Danny Granger stepped back into a game Saturday for the first time in almost exactly four months, since the final preseason game on Oct. 26 in South Bend, which means this:
It’s time to digest all those things we’ve been chewing on the past few weeks.
Will he come all the way back? If so, how long will it take? Can he make the difference between contender and champion? Will team chemistry be disrupted? Should he be held in reserve or return to the starting lineup ASAP? How will he handle playing in Paul George’s shadow?
We’ve speculated on all of these topics for a while. Soon enough, the answers will reveal themselves.
Granger didn’t exactly come back with a bang. He missed his first eight shots before finally making a 15-foot baseline jumper on a long lead pass from – irony alert – Paul George.
Granger wound up 1-for-10, missed all four of his 3-point attempts, and had two points and two rebounds in 18:36.
INITIAL PHASE COULD BE BUMPY
For Granger, the next steps are to work on his conditioning and rhythm, to get his game legs under him. For the time being, he’ll come off the bench.
All involved will have to remain patient because the initial stages of this process could be bumpy. Not only must Granger work himself back into form but the rotations will shift, guys that have played important roles in the team’s recent surge will have to step back, and an undeniably strong team chemistry will add another element.
The Pacers have won four in a row (and nine of 11) and stand second in the Eastern Conference, but it is a tenuous perch. Just three games separate second through sixth in the East, meaning a couple of bad weeks could be particularly costly.
Keep in mind, their surge has been fueled by a remarkably friendly stretch of schedule. Nine of the last 11 games have been at home, as will the next two – against Western Conference playoff teams Golden State (Tuesday) and the L.A. Clippers (Thursday).
GEORGE, STEPHENSON, JOHNSON MUST ADAPT
How the team responds will be reflected in the three players most affected by Granger’s return: George, Lance Stephenson and Orlando Johnson.
George has replaced Granger as the face of the franchise. He’s the man now, deservedly so. He needs to maintain that alpha mindset and not revert to the old days of deferring to his elder.
It would be easy to scoff at the notion of Stephenson and Johnson mattering all that much in the big picture, but that would be ignoring the facts. In the last 12 games, those two have combined for 17.4 points on .503 shooting — including .450 from the 3-point line.
In Granger’s first game back, they combined for seven points and four shots.
Ultimately, Granger’s return will be a very good thing for the Pacers, particularly when the postseason rolls around.
Handling this transition period in the meantime, however, will be paramount to maintaining the position of advantage they have worked so hard to gain in his absence.