Danny Granger Made His Teammates Better

A look at how Danny Granger affected his teammates.

 

The above chart represents the +/- (per 48 minutes) for each of nine key rotation players on the 2011-12 Indiana Pacers. The blue bar shows when they were playing with Danny Granger. The red is when the captain was on the bench. Without Danny, every single player’s +/- dropped, and the average fall was 11.4 points (per 48 minutes).

Of course, that speaks as much about unit performance, as it does individual. It makes sense that the team performance would drop when one of its two or three most-accomplished players was not on the floor. More evidence of Granger’s positive impact on last year’s team can be seen in the Pacers’ shooting performance.

The Pacers shot a higher percentage in 11 of the 14 shooting zones on this chart with Danny on the floor. Overall, the team’s eFG% dropped from 49.0% to 44.5% when Granger went to the bench last year. And this wasn’t just about Danny being an above-average shooter.

Over the first half of last season, Danny Granger suffered mightily from the floor, posting a personal eFG% of only 44.3%. Still the Pacers shot better in 10 of the 14 zones (their eFG% was 4.4% lower, 43.5% vs. 47.9%) with Granger on the bench. Again, this is team performance, and not inconsistent with the overall squad talent declining with anyone replacing Granger.

However, there’s actually some evidence that the individual performance of most of the players was improved by the presence of Danny Granger.

The chart above shows that of the nine other key rotational players last season, only David West and Dahntay Jones shot better with Granger off the floor (yellow) vs. on the floor (blue).

The red shows the five returning players and their eFG% for this year. Other than perhaps Tyler’s leap, the story should surprise no one. Hill and West have improved, Paul George’s performance is consistent with the sans-Danny performance last year, while Roy Hibbert has cratered.

Also of note is the spot for Darren Collison. While the trade for Mahinmi is looking bad at the moment, it’s worth noting that DC’s game suffered without Granger last year, and Pacer lineups that featured a Collison/George Hill backcourt last year were outscored by about a point per 100 possessions.

But, when players go out, people need to step up and fill the hole. With Granger’s absence, the most glaring hole is in scoring. As a rough measure of this, I took a look at points scored per 36 minutes for the same group of players.

This should behave somewhat differently than the eFG%. Where Danny’s absence and its general adverse impact on eFG% reflects the decrease in the quality of opportunities his ‘mates got when he was out, the points per 36 reflects an increase in the quantity of opportunities. Therefore, it makes sense that all of the players – excluding Darren Collison – increased their scoring.

Again, we see numerically what we’ve seen with our own eyes. David West stepped it up at basically the same level he did last year, while George Hill has made an almost quantum leap in his scoring production. Meanwhile, that loud beeping noise you hear is Paul George and Roy Hibbert backing up. Both are far worse — both without Danny and year-over-year.

And this is where the concept of “making your teammates better” appears. It is a concept traditionally reserved of the rabbit hole that is “GOAT” arguments. It’s often used as a barometer – or a barrier – to whether or not a player belongs in that discussion. Did Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James make his teammates better, people always ask? Does Kobe?

And so it seems out of place in a discussion about Danny Granger.

Except, not really. With players like Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, it was easy to see how they “made their teammates better.” As perhaps the two best passers the game has ever seen, they often put others in position to succeed. But making your teammates better is often far more subtle than that.

The vast majority of time the way a top player improves his ‘mates isn’t by making them more skilled or putting them in the best position to succeed. It’s by keeping them out of position to fail and allowing to play within their comfort zone. The hallmark of mediocre and bad teams is that they consistently have to ask more of players than the players have to give.

So, Danny’s absence goes far beyond just his offensive ability. It has misaligned the gears of what was a very effective machine. It has made Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and most of the bench just a little bit worse, simply by asking them give something different or something more than they have to give.

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