Granger Looks Lonely on the Pacers
Playing for the Indiana Pacers already makes him look like he's standing alone on an island -- waiting to get rescued.
"It doesn't matter how many points you score. If you don't win games, no one really cares,'' Granger told FanHouse Wednesday night before the Pacers played the Orlando Magic. "I've proven I can score. Now I have to prove we can win.''
Granger averaged 25.8 points last season when he won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award, becoming the first player in league history to raise his scoring average by at least five points in three consecutive seasons.
Yet he did it for a team that hasn't reached the playoffs since 2006, and a team now that doesn't look much improved from where it has been in recent years.
Finishing ahead of Granger in the scoring race were Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, all well-established stars who were in the playoffs. Finishing directly behind him were Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, all more recognizable stars.
Of those nine, which one doesn't seem to fit in the group?
"Recognition is really not that important to me, but if we start winning games, that takes care of itself,'' Granger said. "If we were in the Eastern final, and I was scoring 21 points a night, people would think I was great. I do think we're headed in the right direction.''
Granger and the Pacers were mauled Wednesday night by the Magic, the defending Eastern Conference champs whose talent advantage accentuated just how far the Pacers must climb to be competitive.
"They have four or five All-Stars. I lose count,'' Granger said after the game. "We have the tools to make the playoffs, but it's going to be tough in the East. There are a lot of teams that got better.''
The Pacers will start the season without Mike Dunleavy, arguably their second-best player who still is recovering from knee surgery. They also will start without rookie Tyler Hansbrough, who was nursing a shin bruise. Their point guard is journeyman T.J. Ford. Their center is Roy Hibbert, a second-year player who slipped to 17th in the draft because many people thought he was merely a backup.
"A lot of people are skeptical, but the only thing that changes people's minds is winning. Words are pretty hollow. Talk doesn't mean anything, so there's not much I can say,'' he said. "We just have to win.''
The Pacers won 36 games in each of the last two seasons. They have dramatically changed the roster in the last few years, starting a rebuilding process that could get more painful before it starts paying off.
Granger has been underestimated before. He was lightly recruited out of high school, eventually playing at both Bradley and New Mexico. And after a good college career, he slipped to No. 17 in the 2005 Draft because there were questions about his knees.
His scoring average in the NBA has gone from 7.5 points as a rookie to 13.9 ppg, 19.6 ppg and finally to 25.8 ppg, earning him a reserve berth in the All-Star Game last season.
"I've always been overlooked as a player, at every level,'' he said. "Becoming an All-Star really meant something because of that. Now I just want to help this team start winning consistently. We can do that.''