By Jon R. LaFollette (@JonFilet)
The same question keeps getting asked of Pacers head coach Frank Vogel.
Will Danny Granger start over Lance Stephenson?
There’s a better question going unasked, however.
Is there a wrong answer?
“No,” Vogel said. “That’s the thing. There isn’t a wrong answer. It’s just how I want to use [Granger and Stephenson].”
That’s not to say Vogel is without his preferences.
“If Danny reaches his form and becomes an All-Star level player,” Vogel said. “Then he and Paul [George] are our wings.”
There are those who question how Granger’s return will effect team chemistry or hinder George’s development.
No need to worry.
“Honestly, I don’t think [chemistry] will be an issue,” Granger said. “We’ve got a lot of veterans on this team.”
Veterans like David West, who won’t tolerate petty arguments over minutes and playing time.
Veterans like Roy Hibbert, who has grown into an understated leader and team hype man.
Veterans like Granger, who are too professional and too selfless to let individual goals deter a season aimed at winning a title.
Everyone has bought into their role, including Stephenson.
“Either way, if Danny starts or I start, we’re a good unit,” Stephenson said. “I just need to play my game.”
Granger’s and Stepheson’s styles of play vary, but both of their skill sets will help the Pacers be productive in different ways.
At this point in his career, Granger will primarily serve as a spot up shooter from behind the arc. According to Basketball Reference, 32 percent of his shots came from long range in 2010-11, and 36 percent in 2011-12. His shot selection has slid farther from the basket, a result of Hibbert and West hogging space down low, as well Paul George’s ability to get to the rim.
And the three ball is a shot Granger is very proficient at. His career average is 38 percent, and he has eclipsed 40 percent twice – once being the year he made his lone All-Star appearance. Certainly not Stephen Curry-like numbers, but efficient nonetheless. Not beholden to a select spot from deep, Granger can hit from just about anywhere. Below is his shot chart from his last full season.
As for Stephenson, he’s a sneaky good rebounder for his position, and his speed allows him to get out in transition for the easy layup. Away from the basket, he mostly works the right side of the court and has become a reliable threat from the corner (see the chart below).
Defensively, the differences between the two are negligible. When given the minutes, each amass around three defensive win shares per season – which roughly equates them to average defenders. For what Lance has in hands and his ability to steal the ball, Granger makes up with size and the ability to guard multiple positions.
Last year, the Pacers’ starting lineup of Hill, Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert was one of the most productive lineups in the league. They outscored their opponents by 287 points and hit 117 more field goals than the competition – both league bests. The Pacers also hit 41 more three point shots than their opponents, bested only by Portland.
Though the sample size of a starting five with Granger is significantly smaller, the Pacers were productive nonetheless. For the nine games the team played in March of 2012, they were first in the league at outscoring their opponents, first in free throw attempts and first in field goal differential.
Regardless of who gets the starting nod, the Pacers will continue to be productive. The team is too talented, too professional and too well coached to let a media manufactured conundrum get in the way.
“My job as coach is to put the best five guys on the court for 48 minutes,” Vogel said.
Sounds easy, Frank. Take your pick. Chances are you won’t be wrong.