Is Granger a Danger? A Look at the Most Important Piece in the 2013-14 Pacers Puzzle

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For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that Danny Granger is healthy for the majority of the 2013-14 season and that Larry Bird and the Pacers’ front office decides not to trade him. As Kevin Garnett would remind us, anything is possible. But for clarity, it’s just too difficult to deal with every single possibility from this season in only one editorial.

The Indiana Pacers and their fans enter the 2013-14 season on a high note. After pushing the NBA Champion Heat to the brink last season, players, fans, and commentators all agree that this is the best Pacers team in years. No Indiana team has carried such high expectations into the season since 2005 – the year the famous brawl splintered into pieces the best team in the NBA.

The optimism is warranted. Last year’s team played without a guy many people considered to be their best player. With the return of Danny Granger and the additions of Luis Scola, CJ Watson, and Chris Copeland to shore up last season’s atrocious bench, this iteration of the Pacers would seem to be a lock to improve on last year’s version.

Still, the rest of the East improved dramatically as well. Derrick Rose returns to an inspired Bulls’ team, the Brooklyn Nets are trotting an All-Star team (maybe an All-Star team from 2007, but still…), and the Knicks still have have Carmelo Anthony, one of the greatest scorers alive.

To compound the issue even further, the Central just might be the best division in all of basketball. The Bulls and Pacers each landed in the top five of most power polls while Detroit has been picked by many to finish as high as 4th or 5th in the East. The Cavs added the #1 overall pick to an improving team with Kyrie Irving, and even the Bucks seemingly fought tooth and nail at least maintain mediocrity. One could easily envision a world in which four Central teams make the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Fortunately, the Pacers improved this offseason as well – but one question seems to linger over the season:

How much will Danny Granger’s return help the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers?

Self-aware Pacers fans fully understand what last year’s team was: An unbelievable defensive unit that featured the best five-man unit in the NBA when its starters were on the floor – but ultimately a team whose horrific bench failed them when it mattered.

For a variety of reasons, the Indiana starters were the best defensive five-man unit in the entire league. Paul George turned into an All-NBA defensive player and Roy Hibbert patrolled the paint as well as any big man in the league. George Hill and Lance Stephenson added length and aggressiveness on the wings and Frank Vogel’s defensive scheme put everything in its place.

But as dominant as their starting unit was, things practically careened off a cliff for the few minutes a game that the starters needed rest.

If we were to completely ignore Granger and his comeback, then at face value, turning DJI struggle with dribbling the ball against even token pressureAugustin and Sam “Every Pacers fan in the world is absolutely terrified when I catch the ball wide open in the corner” Young with Watson and Copeland was an instant upgrade this summer. If Watson can only manage to run the second unit as effectively as he has done for each of his previous teams, and if Copeland can simply catch the ball (that right there would be an upgrade) and make open jump shots like he did last season, the Pacers’ second unit will be on pace for a huge upgrade.

None of that even factors in the upgrade of Tyler Hansbrough to Luis Scola. The offensively talented Scola will be replacing one of the worst passers in basketball. Hansbrough’s Assist Rate of 4.4% was the third worst rate of anyone that played more than 1000 minutes and had a similar usage rate last season (only the immortal JaVale McGee and Derrick Williams were worse passers). Scola, on the other hand, was a top 20 passer among big guys, and was actually a better passer, statistically, than Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki – two guys known around the league to be great passers. Scola is also a much more consistent rebounder than the former Tar Heel. While Psycho T built a reputation on hustle and muscle, he was only ever an average rebounder. Defensively, it’s hard to say at this point whether Scola’s slow, plodding footwork and inability to defend pick-and-rolls will be better or worse than Psycho T’s constant over-rotations and frenetic energy. Still, most analysts agree that the Pacers not only addressed an issue this offseason, but they turned a weakness into a comparative strength.

But we can’t just ignore Granger’s comeback. And fair or not, it seems that most basketball fans are worried that Granger’s addition will add a monkey wrench into what was a successful team.

In fact, many basketball fans fear that Granger’s return will actually be detrimental to the Pacers’ 2013-14 season.

