For however long Danny Granger requires to fully recover from problematic left knee issue, we will learn quite a bit about the Pacers.
Are they really as deep as advertised?
Are they mentally tough enough to deal with real adversity?
If no individual will be asked to replace Granger’s 19 points per game, how will the group compensate collectively?
Is Paul George really ready for this?
And then there’s the big one: Is Granger as replaceable as his critics believe?
After the final practice before the dawn of the regular season Wednesday in Toronto, coach Frank Vogel gathered the team after practice Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to tell them the news:
Because the pain in his left knee has not abated enough to allow him to play, Granger will seek second (and third, and possibly fourth) opinions and be out indefinitely.
Gerald Green will move into the starting lineup at small forward, with Sam Young and Lance Stephenson picking up additional responsibility with the second unit.
Granger’s absence will increase both the opportunity and burden for George to assume a primary role within the offense. He was the team’s leading scorer in the preseason at 14.7, but shot just 37 percent overall, 28 percent from the 3-point line, and averaged 3.4 turnovers.
Though the Pacers played on as Granger missed all but two preseason games after receiving an injection of platelet rich plasma in the knee in mid-September, this is still a major emotional blow for a team entering a season with great expectations.
“I think you just talk to guys and make them understand we still have a heck of a basketball team with Danny out,” Vogel said. “We’ll miss him but David West is a beast. Roy Hibbert is a beast. George Hill is a beast. Paul George is coming. Gerald Green has been one of our best players in camp and our bench is much-improved still.
“So, still a lot of reason for optimism and looking forward to getting started.”
Green, drafted one spot behind Granger in 2005, has been spectacular at times and averaged 12.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in the preseason, starting four games. He is a more explosive athlete than Granger and a strong perimeter threat but how well he can mesh with the first unit remains to be seen.
“There’s only one Danny Granger, so I’m definitely not replacing him,” Green said. “He’ll be back soon and I know that my role is still going to be the same – just go in there, still be aggressive, take open shots when I have them, play defense, run the floor and try to create a lot of energy on offense and defense.”
One of the team’s greatest strengths was expected to be continuity and chemistry within the first unit. But the projected starting five never took the floor during the preseason as injuries sidelined point guard George Hill (hand, hip) and David West (hand) as well as Granger.
Hill and West have recovered enough to start Wednesday but now with Green in the lineup, both the first and second units must adapt to new looks.
“We have people that can step up and have a positive impact on the game,” Hill said. “We have to just figure out how we go into the game with the same mental toughness defensively and let the offensive take care of itself.
“It’s tough to lose one of your leaders, one of your main guys but at the same time that’s what opportunities are for. He goes down and somebody has to step into his shoes and I think our team is going to be great at doing that.”
Vogel said he expected a timetable for Granger’s return to be established after he meets with doctors and the team’s training staff.
The first five weeks of the schedule bring 12 of 18 games on the road. It was challenge enough with a full roster. Now, it may well become the key to the season.