by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
The Pacers’ rise has been calculated and deliberate, much like the construction of their roster. It was a process, not an overhaul. In 2011, the team made the Playoffs after a four-year drought. The next year, it was the semifinals. Last year, Indiana reached the conference finals, losing to Miami in seven games.
As the new contenders enjoyed their hard-earned success, the longest tenured Pacer sat sidelined. Danny Granger, drafted 17th in 2005, was limited to five games last season after undergoing surgery to remove scar tissue in his left patella.
Asked about the team’s run last season, Granger says, “I was very happy. I was really excited with the fact we progressed so well. I was excited to see the development of our younger players, particularly Paul George, Lance Stephenson, even George [Hill] really stepped up. When you’ve been part of an organization for so long—you see all of those guys get drafted, you see them when they’re rookies. I’ve been there for nine years now. I mean, I was upset that I got hurt, but injuries happen, it’s part of basketball. We all get injured at some point. I was just happy to see how far we had come and how close we were to getting to where we wanted to go.”
Granger averaged a career-high 25.8 points in the ’08-09 campaign, in which he was named an All-Star. His scoring numbers have declined in each consecutive season.
“My role changed on the team three years ago, honestly, when Frank [Vogel] took over and we went to more of a post-heavy offense,” he says. “We would post Roy [Hibbert], post David [West], we even had Tyler Hansbrough that we would post. We became more of a post team…As far as my role now, I do what I always do. Obviously, we have so many options. No one carries the scoring load on this team. I think we all really do. We have five, six guys averaging double digits. Even last year when I didn’t play, we had three guys averaging within two points of each other. There’s no real carrying the scoring load. We play as a team, we play with the pass, we move the ball to get the open shot.”
Asked if he will have to adjust his game, Granger is confident in his style and his fit within the offense.
“Even when I was scoring a lot of points, I would shoot a lot of threes, get a lot of catch-and-shoot shots, which I’ll get in this offense,” Granger says. “I wasn’t a heavy iso type of player, where you just give me the ball and I’m going to go pound it and go score. I’ve never been that type of player anyway. I’ve always played off of movement, which we do. Yeah, my scoring numbers will probably be down, but the way I score really won’t change.”
Regarding his left knee specifically, he says, “I can jump, I can dunk off of it, I’m running off of it, I’m pushing off of it and everything. I’ve gotten close to where exactly I want to be with it.”
On whether the starting lineup has been determined, Granger says, “We don’t know yet. Most likely, I’ll probably be in the starting lineup. Lance, from the experience that we’ve had, is a great creator for the second group. I think he’ll thrive in that position.”
Adding a veteran and proven scorer like Granger to the starting lineup gives Indiana more size at the wing and a versatile scoring threat. While the Pacers’ starting five looks competitive against any team in the League, depth is no longer a glaring weakness. Last season, the bench contributed just over 26 points per game, ranking second to last in the NBA. The front office shored up the second unit this offseason, adding Chris Copeland, Luis Scola and CJ Watson. Stephenson, who started all 19 playoff games last season, could potentially play a vital role in the rejuvenated second unit.
Perhaps the most symbolic scene from the Pacers’ run was all five starters sitting at the press conference podium after eliminating the Knicks in the second round. It was the team’s first conference finals appearance since 2004 and the starting lineup shared the spotlight. In that press conference David West said, “This is the most together group I’ve been a part of.”
When asked if this is one of the most fun groups he has played with, Granger doesn’t hesitate.
“One-hundred percent. I think it’s probably the most fun group that a lot of players in the NBA would ever be around,” he says. “My nine years, I’ve been on so many different teams. I’m talking completely different teams. Other veterans can tell you that too—David West will tell you, Rasual Butler will tell you. This is probably one of the best groups—it is the best group that I’ve been around. For one, a lot of us were drafted here. I remember when Roy was a rookie, I remember when Paul was a rookie, I remember when Lance was a rookie, I remember when Orlando Johnson was a rookie. We got a lot of guys that this is their first stop and that’s kind of special because you have a chance to grow with each other.”
Back healthy, Granger will once again have the chance to take part in that process.