If Granger were to simply join the bench squad and hoist up shots a-la Jamal Crawford in LA, it’s hard to envision a world in which Indiana’s bench was only average. Offensively, you would be hard pressed to find a team with two scorers as effective and potentially explosive as Granger and Scola. Granger would undoubtedly be a Sixth-Man of the Year candidate. Add in Watson and Copeland’s floor spacing with Ian Mahimni’s six fouls a game, and the Pacers bench not only looks good on paper, but makes sense from a chemistry standpoint.

And yet, Granger may dislike “simply joining the bench squad,” and who could blame him? As easy as it is for Pacers’ fans to point out his shortcomings, both subtle (he struggles to create his own shot, he can’t dribble with his left hand, and his defense has slipped) and more obvious (he occasionally takes terrible shots and his presence forces Paul George to play shooting guard, a spot he can play but is far less effective in), we often forget just what Danny Granger brings and has brought to the table for the past eight years.

Granger joined the team during one of its most difficult times in franchise history. Without ever complaining about the plummeting attendance and his mediocre teammates, Granger worked hard every night and became the first player in the history of the league to increase his scoring by five points per game in three consecutive seasons. Granger transformed himself into an All-Star, a class act, and a franchise savior of sorts. While he had to toil through years of mediocrity, the team slowly started to build a team around him that could succeed.

Then, as soon as the team had finally made it, he suffered a debilitating injury that knocked him out for an entire season. Simultaneously, the Pacers took off and reached heights it hadn’t seen in a decade.

Let’s be clear: the 2012-13 Indiana Pacers did not succeed because of Danny Granger’s absence, they were going to succeed whether he was there or not.

Last year’s success had far less to do with Granger’s absence and far more to do with Hibbert’s verticality, West’s leadership, George’s leap into stardom, and Frank Vogel’s otherworldly defensive schemes.

Unfortunately for Granger, NBA fans are fickle and always covet what’s new and unknown while devaluing what is old and certain. Ask most casual NBA fans whether they would rather have Dirk Nowitzki or Blake Griffin this year, and most would wrongly sing the praises of the humorous Kia spokesman. Granger’s skills (incredibly shooting, above average passing, and versatility) have been so maligned at this point that the former All-Star has become underrated.

The NBA is all about the “here and now.” Lance Stephenson’s upside intrigues me as much as anybody (Count me among the many irrational fans that believes that “Born Ready” could morph into a more aggressive and defensive minded Dwyane Wade. Our own Avi Friedman wrote this about Lance’s potential last postseason). Regardless, if any player has earned the right to fight for a starting job and one more big contract, it’s Danny Granger.

That leaves the Pacers with an interesting dilemma. In reality, it’s probably unfair to expect an equal level of domination from the starting lineup in 2013-14. Even if Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Roy Hibbert all improve incrementally, regression is still a real possibility. The Pacers won’t be catching anyone by surprise this year, and we’ve already discussed the widespread improvement among their peers. Pacers fans should ready themselves for a small drop off, no matter who is in the starting lineup.

Of course, moving Lance Stephenson to the bench in favor of Danny Granger would possibly cause that starting unit’s dominance to fall, but are we sure? How do we know Granger’s shooting won’t create even more space for Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert all over the floor? I mean, it can’t possibly be a bad thing to add a 38% career 3-point shooter to the mix. And even if the starting five’s numbers do fall, won’t the bench improve enough to offset that drop?

The Pacers were a good team last year. Even with their bench woes, they had the eighth best point differential in the league. If the starting lineup’s production decreased by three or four points, the Pacers would still theoretically be better just as long as their bench improved by five or six. With the offseason upgrades, a five or six point increase seems pretty likely. Adding Lance Stephenson to the bench would only expand that improvement. The question then should not be, “What is the Pacers’ best starting five?” but rather, “Which lineup yields the best possible net result?”

Of course there are more questions that are just begging to be answered.

  • How many minutes will everyone get in the playoffs?
  • Will Vogel strive to keep either Hibbert or West on the floor at all times during the regular season like he did in the postseason?
  • While Scola is practically a West clone offensively and should slot in nicely beside Hibbert, could he and West ever share the floor at the same time without being a disaster defensively?
  • Where does Ian Mahimni fit into the big man rotation?
  • With four bigs, don’t Paul George, Danny Granger, and Lance Stephenson get the lion’s share of the minutes on the wings? Does Copeland even earn playing time to begin with barring injuries? Where does the improving Orlando Johnson fit into the mix?

