Ten days into his comeback, signs of progress, both individually and collectively, are scarce.
The fact he could not finish either of the past two games, sitting out the second halves against Toronto Friday and Chicago Sunday because of pain in his left knee, has to be considered a setback, although Coach Frank Vogel said Sunday night the team’s medical staff was not concerned.
Five games in, Granger has averaged 14.7 minutes off the bench, totaling 27 points (a 5.4 average) on 10-for-35 shooting (.286), including 2-for-10 (.200) from the 3-point line.
That the Pacers have won four of those five games is the best news and ultimately the only outcome that truly matters. But in the big picture, this is a team with designs on a deep playoff run and the longer it takes Granger to weave his way back into the team fabric, the more challenging that will become.
IMPROVEMENT, NOT PERFECTION
No one is suggesting he should be approaching his old self already. All anyone has a reasonable right to expect is improvement. And just when it appeared he was taking a step forward, scoring 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting against the Clippers, Granger came up gimpy in the next two games.
This isn’t just about one guy. Granger’s comeback has a domino effect on the entire team.
In a best-case scenario, he would jump back into the starting lineup in a couple of weeks, seamlessly integrate with his teammates and provide a 3-point threat that would defeat the defensive trend of sending an extra man from the weak side to dig at Paul George’s dribble – a big reason he has racked up 26 turnovers in the past six games.
With Granger in the lineup, Lance Stephenson would move to the second unit, helping plug another hole by providing much-needed spark off the bench, all of which would help make the Pacers an even more serious threat to Miami’s reign atop the Eastern Conference.
So far, what we’ve seen is a far cry from that. When he has been in the game, it hasn’t been five guys flowing, it’s been four guys and Granger. His per-minute plus-minus (-10.8 points per 48 minutes) is the worst on the team.
And the bench? It actually has gotten worse. Since Granger’s return, the second unit has been outscored 169-98 and the reserves have combined to shoot .351 from the field. Sunday against the Bulls, the deficit was 31-8 – and this was a Chicago team missing four of its top eight players.
EARLY STRUGGLES NO SURPRISE
Some of that is to be expected, given he missed 55 games and the team developed remarkably strong on-court chemistry in his absence. We knew the initial phase of the comeback would be bumpy, but we also expected the more he played, the smoother it would get.
The problem is, Granger’s playing time is going the wrong direction.
As good as everything looks for the Pacers at the moment, they are heading into a schedule gauntlet. After playing Boston Wednesday, nine of the next 13 are on the road, including a four-game Western Conference trip.
The team will need all hands on deck, and that includes Granger, to not only keep the Bulls in the rear-view mirror, but keep the Heat from motoring off into the horizon.