearing in five games for a total of 74 minutes; his advanced statistics suggest that was too much. Afflicted by patellar tendinosis in his left knee, Granger elected for season-ending surgery when the soreness persisted.

In his first seven seasons, Granger missed 64 games combined. Over that stretch, Granger averaged 18.2 points (.438/.384/.847), 5.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists (2.0 turnovers), 1.0 steal and 0.9 block (2.9 personal fouls) in 33.2 minutes per game.

Granger was named to the All-Rookie Second Team in 2007, to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team in 2009 (as a reserve), and to the United States National Men’s Team in 2010. Granger won the Most Improved Player award in 2009 and a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

Whatever his prior accomplishments, the question remains, what does the 30-year-old Granger have to offer right now? Per 36 minutes, Basketball-Reference.com projects that Granger will average 19.5 points (.413/.372/.848), 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists (2.2 turnovers), 1.1 steals, and 0.7 blocks (2.7 personal fouls). Indiana would take that production in a heartbeat.

However, the Pacers Danny Granger left are not the same Pacers he will return to. Beyond minor personnel tweaks, Paul George and Roy Hibbert in particular blossomed in Granger’s absence. Granger is no longer a star, and the Pacers are no longer his team. Granger came off the bench in his 2013 cameo, and he will presumably begin games there unless and until he regains his starting role.

A prolific scorer once upon a time, Danny Granger has never been an isolationist a la Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony. While Granger attempts a lot of shots, the ball is not in his possession for long. Similarly, he does not create most of his own offense. Though unselfish, Granger is more of a finisher. Ideally, Granger gets his points within the flow of the offense, either spotting up or curling off screens. That’s not to say that Granger is only a shooter. Granger leverages the threat of his quick, accurate release for a one- or two-dribble pull-up jumper or a lay-up. Granger is also the Pacers’ best foul-drawer and free throw shooter. (The combination of volume three-point and free throw attempts mitigate Granger’s lackluster field goal percentage to an extent.)

Granger’s shooting will provide spacing for Roy Hibbert down low as well as the Paul George-David West pick-and-pop combo, while Granger’s scoring will hopefully alleviate some of the burden from George’s shoulders. Paul George is superior to Granger in terms of every offensive skill save shooting, but he’s just not there yet as a go-to bucket-getter. Additionally, there exists the remote but tantalizing prospect of Granger as a stretch four in smallball lineups. At the least, Granger is a luxurious safety valve.

Granger is also a fearless defender. More smooth than explosive athletically, Granger takes pride in his role within the Pacers’ schemes–having Mt. Hibbert manning the middle doesn’t hurt, either. He is good enough that the Pacers can maintain their size without paying too heavy a price on the other end.

The bottom line is that Granger’s got game. Because of his playing style, Granger fits as a starter or a bench player, but if healthy, he can reasonably play 30 minutes a night. The Pacers were 2.2 seconds from upsetting the Heat despite having exactly five guys who could actually play. Demoting Tyler Hansbrough from the Pacers’ sixth- to seventh-best player is a win.

It’s entirely possible that Danny Granger becomes Danny Granger’s Expiring Contract, as Bill Simmons would say. Knee surgeries are tricky, and the range of outcomes is diverse. For now, Granger deserves the benefit of the doubt. Never bet against a guy up for a new contract, especially not a guy whose game ages as well as Granger’s.

2012-13 was a good season, even great at times. But it wasn’t perfect, if for no other reason than the who’s who list of sidelined stars. Here’s hoping that 2013-14 is kinder.

Regardless, Derrick Rose does not have a monopoly on The Return.

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