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If you’re still sleeping on the Pacers, it’s time to wake up

New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers - Game SixThe Indiana Pacers are taking the NBA by storm this season, but for some reason, they don’t seem to be the biggest blip on everyone’s radar. Through eight games, the Pacers are undefeated and they clearly own the title of the best team in the Association. And the scary thing is, the squad is about to add another crucial piece to the mix.

The oft-injured Danny Granger resumed practice with the team Tuesday after missing three weeks because of a strained calf. The thought of throwing him and his expansive repertoire of talent into the mix of an already explosive young team should be something that frightens the rest of the NBA.

Indiana’s current starting lineup of George Hill, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West, and Roy Hibbert is the best five-man lineup in the NBA in terms of defensive rating. The group allows just 80.4 points per 100 possessions, according to the NBA’s stats website. So, it’s not likely that Granger will crack the starting lineup with that type of success occurring, but he can definitely contribute off of the bench.

A large part of the success of the starters has revolved around a risky project that the Pacers undertook in the 2010 NBA Draft. It was then that Indiana and then-president Larry Bird, who has returned to the team in the same role after a brief respite, recognized the gigantic potential that Lance Stephenson presented. The Cincinnati Bearcats product was labeled as a troubled prospect coming out of the famed Lincoln High School in New York City. It was there that he earned the nick-name “Born Ready” for his pro-style game as a youngster. The moniker proved to be premature as Lance struggled to develop as a player at Cincinnati, he left after his freshman year when he probably should have stayed for at least one more year.

But, Indiana capitalized on the opportunity to draft him at the valuable spot of 40th overall in 2010. Stephenson is currently averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.9 assists per game and he has solidified his spot in the starting lineup with his Tony Allen-with-a-tangible-offensive-game style of play. Granger would have to do other-worldly things to take his spot.

Paul George, the team’s superstar, has been dominant thus far and is a leading MVP candidate early on in the season as he’s averaging 24.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. West and Hibbert continue to be beasts in the paint and Hill is running the point well. Things are looking good, and the team might have a tough time etching out a role for Granger.

They already have solid wings off the bench in Orlando Johnson, Solomon Hill, and Chris Copeland, who hasn’t found a role yet after coming over from New York. However, Indiana is still struggling to get reliable bench scoring as Luis Scola and C.J. Watson haven’t been able to provide much. This leaves the door open for Granger to come in and grab the sixth man role by the horns. And he’s very capable of lighting it up, he averaged at least 18 points per game for five straight season in Indiana before missing most of last year.

“I’ll probably have a time frame where for X number of games or so, he’ll come off the bench and probably get some of the minutes Orlando Johnson and Solomon Hill are getting,”¬†head coach Frank Vogel told reporter Scott Agness.

“Then, we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Also, if things don’t work out for some reason, there have been whispers of trade possibilities with Granger. An intriguing deal would be with the Clippers for the instant-offense player that is Jamal Crawford; their contracts match up nicely.

Long story short, the Pacers are firing on all cylinders right now, and the addition of a healthy, capable Granger off of the bench could thrust them into pole position for a ring, especially with the Heat struggling. Everything seems to be working out in the basketball capital of the world, and Vogel has his guys playing to their maximum potential.

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