Granger's Peak as Great as Any Player in Pacers History

Danny Granger was never supposed to play for the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers had the 17th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. They had Granger come to Indianapolis for a pre-draft workout, but hardly harbored any illusions that they would be able to get him without trading up in the draft.

A 6-8 swingman out of New Mexico with eye-popping athleticism and an NBA-ready body, Granger steadily rose up draft boards that spring. He seemed a lock to go in the lottery. ESPN draft expert Chad Ford's final rankings before the draft listed Granger as the fifth-best prospect in the 2005 class. NBADraft.net had him going seventh to Toronto.

But a funny thing happened on draft night. Fueled in part by concerns over a knee injury from college, Granger unexpectedly slid down the draft as team after team passed on him.

Somehow, someway, when NBA Commissioner David Stern stepped to the podium to announce that Indiana was now on the clock, Granger was still on the board.

"When Granger came down to us, we were amazed," then-head coach Rick Carlisle said on draft night. "He was the one guy everybody in the draft room thought would be a terrific pick and ready to help us right now."

As the Pacers' first draft pick following Reggie Miller's retirement, Granger quickly assumed the mantle as the new face of the franchise. He was the one constant during an era dominated by roster overhaul and rebuilding.

After emerging as one of the most gifted scorers in franchise history, it was Granger who guided Indiana out of the wilderness and back into the Promised Land of the playoffs.

And while injuries robbed him of the opportunity to enjoy the greatest fruits of his labors (and ultimately ended his career), Granger gracefully handed over the reins to Paul George, remaining a key mentor for George as he blossomed into the next star Pacers swingman.

Highlights: Danny Granger's Prolific Pacers Career
Check out these highlights of Pacers forward Danny Granger. Granger, an All-Star and the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2009, will be honored with a bobblehead at Sunday's Decade Game.

Granger joined the Pacers in a period of transition. Miller called it quits on an 18-year career after the 2004-05 season, which ended with a loss to the Pistons in the second round of the playoffs.

The team celebrated the start of a new era by unveiling new uniforms for Granger's rookie season, replacing the pinstriped jerseys with the subtler current design.

Despite returning most of the core of players that had won 61 games two seasons prior, the 2005-06 season did not go as Pacers fans envisioned. Ron Artest demanded a trade in December and was shipped to Sacramento on Jan. 25 for Peja Stojakovic. Injuries plagued other stars, with Jermaine O'Neal missing 31 games and Jamaal Tinsley sitting out 40 contests.

Indiana finished the season 41-41, losing in six games to the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The team would not return to the postseason for another five years, as Larry Bird reshaped the roster over the next several seasons with a series of trades and acquisitions.

Over the next two years, Indiana parted ways with Austin Croshere, Anthony Johnson, Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, O'Neal, and Tinsley, among others. Quicker than he ever expected, Granger became the focal point of the Pacers' offense.

He quickly blossomed into a bona fide star.

He chose the number 33 because he idolized Scottie Pippen growing up, and Granger's all-around game shared many similarities with the six-time NBA champion. He could rebound well for his position and could be a menace defensively, whether it was blocking shots at the rim or smothering guards on the perimeter.

But above all else, Granger could score. Whether he was running the floor in transition, posting up on the block, or spotting up from beyond the 3-point arc, Granger had a special gift when it came to putting the ball in the basket.

His scoring average increased from 7.5 points per game as a rookie to 13.9 in his second year to 19.6 in his third and, finally, to 25.8 in the 2008-09 season. That kind of improvement was entirely unprecedented — he was the first player in NBA history to increase his scoring average by over five points in three straight seasons.

While the Pacers did not have the overall talent to contend during those years, Granger kept them relevant, capable of carrying them to victory on any given night.

Perhaps the best story about the Danny Granger era came at the start of the 2008-09 season. Granger agreed to a five-year, $60 million extension on Nov. 1. The next day, the Pacers hosted the defending champion Boston Celtics at The Fieldhouse for the team's home opener.

With Granger leading the way, the Pacers dominated the defending champs. Indiana led by 16 points with under 10 minutes to play, when Granger picked up Celtics All-Star Paul Pierce well beyond the 3-point line.

Granger poked the ball free from Pierce with his left hand, causing the ball to bound back towards the half-court line. Granger flung himself after the ball, but Pierce fell on top of him, driving the Pacers star's face directly into the hardwood.

When Granger got back up, he flashed a smile at head coach Jim O'Brien, revealing that he had lost his two front teeth in the collision. He headed to he bench, popped in a mouthguard, and immediately returned the floor, ultimately finishing with a game-high 20 points in a 95-79 victory.

"Losing his teeth when we're up by 16 just shows the commitment he has, and the commitment everybody else has to have, to make this climb back up the mountain," long-time Pacers forward Jeff Foster marveled after the game.

#TBT: Granger Loses His Teeth
Nov. 2, 2008 - One day after signing a major contract extension, Pacers forward Danny Granger lost his two front teeth diving for a loose ball against Paul Pierce in a 95-79 win over the defending champion Celtics.

