Injuries are a part of the NBA. We wish they weren’t – how much more fun would it be if everyone was always healthy? There’d be no excuses, and the product on the floor would be better. But just as this season was kicking off, two eerily similar injuries took our excitment down a notch. New Orleans ruled out Eric Gordon indefinitely with a knee injury, robbing us of seeing one of the most explosive young wing players. And Danny Granger was also ruled out indefinitely with a sore knee, robbing us of the chance to see a team on the rise (Indiana) in all of its glory.
For now, Granger’s expected return has no timetable. His sore left knee was originally hurt during the playoffs last year before he tweaked it again during an offseason workout.
“It’s a limiting type of pain,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel told USA Today. “He can run and jump and play, but he’s limping and a little gimpy. He lacks explosiveness.”
Gordon will rehab for four to six weeks because of recurring problems with his right knee, a hopefully better longterm option than the rumored need for microfracture surgery. But no one in New Orleans really knows what’s going on with their young guard, and it sort of feels like Gordon doesn’t know either. Either that, or there are problems behind closed doors between player and organization.
But this piece isn’t about that – it’s about which player makes their team click, which high scorer brings a better chance at success. Who’s more important to their team: Granger or Gordon? We argue. You decide.
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With Danny Granger’s sore knee keeping him off the floor indefinitely, not everything is gloomy for the Pacers. Lance Stephenson is taking up some of those minutes, and for the first time since perhaps high school, he’s earning his stripes in a positive way. But we need to get something straight: Indiana, predicted by many to finish as high as No. 3 (and possible even No. 2) in the East, won’t be winning any playoff rounds if Granger isn’t completely healthy. Sure, that’s a long way off, but if we’re talking who’s more important to their team between Gordon and Granger, it’s pretty obvious the 6-8 Granger is the answer.
After sporting a top-ten offense last season with Granger averaging 18.7 points in 62 games, Indiana is now sitting at No. 26 in the NBA in offensive efficiency through three games. The only four teams that are worse are Detroit (Rodney Stuckey is shooting a disgusting 1-for-23 from the floor this year), Washington (which is missing its best perimeter player), Philly (which is missing its best inside player) and Sacramento (where no one bothers to pass).
The Pacers also have the second-worst turnover ratio in the entire league (29.9), trailing only the Lakers, and in fact, with an assist rate of just 12.1, they have the largest discrepancy in the NBA between the two statistics. Granger’s never been a particularly good ballhandler, and over the past few seasons, the Pacers asked him to do less and less of it. But without him, they have no balance. Indiana can’t spread the floor and teams are simply backing off their perimeter players (George Hill, D.J. Augustin and Paul George are all very shaky outside shooters), predictably producing an awful team true shooting percentage of 49.
The Pacers are still great defensively, and have one of the best frontlines in the Eastern Conference, so they can win ugly (currently tied for first in the NBA in overall rebound rate). But it’s easy to win ugly when you’re playing Toronto, Charlotte and Sacramento.
Despite starting 2-1, they haven’t been very impressive in doing it. At all. It took a George Hill floater to save them in Toronto in the season opener, and then during their first home tilt of the year, Sacramento lasted two overtimes against them in an ugly blood bath. Sandwiched in-between was an embarrassing loss to Charlotte. The Bobcats snapped a 23-game losing streak in that game, and the Pacers helped make Kemba Walker (30 points) look like Isiah Thomas. Even with George expected to make a leap, David West still in his prime, and Roy Hibbert just entering his, so far the Pacers aren’t playing like a playoff team. Of course, it’s early in the season. Three games don’t make a year. But when Granger comes back, that should all change.
Eric Gordon is a potential star down the road, and if he can remove the cloud of doubt hovering around his knee, we could see him make a few All-Star Games. But he doesn’t make New Orleans a playoff team, and he’s not the Hornets’ most valuable asset moving forward. Granger may not be either, especially if Indiana decides to eventually pay Paul George instead (right now, Granger is on the books through next season, when he’ll make over $14 million). Yet in the end for the Pacers, Granger could be the difference between a super quick first round exit or a trip to the conference finals this season.