Once upon a time, Danny Granger was one of the league's most prolific scorers and the most important player on his club's roster, reflected by his sizable contract with the franchise. For most teams, losing that kind of player for most of the season would be a crushing blow.
Not the 2013 Indiana Pacers, currently second in the Eastern Conference with a 34-21 record despite having Granger play exactly zero games so far this season due to a knee injury.
Even without Granger, one of the few players in the league capable of scoring 20 points a night, the Pacers have hardly missed a beat this season. Part of that can be attributed to a stifling defense that rates as the league's best, but it's also been the result of improvement from key players such as Paul George.
For some, his return is being hailed as the potential piece that puts Indiana in a legitimate NBA title conversation; for others, it's unclear how Granger will fit into a team that's seen George blossom in his absence.
Either way, one thing is true: With the trade deadline rear-view mirror, no team is likely to get a bigger addition this season than Indiana with Granger.
How they replaced Granger
At his peak during the 2008-09 season, Granger took over 19 shots a game, finishing fifth in the league with nearly 26 points per game. He was the obvious centerpiece of the offense, and even as he saw a decreased role in recent years, his shots per game figure never dipped below 15.
Last season, George took 9.7 shots per game, primarily on open 3-pointers and attacks to the rim. He's up to 15 a contest this season while seeing only a slight decline in terms of efficiency, all while taking on an expanded role as distributor -- he's assisted on over 19 percent of Indiana's field goals when he's on the court this year.
But George hasn't been alone in taken on greater responsibility. West and Hill have taken on expanded roles in the offense without issue, giving the Pacers a pretty balanced scoring load. West's per game scoring is up from 12.8 points a year ago to 17.2 this season, and his true shooting percentage is identical to last season's.
Hill has shown a similar increase in per game production, going from 9.6 points last year to 14.6 points this season, while maintaining his strong shooting figures. He's also adjusted better to his role as a distributor, assisting on nearly a quarter of the team's buckets when he's played this season.
Rarely can a team ask three of its most important players to step up and do even more, but Vogel has coaxed impressive performances out of George, West and Hill. More than anything, that's kept the Pacers quite competitive this season.
Adding Granger to the mix
Even with those substantial improvements from three core players, combing over the Pacers' roster, you'd happily admit that the team could use more scoring. The Pacers' offensive efficiency is just 20th in the league, tied with the Sacramento Kings, and that's after a recent stretch of big games that boosted that figure.
It makes one wonder, can Granger be the guy who turns Indiana into a solid offense? If Indiana can pair its dominant defense with even an above-average offense, one can easily imagine this team making some serious noise in the playoffs after giving Miami a run for its money last year.
The thing is, Granger both helps and hurts. As talented as he is from a scoring perspective, there are very legitimate questions surrounding how exactly his teammates will adjust to his presence. It's not necessarily that guys will be fighting over shots, but Indiana has had a good thing going with Granger on the sidelines.
One area where Granger can definitely help Indiana out is long-distance shooting. An efficient shooter from mid-range and beyond the arc, Granger should be a massive improvement over Lance Stephenson, the guy he'll primarily be replacing.
Though he's a fantastic finisher at the rim, Stephenson has made just 27 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet and 35 percent of his 3-point shots. Last season, Granger shot 38 percent from both of those areas. Add in the minutes Granger will be taking away from Gerald Green, currently shooting 28 percent from beyond 16 feet, and it's easy to see how he'll help.
But there is a legitimate question to be asked, and that's whether the likes of West, George and Hill can maintain their success upon his return. Granger is a player who tends to stop the ball and force ISO situations, so one has to consider whether he will take away some of the rhythm from those guys.
So, what will be the difference?
The Pacers will be a better team with Granger, that much can't be doubted. A player with his scoring ability and length can always find a way to fit in, assuming he returns at a level near where he was pre-injury -- the real question is simply whether he'll detract from those around him.
Last season with a similar roster and Granger playing, the Pacers were eighth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, so it's probably safe to say that they'll be better than they've been. Heck, even without Granger's return, Indiana's offense has been getting better, averaging 113 points in its past three games.
Granger can help the Pacers in places where they've struggled this season, namely shooting and getting to the free-throw line. But he's also a high usage player that rarely sets up his teammates for easy baskets.
To put things simply, the Pacers will be better, just because Granger is such a better player than the likes of Stephenson and Green. But with so many other players on the roster thriving in his absence, how much better will the team be if those guys take a step back?
It's a tough question to answer, but the possibilities should make Indiana one of the most intriguing teams to watch the rest of the season.