Finally, I caught up. Shortly before the tip-off of the Pacers first preseason game for 2011-2012 (against the Chicago Bulls), I am finally at the very last of my player review posts for last season. And who better to cap it off than Danny Granger, the best player on the team?
Well, even though Danny was the Pacers' best player again for like the fourth season in a row, and even though he had moments of brilliance, on the whole it was a so-so season for him. The 27-year-old stayed relatively healthy, playing in 79 games (the most since 2007-2008), but his numbers were on the slide for the second consecutive season after plateauing in 2008-2009.
In 2010-2011, Granger averaged 20.5 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.8 blocks, all down from the previous year (where he averaged 24.1 ppg). This is a drop of a different kind from the season following his plateau year, where his scoring dropped a little but he picked up the slack in other areas of his game. This season, Granger's production is down in almost all areas, including his field goal percentage (0.425), the lowest of his career and far too low for the unequivocal star of a playoff team.
However, the numbers may be deceiving, because Granger only played 35 minutes a night, compared to 36.7 from the year before. There were also other scoring options in Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough (on occasion). Granger didn't need to carry the load like he did in previous years.
That said, it would have been more satisfying to see Granger put more effort into other areas of his game, especially on D, where he was once projected to be a lock-down type player. Granger is still not that type of player, and I think it is still more to do with mentality than a lack of size or quickness. Offensively, Granger continued to settle for too many outside shots -- more so during the Jim O'Brien era than the Frank Vogel one, but nonetheless too many. No one is telling him to take less good three-point shots, but on the occasions where the three is not there, Granger needed to drive it more and/or draw more fouls. However, to be fair, when he did try to drive, Granger was not always successful, often losing the ball or forcing up low percentage contested shots.
It's actually been the same thing over the last few years, and it appears Granger is finally taking notice, working more on his ball handling and left hand finishes during this offseason. Let's hope it pays off.
If there is one aspect of Granger's game that has clearly grown, it's his leadership. With a nucleus of young stars with 3 years of experience or less, such as Hibbert, Collison, Hansbrough and Paul George (his starting teammates towards the end of the season and playoffs), Granger took it upon himself to be more of a leader. And this was exemplified by his hard nosed play during the playoffs against the Bulls, where the 8th seeded Pacers never backed down against an obviously superior opponent.
Yes, he failed to deliver on numerous occasions when the clock was winding down and the game was close, but I loved the fact that Granger wanted to be the man that took the last shot. That was the same kind of mentality Reggie Miller had. If Granger can channel that attitude consistently in the new season (he did show initiative by organizing player-only practices during the lockout along with Jeff Foster), the Pacers will go far.
Now with David West on the team, Granger's offensive output will likely decrease again, but as long as his efforts show up in the win-loss column, I'm sure Granger will be happy. That's the kind of player he is and that's why the Pacers are lucky to have him.