Danny Granger ended up missing all but five games last season with knee problems. This led to Lance Stephenson stepping into the starting lineup. Now Granger is set to return, but Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel has a tough decision to make; start Granger or Stephenson?
It’s unfair to strip a player of his starting role simply because of injury. However, this is a unique situation. Granger was the Pacers’ franchise player for the past seven seasons until he was unseated by protege Paul George last year. Granger’s injury allowed George to assume the role of alpha dog, which lead to his emergence.
In the same vein, Stephenson was able to impress Vogel and his staff enough to earn the final starting spot, leading us to this dispute.
Granger earned his starting spot by being the best player on the Pacers for seven straight seasons, and if not for his injury, he might have been the best player last year as well. But Granger’s time with the Pacers is closing. This is the final year of his contract, and he will definitely be looking for one last payday before his career is over, which is something the Pacers can’t offer to him.
Losing his starting role could affect his market value, but only if he fails to put up big numbers off the bench.
The bench is the heart of their issue. The single biggest disaster for the Pacers last season was their atrocious bench. Their bench was so bad, that Vogel had to keep at least two starters on the floor at all times just to make sure the team didn’t sink.
Larry Bird returned and promptly upgraded the bench, giving the Pacers a second unit that on paper could hang with some of the lower-tier starting squads. Now add Granger to that, and you can see just how dangerous he would be coming off the bench.
Granger would destroy most second units by himself. He averaged between 18 and 25 points a game for the past four seasons, not including last year, against starters and usually the team’s best player like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.
Now think what a fresh-legged Granger could do against those same players after they’ve been in for 10 to 12 straight minutes, and that’s not even mentioning the secondary players he would face all season.
By Granger going to the bench, it would help the Pacers immensely by keeping the starting five from last season together. This would be a huge benefit because they already have the chemistry worked out with Stephenson, something they would have to start from scratch from with Granger back in the starting lineup.
Stephenson didn’t receive the nickname “Born Ready” for nothing. When given the opportunity to start, he didn’t let his teammates or fans down. He stepped in and lit up the Fieldhouse with his razzle-dazzle play.
He would grab a rebound, sprint down the floor and either toss a crazy And1-style pass or try to dunk on Tyson Chandler. And Let’s not forget he single-handedly knocked off the New York Knicks — his hometown team — in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with one of the best, all-around single performances that any Pacers fan has witnessed in the last eight years.
If you were to stare into a crystal ball, you would see Stephenson, not Granger, as the future of the Pacers. Stephenson earned his starting spot, and it should be his to lose now. The Pacers don’t want Stephenson to fall into the Hansbrough mentality and watch him crumble after having his starting position given to another player.
Whichever choice Vogel makes, the Pacers will turn out fine, but there are future ramification to think about, despite the fact that no one can predict it. Choosing Stephenson is the better long-term decision and the choice Vogel needs to make.