It was a symbolic start to what would ultimately be a historic season for Granger. He finished the year fifth in the NBA in scoring (25.8 points per game) while also amassing 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.4 blocks per contest. Granger carried a heavy offensive load with remarkable efficiency, posting a .447 field-goal percentage, .404 3-point percentage, and .878 free throw percentage.

He was chosen to his only All-Star team during that season and at the conclusion of the year was voted as the NBA's Most Improved Player.

You could make a strong argument that Granger's 2008-09 season was the greatest individual offensive season in franchise history. He became the only Pacers player and just the 12th in NBA history to average over 25 points per game while also shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range (four players have since joined that club: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Stephen Curry).

But the Pacers' rebuild would take a couple more years. Bird slowly added pieces around Granger, acquiring center Roy Hibbert on a draft night trade in 2008, then taking Tyler Hansbrough in the first round in 2009.

In the summer of 2010, Granger made perhaps his greatest lasting contribution to the franchise, advising Bird to draft George with the 10th overall pick. Granger and George shared an agent, Aaron Mintz, and worked out together in Los Angeles during the pre-draft process.

Bird called Granger shortly before the draft to get his opinion of George.

"I said, 'You better draft him,'" Granger recalled. "Just from what I saw in the workouts, I knew he was special."

With George in tow, the Pacers returned to the playoffs in the 2010-11 season. They lost to the top-seeded Bulls in five games in the first round, but it was clear that the franchise was on the rise.

Granger led the team in scoring for a fourth straight season and also was the team's top scorer in each of their postseason contests. But it was his leadership off the court — be it throwing his support behind interim coach Frank Vogel, who took over after O'Brien was relieved of his duties midway through the season, or offering advice and encouragement to younger players like George and Hibbert — that left the biggest impression.

"Danny was a huge mentor for me," George recalled.

"I just cherished those moments of being around him and training with an All-Star. He immediately took me under his wing from day one and was kind of showing me the ropes, teaching me how to be a professional. Really, it was him that pushed me to the limits."

The next season, the Pacers really turned the corner. After adding former Broad Ripple and IUPUI star George Hill in a draft night trade, Bird signed veteran forward David West in free agency, cementing Indiana's new core. The Pacers went 42-24 in the lockout-shortened season, securing the third seed in the East heading into the playoffs.

Granger led the team in scoring once again, though his average dipped as he allowed George, West, and Hibbert to all take on more prominent roles in the offense. In the first round, Granger was the driving force in a 4-1 series win over the Magic, scoring 26 points in a pivotal Game 3 victory in Orlando and then posting 25 in the Game 5 clincher back in Indianapolis.

That set the stage for a memorable showdown with the Miami Heat in the second round. The Pacers got up early in that series, winning Game 2 in Miami and Game 3 back home. In both of those wins, Granger got into a verbal confrontation with LeBron James, showing that he and his teammates weren't going to back down from the heavy favorites.

The Heat, however, bounced back to win the next three games and take the series. James and Dwyane Wade combined for 70 points in their Game 4 victory, a night which many analysts see as the turning point in what turned out to be Miami's first championship run with James.

The Pacers and Heat would meet again in each of the next two postseasons, but Granger was not a participant in either series.

Injuries limited him to just five games during the 2012-13 season. Despite the personal disappointment, Granger remained an important voice in the Pacers locker room. Throughout the year, he provided encouragement and coaching not only to George, who made his first All-Star team, but also formerly seldom-used reserve Lance Stephenson, who emerged as a key cog in the starting lineup. Ultimately, the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to Miami in seven games.

Granger returned the following season, though injuries once again delayed his debut. When he did return, he willingly ceded his place in the starting lineup to Stephenson, but struggled adjusting to a new role with the second unit. After appearing in 29 games, Granger was dealt at the trade deadline on Feb. 20, 2014 to Philadelphia for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen.

After the 76ers bought out his contract, Granger signed with the Clippers, where he played a limited role off the bench in Los Angeles' run to the the Western Conference Semifinals. He signed with Miami the next summer and appeared in 30 games for the Heat. He was traded to Phoenix midseason, but never played for the Suns due to knee injuries. He was dealt to Detroit prior to the 2015-16 season, but again his knees prevented him from participating in training camp, and he was waived prior to the season.

Ultimately, the knee issues that caused him to slip on draft night derailed his career, but not before several productive seasons. He is the sixth leading scorer in franchise history, just nine points behind O'Neal. He ranks second to only Miller in 3-pointers made (George will likely pass him sometime next season) and is also seventh in blocks and eighth in steals.

One of the best players to ever wear a Pacers uniform, Granger did not get to enjoy as much team success as some of the other stars in franchise history. Still, he played an invaluable role during a time of transition, bridging the gap between the Reggie Miller Era and Paul George's emergence.

And at his peak, Granger was on the same level as both Miller and George, a dynamic scorer capable of single-handedly willing his team to victory.

So it is fitting that Granger will be honored at Sunday's 2000s "Decade Game" against the Heat, where all fans will receive a commemorative bobblehead of the 2008-09 Most Improved Player. George, who still calls up Granger for advice from time to time, is thrilled to see his mentor back in the spotlight.

"I think they definitely should pay tribute for what Danny has done here in Indiana and who he's been for me in my career," George said.