I hope to address some of these questions and other soon, but the Granger question looms larger than all others. Pacers fans need not fear. It’s incredibly unlikely that Danny Granger will hurt the Pacers this season. The real question is how helpful will he be? Will he be a small help, a huge boost, or a title changing catalyst? As this season commences, give the Pacers and Frank Vogel a little bit of time to figure it out. Trust in Danny Granger’s unselfish past and his competitive fire to make it work. Approach the conundrum with the same level of optimism that you are approaching the season as a whole.

This team is still blue collar. They will still play with that Gold Swagger.

Indiana’s game. Indiana’s team. Your 2013-14 Indiana Pacers.

Editor’s note: Shortly after this article posted, the Pacers announced that Granger would miss up to three weeks with his current calf injury, rendering the initial premise of assumed good health a moot point.

Topics: Granger Talk

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  • Realist

    “In reality, it’s probably unfair to expect an equal level of domination from the starting lineup in 2013-14.”

    I do expect it. It wasn’t the “element of surprise” that made them awesome. Not even really talent, but more like size, length, chemistry, clear roles and defense above all else. Talent helps though.

    • Jonathan Washburn

      I agree with you concerning the size, length, chemistry, etc. Still I think that with the vast improvement in the division and the conference in general, we could see the starting five once again be the best unit in basketball, while also having their point differential drop a point or two.

      • Realist

        Nice piece, btw. It wasn’t a criticism.

        Gut feel, is Granger being traded this year?

        • Jonathan Washburn

          Man, that’s tough. It truly is a gut feel because I have absolutely no insider information concerning the team.
          I think Granger stays because Larry Bird will recognize the importance of his versatility and outside shooting.
          With that said, if they could turn him into a Jamal Crawford type that can create his own shot, I think they would do that.
          I say there’s a 60% chance he stays. But again, that’s ENTIRELY my gut and no real information.

          • Derek U

            I can’t see Granger being traded at all. This team is built to win now and Granger can be a large part of that blue print. Unless Bird gets blown away by an offer they’ll let him walk in free agency. Either way, he’s not a Pacer next year.

            Not only that, but the cap is getting a little tight and with Lance still needing a long term contract I can’t see them trading for someone with a larger or longer contract.

          • Realist

            I still think that Larry/DG had some sort of handshake deal years ago where DG agreed to stick it out and Larry wouldn’t trade him. Unless Larry gets some sort of can’t-refuse blow-you-away offer, I don’t think we’ll move him, especially since we can’t really take back any salary after this year. With the names being tossed around (Jamal Crawford, etc), I think we’ll just stick with him and hope for the best.

    • poot

      Yeah I’m not getting the comparative analysis either.

      We are agreed the Pacers greatly improved, at least in the second unit.
      At worst, their starters remain at the same level?
      It’s a tough one considering two starters are not yet near their respective primes (PG and Lance) and two other starters are arguably not yet in their primes, or JUST now entering their primes (Hibbert and G.Hill.)
      I get the case for regression from DWest, but if guys like Duncan and KG – each 37 years old – can have their “minutes managed” with backups like Matt Bonner and Andray Blatche, how come DWest (33 years old) can’t with a backup like Scola??? No one seems to think TD or KG are due for a dropoff, but DWest is? Is it because of his ACL surgery 2 years ago? Because I for one (and advanced metrics back me up) think that DWest IMPROVED last year as he distanced himself from his recovery.
      And one more point- these guys have 2 full seasons + 30 playoff games of experience playing as a unit. This includes a whopping 20 games against the Heat. The arguments for regression in the starting lineup (from a cetirus paribus standpoint) are really bleak.

