NBA Saturday: Can Granger, George Coexist?
George Sees No Conflict With Granger
Before the 2012-13 season, a lot of people had a good sense that the Indiana Pacers would be a solid, respectable team in the coming year, but very few of those people would’ve predicted that they’d come only one game away from making the NBA Finals.
That is how things played out, however, thanks in large part to a breakout season from swingman Paul George, who averaged career-highs in points (17.4), rebounds (7.6), and assists (4.1). This year, despite the fact that the two-time NBA champion Miami HEAT are once again the overwhelming favorites to win it all again next season, George believes the time is now for Indiana to take their turn at winning a ring.
“We’re positioned really well,” George told HOOPSWORLD. “The only thing we really needed was the experience, and with everyone coming back together again, there’s no doubt in mind that we should win a championship.”
In this case, “everyone” fortunately includes David West, whom the team re-signed this offseason to a three-year, $36 million contract. With him, the Pacers are one of the toughest teams in the NBA, and everybody on the Indiana roster knows that. Without him, it’s hard to imagine this team making their way back to the Conference Finals. Everybody on the Indiana roster knows that, too.
“It shows how important the front office thought it was to get our whole starting five back together,” George said. “It was a great experience for us to learn to play without Danny (Granger), but now with Danny coming back, he’s obviously proven to be an All-Star, a 20-points-per-game player who can play multiple positions and defend multiple positions. We’ve really got a lot going on right now, and I think our whole team mindset is solely on winning a championship this year.”
Granger’s return is equal parts enthralling and frightening for Pacers fans, some of whom are eagerly anticipating what those extra points will do for Indy’s often-stagnant offense, and others who already are worrying that Granger’s return will stunt George’s growth.
George, however, doesn’t seem particularly concerned.
“Even my second year in the league and my rookie year, we were still able to play off one another,” George said. “I didn’t have as big of a role as I do now, but we still did a good job playing off one another.”
And he’s stood by that statement for three years. Even with Granger back in the fold, George is the team’s new superstar, and that shouldn’t change no matter who else is on the floor.
The real question is whether Granger can do enough to help the franchise achieve their championship aspirations. The front office believes that if they were that good last year without Granger, they’ll be even better with him either starting or coming off of the bench. While there’s probably something to that, we’ll have to see how things play out in real life to actually know if it’s true.
True or not, George has his sights set on a ring. With the starting lineup all returning and the bench severely bolstered, there is a shot. No one seems to believe it’s a particularly good shot, but if last year’s preseason predictions have proved anything, it’s that we should never underestimate the Indiana Pacers.
Meyers Leonard Sees Better Year for Portland
If you were playing NBA Jam, the Portland Trail Blazers probably looked like one of the better teams in the league last season, with Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, jack-of-all-trades Nic Batum, and stud power forward LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way.
Looking at the team’s bench, however, was significantly less inspiring, but this offseason the Blazers have seriously improved their depth, and it all starts with the development of second-year center Meyers Leonard.
This summer, he has been working on, “One-on-one defense in the post, playing hard, help-side defense, and as far as the offense goes, [the coaches] have confidence in me to knock down shots, finish around the rim,” Leonard said.
In fact, the whole “knocking down shots” aspect of his offense game has spread him out to all ends of the floor, and he’s planning on using his improved deep game when the regular season actually gets underway.
“I work on it daily,” he said. “I haven’t shot the three very well [in Las Vegas], especially compared to mini-camp in Portland, which is frustrating. But I’ll continue to shoot it because my teammates and coaches have confidence in me. I’m not going to get in trouble for it.”
However, Leonard’s shooting isn’t the only improvement to the bench. Lottery pick C.J. McCollum should help the bench unit hold down the fort a little better next season, too.
“Very skilled player, does it on both ends,” Leonard said. “He’s going to have to learn to be a little bit more of a combo because I think him and Damian playing side-by-side will definitely complement him and take a little pressure of C.J. Him running the point all the time and not being necessarily off the ball, I don’t know that it has always been good. He’s a very versatile scorer and he can do it, but if he plays off the ball he’ll be a little bit more of a threat.”
Adding Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez should make Portland a better team this year, too, and all that depth combined with the development of the talented but young starting lineup should really help the Blazers return to respectability.
“I think we can be really good,” Leonard said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, especially with training camp, then into the preseason, but obviously with Damian coming off being Rookie of the Year, LaMarcus always solid, Nic very versatile, Wes (Matthews) shooting, the draft picks coming in, myself, Thomas Robinson a huge pickup, Will (Barton) can score, Joel (Freeland) is really good for me, and Robin (Lopez), who we picked up, is as well.”
That’s a much better team than the Blazers squad we saw a year ago, but Leonard, a former lottery pick, needs to show some major growth this year for Portland to have any real shot and doing damage in the postseason. He seems to understand that, and is doing good work in getting himself to where he needs to be.