With Derrick Rose out for a big chunk – if not all – of the 2012-13 NBA season for the Chicago Bulls, high expectations were cast on the Indiana Pacers to take charge in the Central Division, and they were touted as the second best team in the Eastern Conference by several NBA insiders.
Little did the Pacers know, they would be without their court leader themselves when they found out this week that former All-Star forward and team captain Danny Granger will be out for at least three months to address the patellar tendinosis in his left knee.
Danny Granger (AP)
Two weeks into the season, the Pacers are 2-4 and have shown little to support their preseason hype. Their two wins were close nail-biters against Toronto and Sacramento, who have a combined record of 3-8, while Chicago and Milwaukee contest the top spot in the Central Division that was supposedly theirs.
Although Granger’s absence has definitely left a void on the Pacers on both ends of the court – especially last night in the last possession against Minnesota when Gerald Green lost track of Chase Budinger, who snuck in for the winning lay-up in the game’s dying seconds – there are several more factors to the Pacers' early struggles than missing their floor leader.
For starters, the Pacers have played poorly on offense and with their execution, and are the third sloppiest team in the league with an average of 18.17 turnovers through six games. Their .409 field goal average ranks 25th overall.
Though they have brought back several of their main players from last season, the Pacers have struggled to fit in the new puzzle pieces they have brought in during the offseason. Tasked to lead what was poised to be a formidable bench, point guard D.J. Augustin has been ineffective thus far and often seems lost on the court under Frank Vogel’s system. Other than his highlight reel dunks, Gerald Green has been an early disappointment and has effectively curbed fans’ excitement with his inconsistency and poor decision-making.
After signing a four-year max deal in the offseason, All-Star center Roy Hibbert has been at par with his performance from the previous season, averaging 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game. The 7’2” center, however, is far from the imposing force the Pacers need him to be in the post to open up the court in their offense. He needs to assert himself more if the Pacers wish to reverse their offensive misfortunes.
Although he has done more than his part on the defensive end, more is expected from third-year guard Paul George on offense, especially in Granger’s absence. George is too gifted and talented to just be averaging 13.3 points per contest in a team that doesn’t have a 20-points-per-game scorer. George will need to re-infuse his aggressive mindset in the offseason and not shy away from the challenge of becoming the Pacers’ first option. He is far too talented to be as unselfish as he has shown. He will need to increase his scoring output, if not his willingness to do so.
Last but not the least, head coach Frank Vogel has plenty of responsibility to do with his team’s skid. As much as it’s safe to say that he isn’t going to follow Mike Brown to unemployment any time soon, Vogel has failed in adjusting his rotation to Granger’s loss, and the way he has fielded personnel on the floor has cost them at least a game or two, which was the case in the loss to Minnesota on Friday night. Vogel opted to go with the more offensive-minded Green rather than using his defensive specialist Sam Young. Vogel also relies heavily on his starters and will need to watch the minutes he gives to his veteran forward David West and George Hill, who had just recovered from a hip pointer injury that caused him to miss the entire preseason.
The Pacers have been rumored to be interested in veteran forward Mikael Pietrus to fill in for Granger and relieve some of the scoring for the struggling Pacers.
Yahoo! Sports reported that as of this writing, the Lakers have yet to reach out to Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw, whose name has been thrown around as one of the frontrunners to take over their head coaching job. Shaw has been mum on Lakers coaching job.
Follow Dennis on Twitter: @dRealSource