First-time All-Star Granger just getting started
By John Schuhmann,
Posted Feb 12 2009 12:26PM

Danny Granger has made it to his first All-Star Game, but that doesn't mean he's satisfied. Becoming an All-Star has been only a part of Granger's plan all along.

When he arrived in Indiana back in 2005, as a gangly Louisiana kid who went to school in New Mexico, Granger made it clear to anyone who would listen that he wanted to become an All-Star and one of the best players in the league. He also -- are you reading this, Jerry Colangelo? -- wanted to become a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.

Those are some lofty goals for someone selected in the bottom half of the first round of the Draft. But four years after the Pacers picked him 17th, Granger's plan is starting to come to fruition. Since his rookie season, the 25-year-old forward has improved his scoring average by six points a game, each and every year. Now, he ranks sixth in the league in scoring (at 25.4 points a game), which prompted Eastern Conference coaches to pick him as an All-Star reserve.

Unless your team selected Andrew Bogut, Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Andrew Bynum in 2005, you've probably imagined what life would have been like with Granger in your team's uniform. In particular, the teams who picked between Bynum (No. 10) and Granger (at No. 17) back in 2005 list a Who's Who of who wasn't.

Read 'em and weep: Fran Vazquez, Yaroslav Korolev, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Antoine Wright and Joey Graham.

When asked recently about passing on Granger, one general manager who picked ahead of the Pacers didn't bother to defend his pick or bring up concerns about Granger's left knee, which was swollen during pre-draft workouts. "We blew it," he said.

Pacers GM Larry Bird had worked out Granger and was so impressed that he told the senior from the University of New Mexico that he wouldn't make it to the 17th pick. The Pacers had been pegged as the fifth-best player in the draft and were shocked that he was still on the board when their turn came up.

Still, as much as Bird loved Granger's talent, there was no guarantee that the Pacers had a future All-Star on their hands. "You really can't measure a kid's heart, his toughness or his desire to be one of the best players in the league," Bird says now. "They all talk about it, but going out and doing it is a different thing."

Danny Granger has steadily soared from No. 17 overall pick in the 2005 draft to one of this season's top scorers.

As Granger's scoring has increased, so has his role with the Pacers. Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest, Peja Stojakovic and Jamaal Tinsley were some of Granger's teammates in his rookie season. None of them are around now. Granger knew that he would be his team's focal point sooner or later. That time is now.

"I've been preparing it for it for a couple of years," he says. "As a team leader, you definitely have to feel responsible for the team losing, and when they win."

The problem is that the Pacers have been losing more than they've been winning. Only three of the 26 All-Stars in Phoenix come from teams with a losing record, and Granger is one of them. Leadership, in times like these, can be a burden.

"When you're losing more than you would like, it's tough," Granger says. "We've lost so many close games, and if I look back at it, I kind of get sick to my stomach when I think about how our year could be going at this point as opposed to how it is going."

Granger knows that being a top-five scorer and an All-Star is not everything. It's one thing to elevate your game. The next step is to take your team with you.

"I've improved statistically," he says. "I think I can consistently do that. But the learning part is pushing my team to more wins. Even if the numbers drop, we need to be winning more. That's the next step in my process."

To do that, Granger says he needs to be more of a distributor on offense. Bird sees that happening already.

"Danny's starting to pick up his assists," he says. "He's starting to see the court and when you do that, you involve your teammates. They feel like if they can get open, he'll get them the ball. This brings their game up a little bit."

Defensively, Granger believes he needs to be "more of a focal point." Though he's hit several big shots in the closing seconds of games, his team is just 6-10 in games decided by three points or less. The Pacers rank in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency. Those big shots that Granger drain don't matter if the Pacers can't get big stops.

As the man in charge of personnel, Bird knows that he's ultimately responsible for the Pacers' success. Indiana was without Mike Dunleavy for the first 34 games of the season, but the Pacers haven't exactly been on a tear with him back in the lineup.

"We know we've got to get better players," Bird says. "Hopefully, we can draft another player like Danny. It takes more than one guy."

More talent certainly won't hurt, but Granger still wants to be the one that leads the Pacers back to the playoffs. Indiana hasn't been to the postseason since the 2005-06 season, when it was ousted in six games by New Jersey.

Lately, Granger has done what he can. He's been playing through a bruised knee for the last few weeks. He's hit important shots, including a clutch free throw Tuesday that beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Through Tuesday, the Pacers were 11-11 since the start of the year.

Making those kinds of strides can only help as Granger looks to take the next step in his development.

"It will take time, but Danny's already come a long way," Bird says. "And now he's starting to see the whole picture and how to play the game."