Posted Jan 22 2009 6:47PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The list of the NBA's top scorers is mostly predictable.
Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Danny Granger, Dirk Nowitzki ... Danny Granger?
The Indiana Pacers' relatively unknown forward is averaging 26.2 points and is the league's No. 4 scorer -- making a strong case to earn his first All-Star selection in his fourth season.
His legendary boss has bigger things in mind.
"I want Danny to make the All-Star team, but I'd rather see him represent our country in the next Olympics," Pacers president Larry Bird, a gold medalist with the 1992 Dream Team, told the Associated Press. "That's what I want to see, and that's when you know you made it, because those are all the best players in the world."
Bird said Granger's improved shooting, a result of his work ethic, should get him to the 2012 games in London.
"In the last year, just watching from the beginning of the season, it's all business, but at a higher level," Bird said. "I think Danny understands what it takes to get there, and I think he'll do it."
Granger averaged 34.7 points while shooting 49 percent over a six-game stretch against Western Conference teams that began on Jan. 3 and has scored more than 40 points three times since the start of December.
That's quite a feat for a player who fell to 17th in the 2005 draft. Though he's not as well known as Chris Paul and Deron Williams, the most established stars of that draft, he leads that group in scoring.
Granger isn't just putting up points, he's developing a reputation for making clutch shots. He drained a game-winning 3-pointer over two-time MVP Steve Nash on Jan. 7 in Phoenix, then made a game-tying jumper late in regulation before the Pacers beat Detroit in overtime a week later.
He made another dramatic shot this week, a game-tying 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left Monday at New Orleans, before being one-upped by Paul at the buzzer.
If he makes the All-Star game, he'll get voted in by the coaches. In the most recent returns from fan balloting, Granger was just eighth among Eastern Conference forwards.
If history is an indicator, Granger's slot in the Feb. 15 game in Phoenix appears secure. No player since 1992 who has averaged at least 26.1 points and was healthy at the All-Star break failed to make his conference's team, according to STATS LLC.
Bird never thought he'd have a chance to see Granger make it in a Pacers uniform. He recalls thinking he'd have to trade up for a shot at him.
"The day we brought him in to work him out for the draft, I told him there's no way we'll get you at 17, you're just too good," Bird said. "I never even dreamed we'd have a possibility."
A knee injury Granger suffered while playing at New Mexico scared teams off and allowed the Pacers to get their man.
Granger's first NBA mentor was Ron Artest, the former defensive player-of-the-year now with Houston. Granger said intense practices and training sessions with Artest helped him understand how hard he needed to work to make it in the league.
"He said they've always got somebody coming behind you waiting to take your spot," Granger said. "He said 'take you a spot, even if it's mine."'
Granger has steadily improved each season. He averaged 7.5 points as a rookie, 13.9 his second season and 19.6 in 2007-08.
With Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal having been traded the past three seasons, Granger is now the face of the franchise. He signed a five-year contract extension this season worth up to $65 million.
"He's going to have to be the cornerstone now," Pistons foward Tayshaun Prince said. "He's the guy that's playing great basketball and carrying the load for the team."
Granger scored 30 points in a loss at Utah on Jan. 12.
"He has freedom throughout the offense," Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer said. "He's able to take it to the basket, come off downscreens, pick and rolls. If he's hot and gets it going, he's capable of scoring 40 points."
He scored 37 points in the win at Phoenix, but the big shot over Nash was the one that increased his confidence the most.
"It just took it to another level," Granger said. "I had already been scoring the ball, and at that moment in time, I really wanted to take that last shot. That's what I live for, that's the shot I want to take."
Bird considers Granger a very good all-around player, but he wants Granger to continue to fine-tune the skills that don't involve scoring.
"I don't care if you get 40," Bird said. "Get eight rebounds. Get five assists. It's them little things that make you a complete player. If I had anything to say about his game, he should be getting eight rebounds a game. Other than that, he's fine."
Granger wants to attack his weaknesses to reach his personal goals and reward Bird's confidence. He sees making the Olympic team as a legitimate possibility.
"That's a great honor, and I think I could definitely reach that level," he said. "It's definitely within my grasp. I just have to keep developing my game."
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