Not only have the Indiana Pacers remained relevant in the Eastern Conference standings without injured former All-Star forward Danny Granger in the lineup, the team would be a third seed if the playoffs were to begin today. The NBA regular season is a grueling marathon and injuries are undoubtedly par for the course. Weaker teams wilt and crumble without their top player to bail them out, while other teams are still able to excel because a supporting star takes their game to the next level and becomes a team’s future.
Third-year wing Paul George has thrust himself to the forefront of the Pacers’ future while earning his first All-Star selection, averaging 17.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and four assists per game through 52 games this season.
“It’s been a fun journey,” George said regarding his first trip to league’s mid-season star showcase. “It’s really an indication of working hard. I was given an opportunity and was able to make the most of it.”
George’s play this season has been a blessing for the Pacers, but on the other side of the equation rumors have begun circulating about the future of Granger with the franchise. There are questions about whether Granger’s presence in the lineup would hinder George’s ascent to star status and there’s legitimate concern about the long-term future of the veteran’s troublesome knees. Granger is on the books for $13 million this season and owed $14 million in 2014, the last year of his deal.
However, George has no doubt the partnership with Granger can work.
“Granger’s an All-Star,” George said during All-Star weekend. “He’s been an All-Star. So he plays at a high level as it is and we have the aspirations of being a combo type of wing dynamic. You look at the teams like Miami and Oklahoma City and they have two dominant wings playing off one another. That’s the way I envision us playing with each other.”
“I [Granger’s] return will help me get open looks,” George added. “I think I’ll be able to make plays for him as well as he will be able to make plays for me.”
Whether the dynamic can truly work with the changing of the guard taking place before our eyes, George knew his day was coming to have his name mentioned with the league’s elite players. When asked if making the All-Star team was a goal of his, George was honest.
“It was,” George said. “I felt like it was very much in my reach to be an All-Star this year.”
Once the All-Star weekend festivities come to a close, it’s obvious leading the Pacers on a deep playoff run is George’s top priority over the next few months.
“We have a real legitimate shot of making a pretty long run this year,” George said.
The Pacers advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2005 campaign last season, losing to the eventual champion Miami HEAT in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. If the playoffs were to begin today, Indiana would face the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round. The Hawks lead the season series 2-1 with the last meeting coming on March 25 in Indiana.