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Granger poised to join NBA's elite

Make sure Danny Granger is not a stranger on draft day.

The Indiana Pacers' 6-foot-8, fourth-year swingman has quietly become one of the league's most versatile talents and based on his improvement rate, the sky appears to be the limit.

Granger averaged 19.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season and for good measure threw in 171 three-pointers, 95 steals and 84 blocked shots in his 80 starts. Think of a modern day Reggie Lewis -- a guy who can shoot, run the floor, play defense and score.

He really found his niche at the tail end of last year, posting four of his seven 30-point-plus scoring games during the final 14 games of the season. He poured in 24.8 points in eight April games following 22.4 in March for his two most productive months of the campaign. With Jermaine O'Neal now a member of the Toronto Raptors, the Pacers will be Granger's team.

The 25-year-old Granger, who starred at both New Mexico and Bradley during his college career, increased his scoring average by six points last season despite playing just two additional minutes.

"Danny keeps evolving as a player who still has a ton of upside," Pacers General Manager David Morway told The Sporting News about Granger, whose 40.4 percent marksmanship last season on 423 three-point attempts was a career best.

Granger has worked hard to improve on defense and he may be his team's best on the other end of the floor. His steals total increased to 95 from 67 last season and he raised his blocks to 84 from 61.

"I would hope he impacts from a leadership standpoint at the defensive end more than any other area," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said of Granger, who was the 17th overall pick of the 2005 draft after averaging 19 points per game for the Lobos.

The addition of point guard T.J. Ford to the Pacers' lineup could be very beneficial for Granger, who figures to play both forward spots this season.

Here are some division-by-division tips:

>Atlantic

* Top by position: F--Kevin Garnett, Celtics; Chris Bosh, Raptors; C--Jermaine O'Neal, Raptors; G--Ray Allen, Celtics; Vince Carter, Nets.

* Most valuable addition: Elton Brand, F, 76ers (from Clippers).

* Underappreciated: Thaddeus Young, F, 76ers.

* Overrated: Chris Duhon, G, Knicks.

* Impact rookie: Brook Lopez, C, Nets.

* Bet on it: If you draft him, Nets C Josh Boone (45.6 percent) will drive you crazy every time he steps to the foul line.

* Fast fact: Knicks G Jamal Crawford has averaged at least 17 points per game in five of the past six seasons.

>Central

* Top by position: F--LeBron James, Cavaliers; Danny Granger, Pacers; C--Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavaliers; G--Michael Redd, Bucks; Chauncey Billups, Pistons.

* Most valuable addition: Richard Jefferson, F, Bucks (from Nets).

* Underappreciated: Andrew Bogut, C, Bucks.

* Overrated: Ben Wallace, F, Cavaliers.

* Impact rookie: Derrick Rose, G, Bulls.

* Bet on it: Pistons F Tayshawn Prince won't take many sick days. He's the only player in the league to appear in every game the last five years.

* Fast fact: Pistons F Richard Hamilton has led his team in scoring the last six years, the most since "Buffalo" Bob Lanier (Bennett) did it nine consecutive seasons.

>Southeast

* Top by position: F--Josh Smith, Hawks; Shawn Marion, Heat; C--Dwight Howard, Magic; G--Dwayne Wade, Heat; Joe Johnson, Hawks.

* Most valuable addition: Mickael Pietrus, G, Magic (from Warriors).

* Underappreciated: Gerald Wallace, F, Bobcats.

* Overrated: Antonio Daniels, G, Wizards.

* Impact rookie: Michael Beasley, F, Heat.

* Bet on it: You'll want to tear your hair out if you draft Wizards G Gilbert Arenas, who has endured three left knee surgeries in two years.

* Fast fact: Hawks F Al Horford posted 25 double-doubles as a rookie.

>Southwest

* Top by position: F--Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks; Tim Duncan, Spurs; C--Yao Ming, Rockets; G--Chris Paul, Hornets; Tracy McGrady, Rockets.

* Most valuable addition: Ron Artest, F, Rockets (from Kings).

* Underappreciated: Rudy Gay, F, Grizzlies.

* Overrated: Bruce Bowen, F, Spurs.

* Impact rookie: O.J. Mayo, G, Grizzlies.

* Bet on it: The Celtics will miss the timely three-point shooting of Hornets F James Posey.

* Fast fact: Mavs G Jason Kidd has 100 triple-doubles in 1,025 career games.

>Northwest

* Top by position: F--Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets; Carlos Boozer, Jazz; C--Al Jefferson, Timberwolves; G--Deron Williams, Jazz; Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers.

* Most valuable addition: Greg Oden, C, Trail Blazers (from IR).

* Underappreciated: Earl Watson, G, Thunder.

* Overrated: Allen Iverson, G, Nuggets.

* Impact rookie: Kevin Love, F, Timberwolves.

* Bet on it: Thunder G Kevin Durant has a chance to lead the league in scoring.

* Fast fact: Nuggets F Kenyon Martin made 376 field goals; 150 came on dunks.

>Pacific

* Top by position: F--Amare Stoudemire, Suns; Lamar Odom, Lakers; C--Chris Kaman, Clippers; G--Kobe Bryant, Lakers; Steve Nash, Suns.

* Most valuable addition: Baron Davis, G, Clippers (from Warriors).

* Underappreciated: Rony Turiaf, C, Warriors.

* Overrated: Marcus Camby, F, Clippers.

* Impact rookie: Robin Lopez, C, Suns.

* Bet on it: If Lakers C Andrew Bynum can stay healthy, we'll find out what all the fuss is about.

* Fast fact: Suns C Shaquille O'Neal's scoring average (12.9) in 28 games with Phoenix last season was about half his career mark (25.2).

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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