Danny Granger has not played this season, but could make his return Friday. Given how much this team has changed since he was a regular in-game contributor how do you see his eventual return affecting the current squad?
Granger's role is already carved out and one he can work into off the bench while gathering game shape. Orlando Johnson and rookie Solomon Hill have shared reserve wing duties, combining to play around 20 minute per game which will be about right for Granger and give the Pacers something Hill and Johnson can't -- a reliable scoring option. Granger stayed in Indy this summer to rehab and workout, obviously prior to the current calf strain, but he has also remained around the team and traveled on the recent road trip. He is tied into what the team has going on and is eager to contribute, but also doesn't want to disrupt anything with expectations of starting or playing heavy minutes. He knows the score and after the injury problems he's had, just contributing in any way will be liberating. Plus, he is in a contract year, so as he heads to the back end of his career, showing the ability to supplement a strong team will help his value on the open market.
Roy Hibbert has always been an imposing presence defensively and this team seems to have taken on some of his personality. David West is of course an emotional driving force and Paul George is one of the best players in the league. Who's the leader of the Indiana Pacers?
David West, without question. He sets the tone and is a strong presence in the locker room and has been invaluable for young players like Paul George and Lance Stephenson to keep their energy and emotions in check and eyes on the prize. He simply has given the young fellas a graduate level course in being a professional in the NBA.
Lance Stephenson really stepped up in the playoffs last year and has been great so far this year. If the Pacers are going to make The Finals, is he the X factor?
The Pacers can survive and win games when Lance is off or having one of those games where his impact is minimal, but when he is dialed in and making plays, the Pacers are likely to win. He is so strong with the ball and can attack in a hurry you always know he's on the court. The guy never has a quiet 15 points and six assists. More likely, half the points and more than half the assists brought fans out of their seats. But that ability also forces opponents to account for him and that just gives more room for Paul George, David West or Roy Hibbert to go to work. The Pacers probably have 2 or 3 X factors (also, George Hill and bench Luis Scola, C.J. Watson) and they need at least one of those to come through in big games. But Stephenson is certainly a big X factor in the Pacers planned success.
Last year the bench was a bit of an Achilles' heel for the Pacers, has it gotten good enough to not be a concern this year?
The bench is far more reliable this year with Watson solidifying the backup point guard spot which D.J. Augustin simply couldn't handle last year. Plus, Scola gives the Pacers a lot more than the energy Tyler Hansbrough offered. Scola has played better in the bigger games and his ability to make shots and create offense really helps the reserve unit. Now, if they can keep Danny Granger healthy enough to join the fray...concerns will be further minimized.
If not, what do the Pacers need to add or what is the biggest concern for this team right now?
Honestly, Granger is just what they need, a guy who can set up and knock down shots at a reliable clip. Lance Stephenson often runs the second unit, with Watson at the other guard. It hasn't always worked out well when Stephenson has the ball because the defense can focus on him a bit more. Granger can help spread the defense and give Stephenson a target to set up for buckets.
Indiana is coming off a big home win against the Miami Heat, the sixth win in the last 11 tries against the defending champs, and still seems as focused as ever. Hibbert even said after the game they approach every game with the same focus so...any chance of a letdown against the Bobcats?
I keep waiting for a big letdown and it just hasn't happened yet. Their play in Oklahoma City and pre-Rose-Injury Chicago was close, but those were great teams on their home floor. The Pacers have eased their way through the first half of games, adjusted at the break and then worn teams out in the second half. They really take pride in the ability to handle their business and earn wins. It goes back to the professional tone set by David West, combined with the inspiration from Frank Vogel to be the best team in the league.
If Charlotte is going to win, the Bobcats will have to earn it. They do have the young talent to get hot and do just that, so I'm looking forward to the matchup at the Fieldhouse on Friday night.