It happens time and again in every walk of life and initially it can seem a little unfair: The person already doing the most, already giving plenty, gets asked to do and give more.
Doesn't seem right, does it? How fair is it, in a basketball context, to expect a team's best player to boost his or her current level of performance when others on the roster can get by making smaller contributions in more narrowly defined roles?
Or to get specific, how much more can -- and should -- the Indiana Pacers ask of one-time NBA All-Star forward Danny Granger?
Apparently, a good deal more.
Granger, the Pacers' best player for about the past four seasons, was solid again in 2009-10. He averaged 24.1 points, becoming the first Indiana player to score that much in consecutive seasons since Billy Knight. He rained in 158 three-pointers, the first Pacer since Reggie Miller to do that. That he could do those things while being targeted by most opposing game plans -- it's not like Indiana had all sorts of Plan Bs and Plan Cs -- was especially laudable.
Yet Granger missed 20 games to injury. His shooting accuracy dropped. He did not make it to Dallas for All-Star Weekend, and there were no signs of improvement as a defender or a rebounder.
So do the Pacers expect more from Granger in 2009-10? You betcha. Untapped potential and $50 million due over the next four seasons can raise the bar even for a team's best player. Maybe especially for the best player. It's the old coach-teacher-boss thing: If Granger weren't capable of giving more, the Pacers wouldn't be asking.
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien may have gotten an assist in nudging a little more out of his best player thanks to Granger's summer experience with the U.S. national team that won the FIBA World Championships.
Obviously playing time wasn't going to be divvied up equally among the elite NBA players who participated, but Granger wound up mostly watching for legit reasons. His averages of 9.7 minutes and 4.1 points were the third and second fewest on the squad, respectively. In two of the nine games, Granger did not play at all.
It became clear to those participating and watching that USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff were emphasizing defense, and rewarding with playing time those who provided it. Heckuva thing, being chosen to represent one's country on a global stage and then getting humbled in the process. But it seemed to take.
"I can be a good defensive player," Granger told the Indianapolis Star after the tournament. "Am I a better defensive player than Andre [Iguodala, the Philadelphia forward who saw more action]? I don't know. We won the gold and that's all that mattered. I'd go back again if I was asked because it was a wonderful experience."
O'Brien thinks Granger can benefit from another lesson with Team USA. As they spin their wheels, coming off the franchise's first 50-loss season in more than 20 years and waiting for some salary-cap relief to kick in next summer, the Pacers need all the leadership they can get. Rather than relaxing even a little and tilting toward poor work habits, the club and its coach need Granger setting the highest example for Indiana's younger players.
"Danny mentioned Chauncey Billups by name as being a tremendous leader on and off the court," O'Brien said in a recent telephone interview. "I would agree with him -- I've known Chauncey for years, we drafted him in Boston. For Danny to see the impact of a Chauncey Billups on a team should be a great lesson on him, from the standpoint of how he's doing as our leader."
Said Granger at the start of Pacers camp: "Playing with guys like Chauncey Billups, who's done so much in the NBA, you're just watching him and some of the things he does and the way he handles himself, the way he talks to other players. Everybody really had to take something from that."
Now it might seem a stretch to find any more lessons in Granger's summer-break travels, but O'Brien -- who, in newly acquired point guard Darren Collison and hard-working third-year center Roy Hibbert, has two more solid pieces alongside Granger -- found some anyway. He suggested that Team USA striving to dominate the planet bore a real resemblance to his crew searching for respectability near the bottom of the Central Division.
"Danny played with a group that very few people gave a chance to win the gold," O'Brien explained. "People were saying they didn't have enough experience, they didn't have enough firepower up front, they didn't have that imposing figure in the lane. What he did was what we're going to have to do: Danny was part of a group that didn't buy what other people were saying. Our strengths are perimeter-oriented ourselves, other than Roy Hibbert. And nobody's picking us to do anything."
So let's see if we've got this straight: Granger needs to keep impressing Krzyzewski, O'Brien and others with his defense, rebounding and all-around game. If he does, the Pacers can expect to hear the sounds of a victory tune playing each night.
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