      Now, you did mention “vast improvement in the division/conference” as a reason why merely avoiding regression might not be enough. I would agree, except I’m not buying the improvement.
      The Heat didn’t improve. They got worse. Their bench most likely got worse (losing Miller, adding 2 guys who might not contribute at all,) not to mention they all got even older. Their starters (big 3, Chamlers, Battier/Haslem) have one guy past his prime and getting worse, Wade rapidly approaching the end of his prime (if not already past,) Bosh and LeBron already well into their primes, and Chalmers at best just entering his prime. We’ve already seen the best all of their starters have to offer.
      Clearly the Nets added some star power, but did they really improve much? KG/PP/AK/JET will be riding a lot of pine “resting up” for the post season. So for the most part you are getting last year’s Nets without Wallace/Humphries. Will they be difference makers in the playoffs? I’ll reference adding Shaq/Jamison to the 66 win Cavs one more time. Those guys were actually younger, joining an MVP, and everyone thought they were going to be the same guys we remembered over the previous 10 years. Fail. I’ll give the Nets improvement, but not much. Every bench player they have is inferior to their Pacer counterpart, so if they’re going to win it’s going to have to be the play of the starters. Do KG/PP have enough left? I’ll answer that one by saying if the Pacers are candidates for regression, then the Nets are a lock. Only player yet to enter his prime is Lopez, majority are past it.
      Bulls got better. Fine. They will be a tough out. That’s assuming Noah is in perfect health. Without him, that team has a lot of trouble with size. Their bench is shallow (although talented) and small. It’s going to be up to Vogel to take advantage of this team’s weaknesses. And they have huge question marks concerning injured (or history of injury) players.
      Knicks got worse. Hawks got worse. Bucks got worse. Celtics are tanking. Pistons and Wiz got better, but as 29 win teams last season, even a huge upgrade, say 20 wins, still puts them behind the pack. Did they get 20 wins better? No.

      My stance is that of all the teams in the league, Pacers improved the most this summer. Let’s just say the Pacers “overachieved” last year as many are saying. So what should the Pacers season have gone like? Lose in 5 to Miami? What was the overachievement? Beating the Knicks??? OK so we are taking a ECF locked team, and replacing DJ with CJ, upgrade in every way, Green with Cope, which by default is an upgrade but could be a huge weapon, and Tyler with Scola, a huge understated upgrade. This is before even considering Granger, or improvement to young players like Lance, PG, Ian, GH, Hibbs, etc.
      Yeah the Bulls got MVP Rose back. Yeah the Nets have some veteran tested players now. That puts them in the fight.

      I’d be really surprised to see the Pacers starting 5 drop off in efficiency at all, with or without Danny. They will play a ton less minutes, which is great, but on a per minute basis they should still be the best.

      —side note, let’s not do a Barbosa part II deal. Bringing back Granger helps because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective and is not a liability on defense. Barbosa was the opposite, and it turned out horrible. JCrawford is in the same mold. Yeah he’ll win a game or two for you when he erupts for 25. Then he’ll lose for you in the playoffs when he’s not hitting but still putting up shots every time down the floor while being iso’d on the other end. (see: last 4 games against Memphis last season. Crawford avgs 3-10 shooting each game. yikes.)

      • Jonathan Washburn

        Fantastic thoughts. I have to say this is incredibly encouraging to see the love that many of you intelligent fans are showing to Granger on this wall. Maybe I should just stay off of social media and avoid the annoying trolls that whine incessantly?
        Your best point was on Barbosa. He was a travesty. Still, I agreed with the reasoning behind the deal – it just didn’t work.
        I do think that Larry Legend values guys that can create their own shots. The lack of such players was ultimately the reason the Pacers couldn’t get a ring from ’97-2001, and with his aggressiveness in pursuing Barbosa, OJ Mayo, and Jamal Crawford before, I COULD see him trying to swing a deal for another creator.
        Of course this worries me a little bit because I understand how valuable Granger is, but alas, I have been wrong on many of Larry Legend’s moves before (I remember being furious that he drafted Paul George instead of Xavier Henry haha) and I trust him to do what he thinks is best with the team.

  • Derek U

    I can’t envision a way barring injury that the starting unit regresses from last season. Considering the slow start they took the first 20 games accounting for the loss of Granger, to finishing strong; I can only see them improving with chemistry and CONSISTENCY.

    I can only hope that this mushy rainbow feeling I get over the bench upgrades is legitimate. Last year I was hesitant to get on board, but was very excited only to be extremely let down game after game. With Granger on the bench if he can handle that role will be the best thing for this team and great for depth.

    • poot

      Same here Derek….

