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TORONTO -- Had the NBA draft gone as many projected last June, Danny Granger would be playing at Air Canada Centre today.
The Raptors, however, used the seventh overall pick on Charlie Villanueva, a decision that has pleased them and the Indiana Pacers, recipients of the largesse of Granger falling into their lap at No. 17.
Villanueva has averaged 12.8 points and 6.4 rebounds, benefiting from the opportunities that come with playing on a losing team. Granger, surrounded by more firepower, has less-striking numbers -- 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds -- but has flashed his potential with increasing regularity.
Granger played just four minutes in last week's win over New York, after which coach Rick Carlisle said he planned to reduce Granger's playing time in the wake of Austin Croshere's return. That hasn't happened, partly because of the ripple effect of opportunity that resulted from Jeff Foster's strained back, and partly because Granger has been playing too well to sit.
Amid one of the most underachieving seasons in the Pacers' recent history, Granger's achievements have provided a silver lining for frustrated fans, who, it turns out, will see plenty of him in the final two regular-season games and the playoffs.
"He's going to be in the picture, for a lot of reasons," Carlisle said. "His defensive ability is very important to us. He's a young guy who's experiencing a lot right now and that bodes well for this year and the future."
Granger has averaged 11 points and eight rebounds in the three games since Carlisle's warning. In Saturday's overtime loss at Charlotte, he played the final 30 minutes while a mis-firing Croshere watched from the bench.
Granger's athleticism and aggression were glaring in that game, which is both a compliment to him and an indictment of some of his teammates. Aside from scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds, he made the hustle plays. He finished with four of the Pacers' eight offensive rebounds and four of their six blocked shots.
Typical of his hustle plays was the rebound of Jermaine O'Neal's miss, which set up another chance at a game-winning shot by Anthony Johnson. It missed as the buzzer sounded, but the rookie had done his part.
Granger had what was reported to be an impressive pre-draft workout for the Raptors last year. His plunge of 10 spots to the Pacers remains a bit of a mystery, although the minor knee injury he suffered his senior year in college probably was a factor.
"He surprises you," Johnson said. "You can try to box him in and say, 'He can't do this; he does this well,' but he's just a basketball player. Not to put him in the same neighborhood as Shawn Marion, but he's one of those guys you just have to put out there and let them play."
That's a good thing, because it would be difficult to fit Granger in a slot. He seems most natural at small forward, but the Pacers hope to re-sign Peja Stojakovic at that position this summer. Granger's versatility could avoid a potential conflict. He has played power forward, although at 6-9, 225, he's undersized for that position, and played shooting guard for the first time in Wednesday's win over Boston. Meanwhile, he has defended all five positions at some point this season.
He claims no personal preferences.
"I'm just happy if we win the game, whether I have a good game or not," he said.
Whatever position someone wants to attach to Granger seems a moot point to Carlisle.
"The guy's a basketball player; he'll be able to play where you put him," Carlisle said. "That's the kind of player I think Granger's going to be. I wouldn't be concerned about who he could or couldn't play with."
Foster still out
The Pacers decided not to fly Foster to Toronto to play tonight. He has missed the past two games with a strained lower back.
Fred Jones (left thumb) will miss his fourth straight game tonight. Jamaal Tinsley (Achilles) is day-to-day after missing Saturday's game in Charlotte.
Comparing the Pacers' rookies
Indiana forward Danny Granger is the second-most productive rookie the Pacers have had in the past decade. Here's how he compares to previous first-round draft picks.