by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25

The value of an NBA superstar is essentially determined by one of two factors: fantasy yield (I.e. pure, raw stats) and that player’s team’s success. Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger’s rank on SLAMonline’s definitive Top 50 list seems to be the result of reconciliation between those two qualifications.

On one hand we have Granger, the former fantasy powerhouse. Coming off a 20.5-point, 5.4 rebound, 2.6 assist, 1.1 steal ‘10-11 season, the six-year veteran is still one of the more reliable talents in the Association. But when that aforementioned line is considered a disappointment (and it generally was), you quickly get a sense of the elite territory Granger was hooping in just a few seasons ago.

The meteoric rise of the former New Mexico Lobo during his first four seasons had to surprise even the most optimistic Hoosier. Unless Larry Bird’s status as NBA legend is exceeded only by his clairvoyance as a decision-maker, Granger has already exceeded career expectations (I think a very, very optimistic projection of Granger coming out of college would be a broke man’s Scottie Pippen—a rangy athlete capable of wreaking havoc on defense and being an ideal second-fiddle on offense).

Of course, we all know Granger shattered that ceiling in his bewildering ‘08-09 campaign. Coming off an outstanding junior NBA season in which he finally became a full-time starter with the Pacers, Granger erupted for a pre-“Durantula,” Kevin Durant-esque season. Though he missed 15 games due to injury, Granger’s point-per-game average mushroomed from 19.6 to 26, his shot attempts increased from 15 to 19 per night while maintaining a 44 percent field goal percentage, and his three-point percentage stayed above 40 percent while hoisting up more than a shot and a half more from beyond the arc.

In addition to that eye-catching efficiency, Granger’s assists and blocks both spiked. His five rebounds per contest were actually a drop from the previous season, but it’s safe to infer that he lost more than a handful of offensive rebounds by roaming the perimeter and shooting more than he had in his scrappier, paint-happy past. Bottom line? Granger was easily one of the NBA’s top-10 players production-wise heading into the summer of 2009.

As wonderful as that breakout season was for Granger, it set the bar extraordinarily high—probably too high. The Indiana Pacers in ‘08-09 were the definition of mediocrity. The team finished 36-46. Grangers’ supporting cast included a very Indiana-like team: Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Jeff Foster, TJ Ford, and a baby (not minus the baby-fat) Roy Hibbert.

In other words, it’s remarkable Granger didn’t average 30 a game playing with this crew. He had to hoist up voluminous shot totals just to keep his team in most games. There was no other option.

As young teams tend to do, though, the Pacers improved. Certainly not in terms of the win-loss record (Indiana stumbled to a 32-50 record in ’09-10 and finished at 37-45 last season, amazingly good enough for the Eastern Conference’s 8-seed), but with each successive season following Granger’s monster output, the Pacers have augmented the talent around its star and seen his numbers dip simultaneously.

Mike Dunleavy is still Mike Dunleavy. Unfortunately for the Pacers and whoever signed him to his long-term deal, Jeff Foster will always be Jeff Foster. But with a blossoming back-to-the-basket threat in Roy Hibbert, a point guard who can actually score some points in Darren Collison, and reliable players like Brandon Rush, Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George who consistently provide some sort of production, of course Granger’s offensive numbers dropped. Frankly, it would be strange if they didn’t since the media is always quick to jump down the throat of a superstar (Kobe?) that fails to properly defer to capable teammates.

The standings indicate that Granger sacrificed shots and points while roughly maintaining his career averages in rebounds, assists and steals to get this team to the Playoffs (even if it is with a sub-.500 mark). That should count for something.

With George Hill arriving from San Antonio, expect Granger to delegate even more of the load this upcoming season. Even if Granger’s statistical “decline” continues, a cursory look at Granger’s output won’t do justice to his value: a legitimate Top-25 NBA superstar.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Luol DengBullsSF8
49Andrew BogutBucksC7
48Ray AllenCelticsSG9
47Marc GasolGrizzliesC6
46David WestHornetsPF15
45Kevin MartinRocketsSG8
44Andrew BynumLakersC5
43Brandon JenningsBucksPG11
42Lamar OdomLakersPF14
41Gerald WallaceBlazersSF7
40Brook LopezNetsC4
39Joakim NoahBullsC3
38Carlos BoozerBullsPF13
37Kevin GarnettCelticsPF12
36Eric GordonClippersSG7
35Tony ParkerSpursPG10
34Andre Iguodala76ersSG6
33Al JeffersonJazzPF11
32Al HorfordHawksC2
31Stephen CurryWarriorsPG9
30Tim DuncanSpursPF10
29Josh SmithHawksPF9
28Manu GinobiliSpursSG5
27Tyreke EvansKingsPG8
26Rudy GayGrizzliesSF6
25John WallWizardsPG7
24Danny GrangerPacersSF5

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.