Who’s More Important To Their Team: Danny Granger Or Eric Gordon?

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.

*** *** ***

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.

Injuries in the NBA are non-discriminatory. They don’t care about your circumstance, your team, your hopes or dreams or the contract you may have signed.

Two guys, Eric Gordon and Danny Granger, are the victims of early season knee injuries that are derailing their contributions to their respective teams for an indefinite amount of time. Even if they have different styles of play, their comparative numbers are also remarkably similar over their careers.

Gordon’s key numbers read: 18.2 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.7 RPG, 45 percent FG, 37 percent from three and 80 percent FT
Granger’s key numbers read: 18.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 44 percent FG, 38 percent from three and 85 percent FT

I don’t think the two players could be much closer in their stats considering Gordon is a 6-3 combo guard and Granger is a 6-8 small forward. As close as the two are statistically, their respective teams are in very different places and their absences will be felt in very different ways.

The Pacers are an Eastern Conference contender while the Hornets are a team rebuilding with a young exciting core, and it’s their loss of Gordon that is more devastating to start the season. Here’s why…

Gordon only played nine games in the lockout-shortened season last year, but he is the prize return from the trade that sent Chris Paul to the L.A. Clippers last December. If not for “basketball reasons” Gordon might still be playing (or not playing as is the case now) with Blake Griffin and company. Gordon attempted to leave the “Big Easy” this past summer as a restricted free agent by signing a max offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns worth $58 million over 4 years. Despite Gordon’s plea to allow him to leave, the Hornets would not let Gordon walk, even at that extreme price tag.

The Hornets are under new ownership and have a promise from David Stern that the team will reach a reasonable level of profitability. As a result, it was imperative for the Hornets to keep Gordon and not be left with just a draft pick (which turned into Austin Rivers), some cap space and Al-Farouq Aminu from Paul’s trade. Tis is a classic Joe Johnson case, where he may not really be worth max dollars but he is to his team because of the dire circumstances his absence would create.

While it might be hard to envision, Gordon is a cornerstone of the Hornets and of their hopes to return to contention. They need him on the court building chemistry with their No. 1 draft selection Anthony Davis. They need him to help infuse life into an offense that was 29th in the league last year at 89.6 points per game. They need his fearlessness to take the big shots in close games that nobody else on the roster is currently prepared to take and make (Austin Rivers isn’t ready).

Gordon doesn’t make the Hornets a playoff team but his presence would bring more wins and a glimpse of the promise that New Orleans has on its roster, which could lead to greater attendance for home games (ranked 24th last season), and more potential exposure around the league. Davis and Gordon could make New Orleans a destination for upcoming free agents looking for a talented core with cap flexibility.

Gordon can do none of this by wearing a suit on the bench.

Finally in comparison to the Pacers and their loss of Granger, one has to factor in that Indiana is already a playoff team with a deep roster. Granger’s offensive role has decreased in each of the last three seasons since reaching a peak of 25.8 points a night in 2009, his scoring falling from 24.1 to 20.5 and then 18.7 last year. In addition to Granger’s decreasing role, the Pacers are feeding on a depleted Central Division, and are in no real danger of not finishing first in their division without him. Paul George steps into Granger’s small forward role and Gerald Green steps in as the starting shooting guard while New Orleans is left with Rivers to man the two with Gordon out. I certainly don’t doubt the longterm potential of Rivers, but the Hornets lose more with Rivers than the Pacers do with Green right now.

It is an absolute shame Gordon’s knee issues from last season continue to linger, but it’s even more of a shame that his team is ill-equipped to handle it for an indefinite period of time. He simply means more to his team than Granger does both on the court and off it.

Who do you think is more important to their team’s success?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

Follow Warren on Twitter at @ShawSports.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.