      I hear you on last season. I was actually disgusted by last season’s moves. I thought not only did the Gerald Green deal happen way too quickly, but that he was not going to be a good fit on the team. With glaring weaknesses in the front court, we bring in another wing? And a completely unproven one at that? ugh. Then we made things even worse by getting rid of DC. The whole deal was a disaster as we could have signed Ian outright. That made our point guard spot our biggest weakness. Signing DJ? Made it even worse.
      I was excited about upgrading Lou with Ian, but everything else reeked of failure. the GG signing was boneheaded, a waste of money. Trading DC for a free agent cemented the fact the GM was asleep at the wheel last summer. DJ was just icing on the cake. I’d take DC/Dantay over GG/DJ every single time. and then to make matters worse, Ian underperformed (although he got better as the season went on.)

      This year there are no doubts. Getting rid of DJ/GG automatically makes us better. Adding CJ/Cope to fill in, at worst, is a reasonable upgrade. Cope won’t be counted on anything but shooting, and can be yanked instantly if he’s not hitting them. CJ is good, not starter level, but a very solid backup point guard. Then getting rid of Tyler… before we got Scola, we were all thinking “not a huge loss, will miss parts of his game, but good riddance to the bad parts.” Then put SCOLA in his place? Amazing. I get Scola is not the same player he was 5 years ago, but I watched FIBA this summer and he led his team in minutes and scoring. He was great. And he is still a starter level NBA player. As the season goes on, the rest of the league will realize what a steal this was.

      All that is assuming DG doesn’t play. Add in Granger, even in limited minutes, or even in limited capacity, and that pushes it over the edge. The only way to be disappointed by this bench is to set expectations too high. I set them as best bench in the league. And I do not plan on being disappointed one bit.

      • Derek U

        Yeah, Initially I was thru the roof with GG, but quickly found out that his success depended souly on having a legit point guard that can draw defenders and give him open lanes / open shots. Every highlight was someone else making the play for him, he just used his extreme athleticism to dominate all else. I wasn’t surprised when he looked lost as our offensive scheme is about passing and finding an open player, not an elite point guard creating shots for it’s players. With that being said, I thought he’d excel with the defense above all else, but he couldn’t put the brains with the body to make the proper cover.

  • poot

    Game 1: Orlando

    Thoughts?

    DEFENSE!!! open the game on a 10-0 hold. suffocatious D at times.

    ROY HIBBERT giving a big F YOU to haters out there. 12 boards in the first 10 minutes. WHAT!

    Lance looking nice
    PG looking like a STAR

    OJ First man off the bench. Whoa! Misses a 3 and has an offensive foul… also standing around a lot on offense. i get that he’s in there to “spread the floor” so Hibbs/Scola can go to work, but his man is cheating (led to an ORL steal) make him pay OJ!

    empty bench… Solo getting PT before Cope?
    BUT Lance is leading the bench mob (Ian/Scola/Solo/Lance/CJ) good to see him doing so because this is going to be a tough bench to slow down if Lance is in full charge mode

    Solo Hill passes on an open 3. Ian is out of position (expecting a box out) and gets an offensive foul. cmon Solo!

    • Realist

      I was about to come here posting about the Solo before Cope line of thought too. I know Cope has been colder than an iditarod husky’s nutsack, but I still think he should be next in line before Solo (with DG out).

      Lance with another sexy Lance line.

      The bench looked like they were trying to give away the starters’ lead ala 11-12 and 12-13, but they atoned in the second half.

      Hill 0 assists? Eep.

      • PacersFan

        Serious question- would you want the pacers to make a move for a player like Jameer nelson?Watching him last night reminded me of the ways he could help this team, and it seems like he can be had for relatively cheap.

        • Derek U

          The Pacers offense isn’t built to give gaudy stats to point guards. He’d average 12 points & 3 assists and Pacer fans would be pissed that he isn’t producing.

  • Jack Wright

    I’m getting sick of the Granger talk. To me it seems like the more casual Pacers fans are the ones talking about Granger being a huge issue. I think if you’ve watched this team closely the past three seasons, you should realize the benefit of having Granger. And the idea of him being a “danger” to this team is absolutely ridiculous and has no bearing in reality. Has everyone already forgotten how great of a starting unit we had in 2012, with Granger in the lineup?? Let his minor injury heal, then allow him to get reincorporated into the offense. It’s not that effing complicated. And did anyone else notice how useful Lance was with the bench unit tonight? Especially in the 2nd half.. It was beautiful. At least compared to last season. We had Lance pushing the tempo and getting easy looks for himself and others. We had Scola knocking down jumpers. We had OJ getting timely buckets. We had Mahinmi protecting the rim and getting rebounds. That bench lineup looked great.

