This week’s news that Danny Granger has successfully gone full speed and is okay to practice during training camp next month is just what the Indiana Pacers have been hoping for ever since their heart breaking Game 7 loss to Miami Heat on June 3 in the Eastern conference finals. A young, talented and gritty Pacers team will now hope that Granger stays healthy and proves to be the player that pushes a strong roster into an NBA championship winner.
It shouldn’t be forgotten just how far Indiana pushed Miami in that playoff series. They played fantastic defense and used their physicality and strength on the inside to score enough points to be competitive. Last year’s playoff run saw Paul George cement his place as one of the NBA’s emerging stars, and also saw the arrival of Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert as serious ball players.
Still, the Pacers were still a team that missed a little extra scoring punch. The absence of Granger, who led this team in scoring in each of the past five seasons, may have had something to do with that. The 30-year old has been the franchise player for an organization slowly building up a strong core.
Granger’s place as the team’s franchise player may now be up for dispute after George posted emerged as a powerful all-round force in 2012-13 and signed a big five-year contract extension on Tuesday. However, there’s little question that Granger’s scoring punch will be a huge boost and his presence on the court is only likely to make George an even better player. The more attention that is taken away from him on the court and the more support he can get, the more of a superstar he is likely to become.
Can Granger be the player to make the difference helping Indiana past Miami and whomever they face in the Finals? A quick look at the Pacers’ roster suggests that they might just have a shot. As is usually the case at this point in the season, there are plenty of ‘what ifs’ surrounding a potential run for Frank Vogel’s team, but they have some strong pieces.
Few teams will be able to match Indiana on the front court. Hibbert took a major step forward in his development offensively and defensively during the 2012-13 regular season and then into the playoffs. He is very ably supported by a power forward who just about sums up the aggressiveness and nastiness of this Indiana team in David West. Luis Scola is a nice pick up for the front court as well. Meanwhile, Chris Copeland is likely to add depth on the small forward position. Stephenson is the most likely player to drop out of last year’s starting line-up and his game breaking ability could make him an early outsider pick for the sixth man of the year award. George Hill rounds out the line-up. His play as a point guard has definitely come along and it should be of benefit to him having Granger as another scoring option on the floor.
Indiana have scoring talent, size, athleticism and probably even a little extra depth compared with one season ago. Strong defensive and physical play runs through the heart of Vogel’s team. They have a clear identity and are a seriously rough match-up for a Heat team that is set to enter the 2013-14 campaign with a relatively small line-up once again.
Granger’s return could easily be the difference between a Game 7 Eastern conference finals loss and an NBA championship. Still, the ‘what ifs’ cannot be forgotten. One of the biggest of those is still Granger’s health. Even though his knee is reportedly better, there are still reports that doctors have advised Vogel to give Granger a lighter training camp schedule. This was a serious injury that sidelined a pretty tough player for an entire season. It may not be easy to come straight back and make an impact, and adverse effects from the injury in terms of re-aggravation and the ability for Granger to return his best are definitely a possibility.
For now the prospect of a return to the floor from Granger is deservedly making Indiana one of the East’s most talked about teams.