Pacers Surprised by Windfall in Draft

Pacers Surprised by Windfall in Draft

By Conrad Brunner | June 28, 2005

When the Pacers invited Danny Granger to join their first group of pre-draft workouts, they were a little surprised he agreed to come, considering he was widely rated as one of the top 10 prospects in the NBA Draft.

Granger promptly confirmed their suspicions, showing the Pacers precisely why they believed he wouldn't be available at No. 17.

"After we saw him in that first workout, I asked Larry (Bird), 'We've actually got a chance to draft this guy?'" said Coach Rick Carlisle. "And he said, 'Nah, probably not.'"

As the draft unfolded Tuesday night, circumstances conspired very much to the Pacers' advantage and Granger was indeed on the board when their pick arrived. The Pacers jumped at the chance to select the experienced, versatile 6-8 forward from New Mexico.

"Granger can come in here tomorrow and play," said team President Larry Bird. "He's very talented. I never dreamed he'd be there. ... I still can't believe it. I think he's that good of a player."

Bird was similarly pleased with second-round pick (No. 46 overall) Erazem Lorbek, a native of Slovenia who spent one season at Michigan State before returning to Europe for the last two seasons. The 6-10 power forward won the Euroleague's Rising Star Trophy in 2004-05, which goes to the league's top player under the age of 22, after averaging 9.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in Italy. Lorbek will remain in Europe for at least one more season, said Bird, who scouted him extensively.

"Lorbek is a kid I've been watching the last three years," Bird said. "He's solid. He's not real athletic but he knows how to play. I never thought he'd be there at 46."

Granger began his career at Bradley but spent his final two seasons at New Mexico, finishing with an extraordinary senior season. He was the only player in college basketball last year to average at least 18 points (18.8), eight rebounds (8.9), two steals (2.1) and two blocks (2.0) while also shooting .433 from the 3-point line, third in the Mountain West Conference.

Granger, who had plenty of reason to believe he would be a high lottery pick, was in New York for the draft. In a teleconference with the Indianapolis media, he acknowledged some frustration at slipping down the draft board but said it was offset by the quality of team he will soon be joining.

"(There's) definitely no disappointment," Granger said. "Indiana's a playoff team. Sometimes it's better going lower, going to a better team where you have time to learn is better than going to a losing team."

The draft shifted to the Pacers' favor at three critical junctures: when Toronto took Connecticut forward Charlie Villanueva at No. 7, the Lakers took high school center Andrew Bynum at No. 10 and Charlotte took North Carolina forward Sean May at No. 13. After Minnesota, New Jersey and Toronto thinned the Pacers' draft list by selecting North Carolina shooting guard Rashad McCants, Texas A&M wing Antoine Wright and Oklahoma State forward Joey Graham, respectively, the Pacers were left with plenty of options, but really only one choice.

They also considered Texas high school shooting guard Gerald Green, Syracuse forward Hakim Warrick and Louisville shooting guard Francisco Garcia before quickly settling on Granger.

"We were looking at the possibility of getting one of three players – we had Graham, Granger and Warrick very highly rated," Carlisle said. "And our scouts also liked Green as a prospect. But when Granger came down to us, we were amazed. He was the one guy everybody in the draft room agreed would be a terrific player for us and really ready to help right now, which is important in the position we're in right now.

"If we would've had the fifth pick, he would've been the best player available. That's how strongly we felt about Danny Granger's abilities to not only play in this league but contribute on our team. We're very fortunate tonight, and very happy."

Though the Pacers have Ron Artest back as the starting small forward, there is no backup currently on the roster. James Jones is a restricted free agent. Because of his combination of skill and experience, Granger is expected to move right into the rotation.

"I don't think there's any question he's going to compete right away for playing time," Carlisle said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you the number of minutes he's going to play – he's got to earn it – but you're talking about one of the really accomplished players in this draft in terms of skills and abilities and he has a track record. He's done it over a period of years in college at a high level, and those things mean something."

They don't know exactly why Granger slipped so far, but are convinced it was nothing more than a combination of unusual circumstances that had no reflection on his record or background. As well as his strong resume as a player, he was an accomplished student, a civil engineering major who turned down a scholarship to Yale because, as he explained, it just didn't feel right.

"One thing I've learned over the years is that when guys unexpectedly drop, there isn't always a real reasonable explanation," said Carlisle. "Sometimes, it just happens. … It was shocking, but we feel very fortunate."


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