    The point is that when we get back a healthy and solid Granger, which will happen in a matter of weeks, it will open up our lineup combination possibilities even more than they already are. It will be interesting to see what combinations work best, but I guarantee that Granger will be a nice asset this season.. And some of you clueless naysayers will be looking just plain dumb.

    And I wanna see Cope!

    • Realist

      “To me it seems like the more casual Pacers fans are the ones talking about Granger being a huge issue”

      Yah. It’s pretty disturbing when 140 out of 150 comments on a Facebook Granger story are “trade him” etc. The more informed fans know what’s up though.

    • Jonathan Washburn

      Great points regarding the casual fans! Real, knowledgable fans should definitely see Granger’s incredible value, not only from a skill standpoint, but also in terms of leadership.

      • Derek U

        I agree, it is kind of aggrevating to argue with some of these idiots. And Don’t even get me started about Granger being “Injury Prone”. Before last season, he miss 48 games in 7 years. He misses one full season, and he gets the ‘Injury Prone’ tag. You try to apply the same logic to Derrick Rose, and you’ll be crucified.

  • Jeremy Cram

    I am no casual fan i not only watch as many games as possible but go to plenty of games. So on the Granger front my hope is he accepts that he should not start to help the team. Chemistry is a must in sports and last seasons starting 5 has that, and what Lance brings to the table is way undervalued I’m not a Granger hater but if something is not broken dont fix it. Not to mention this is Grangers last year here, and Lance has the potential to make he and Paul George a deadly 1-2 perimeter punch, much like Wade and Lebron James. Key word potential who else on this team can create shots for others and get to the rim other than Lance and PG? No one even a fully healthy Granger at this point in his career is at best a really good shooter that has always had questions with shot selection, with 5 guys starting that can score i just see him at best being what we have needed scoring from the bench. I’m sorry but the growth of Lance is much more important to the TEAM not only in the future but also right now!!!

  • Jeremy Cram

    Also the starting 5 I see zero drop off, but instead they will be better, how can you say they will drop off?Not only is PG going to be better but also Hibbert and Lance will improve, Granger will either swallow his ego and do whatever the team needs or he wont be around for the playoffs.Also Lance will be a better shooter this year, i will never doubt the guy he went from never seeing the court to being a starter and having more impact in 2 very key playoff games. I have never seen Granger have that kind of impact since he first hurt his knee a few years back. These are not knocks on Granger, but what i theink of Lance. Agree or not the developement of Lance is bigger to the Pacers than anything Granger can bring at this point in his career!!!! I do hope Granger buys into the team and worries more about winning than his next contract wherever he goes, but as long as he sees himself as a starter and the biggest piece to this team winning it al he is nothing but a distraction, and monkey wrench for the chemistry of the team. I am over Granger and talk about him, either he plays and helps or he sits and they shut him down.

  • PacersFan

    to me its simple: we need to upgrade the bench’s scoring, who better to do so than our best scorer of the last 5 years (preinjury): Danny Granger? Lance is an effective all-around player, but I’m not convinced that he will make the rest of the bench better the way Danny will. But what we already know for a fact is that Lance plays well with the starters, he’s got a great motor, chemistry, knows his role, and is super effective when our our offense gets stale (as it often does) as the change of pace guy. Danny can easily get starters minutes playing as the 6th man, and if this is his last season (sadly), can still prove hes got enough left in the tank to get paid next year

    • PacersFan

      I believe, Danny’s mature/humble enough to not disrupt the team chemistry by being selfish and demanding a starting position. Plus, as the focal point of the bench’s offense, he can still get his shots up.

      The only reason I think Vogel/Bird would hesitate is the lineup- Every starter has an effective and proven backup if granger remains in the starting lineup
      Hibbert (Mahinmi)-West (Scola)- Granger (Copeland)- George (Stephenson)-Hill (Watson). With OJ and Solo getting garbage minutes as needed.
      If granger goes to the bench, we have a logjam at the 3 with definitely not enough minutes to spread around.

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