by Charles Peach / @Charles_Peach

There’s a good reason why Danny Granger ranks higher on this list than some of his contemporaries playing small forward and it’s all in the name: G-range-r.

The three-point arc is his friend and you must respect it. Granger hit at least four threes in 58 of his last 209 games. He’s been in the top eight in scoring the last two seasons, including finishing fifth in ‘08-09. That season he won Most Improved Player as his scoring average jumped fromDanny Granger 19.6 in ‘07-08 to 25.8 points per game.

While guys like Andre Iguodala and Gerald Wallace standout for their defense, Granger is an offensive stud. Iggy and Crash make a living because of guys like Granger. It takes a freakishly talented defender to stifle a 6-9 sharpshooter.

Make no mistake though; Granger is no slouch on defense. The man who once lost both central incisors while going for a steal on Paul Pierce, can play defense tenaciously. For his career he averages one steal and one block per game.

Some say he doesn’t always exert a strong effort on defense. I’d argue that it isn’t easy to lead your team on both ends of the floor when you have below-average supporting casts. I mean, look at Kobe. He made All-Defensive First Team in each of the last five seasons with hounds on his team such as Trevor Ariza and Ron Artest to shoulder much of the on-ball defensive assignments. Not to mention bigs like Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom to bail him out if he’s beaten. I think Kobe is a terrific defender, but his teammates make it a lot easier for him. For Granger, there is tremendous pressure on him to lead on offense and defense and there isn’t nearly as much room for error.

Granger was a member of the Gold-medal winning Team USA this summer in the FIBA World Championships. Iguodala and Rudy Gay got more minutes than him, but I think that’s because they were a better fit for what Coach K wanted from the small forward position. He wanted a Pippen to his Jordan – Kevin Durant. Iggy and Gay provided the Pippen-esque qualities on defense and in transition. Durant played the role of MJ, taking over every game without any other player needing to consistently score. Though he isn’t as good as Durant, Granger is that type of player. He can assume his team’s scoring duties, usually by firing away from downtown much like Durant did in Turkey.

What can Granger do to improve?

Even though he battled injuries, last season was a step back. His scoring average dipped along with his shooting percentage. He got a bit too comfortable hoisting the three-ball. If he stays healthy and attacks the basket more, he’ll be much more Grangerous this season. (You like that, right? … No? … OK. Fine.) Again, he’ll need help from his mates. There are some new faces around that he might be able to depend on this season. The Pacers landed Darren Collison, a talented point guard with a high ceiling, in a trade with New Orleans. Rookies Paul George and Lance Stephenson also have promising potential. Granger would certainly benefit if Roy Hibbert or Tyler Hansbrough can emerge, as well.

Player Team Position 2010 2009 2010 2009
Ray Allen Celtics SG 50 36 11 10
Gilbert Arenas Wizards SG 49 34 10 9
Lamar Odom Lakers PF 48 33 14 10
John Wall Wizards PG 47 NR 13 NR
OJ Mayo Grizzlies SG 46 46 9 12
Al Horford Hawks C 45 NR 6 NR
Jason Kidd Mavs PG 44 45 12 10
Joakim Noah Bulls C 43 NR 5 NR
LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 42 39 13 12
David West Hornets PF 41 31 12 8
Monta Ellis Warriors SG 40 NR 8 NR
Andrew Bogut Bucks C 39 NR 4 NR
Yao Ming Rockets C 38 NR 3 NR
Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 37 NR 11 NR
Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 36 NR 11 NR
Stephen Curry Warriors PG 35 NR 10 NR
David Lee Warriors PF 34 NR 10 NR
Brook Lopez Nets C 33 NR 2 NR
Gerald Wallace Bobcats SF 32 NR 6 NR
Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 31 29 7 8
Tony Parker Spurs PG 30 15 9 3
Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 29 13 9 3
Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 28 44 5 9
Josh Smith Hawks PF 27 40 8 13
Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 26 26 6 7
Al Jefferson Jazz PF 25 23 7 7
Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 24 NR 8 NR
Chauncey Billups Nuggets PG 23 19 7 5
Tyreke Evans Kings PG 22 NR 6 NR
Danny Granger Pacers SF 21 21 4 4

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.