On his radio show Thursday night, Jim O'Brien caught my attention when he mentioned that Tyler Hansbrough's extended absence will make it difficult to salvage much of anything from his rookie season, even if he returns for the last couple months.
Hansbrough remains sidelined and not yet able to participate in any contact drills thanks to a pesky viral inner-ear infection. When he returns is unknown, but some time in February appears to be the best-case scenario at this point. JOB made a couple of good points about the situation facing Hansbrough when he does return, which he also discussed on Friday night before the game.
"Not only is he injured and missing games, he never got training camp. Not getting training camp is significant. The other thing is that when he does get cleared to play, it's hard to put a rookie in right off the bat after he's had training camp because there's so many things to learn," O'Brien explained.
"It's going to be February obviously (when Hansbrough returns), but if get you somebody healthy in February, then if the only experience they have is 511 minutes, everybody else is playing at a different level and if makes it that much more difficult to get in and succeed."
Essentially, Hansbrough's game will be in second or third gear and while he's trying to get up to speed and the opponent will be humming along in fifth gear with no slowing down for the rook. That leaves JOB with the double-edged sword of trying to give Hansbrough experience while still trying to win games.
"Everybody is playing at such a higher level, the offenses and the defenses are more refined, people are more tied in together, so from a standpoint of being able to find minutes for him (Hansbrough) at the same time trying to win every basketball game, that's a puzzle that we're going to have to figure out."
Wait. What's there to figure out? When Hansbrough is available, play him.
I appreciate the intent to win every game but unless the Pacers rattle of ten wins in a row, the questions after every game should focus more on how the young guys played than the actual outcome of the game.
The short-term pain of Hansbrough struggling shouldn't be a concern. Sure, disgruntled fans may continue to complain, but they will whether he plays or not. Hansbrough is a player that will fight through the challenge. He doesn't embarrass easily or go into a shell when things go bad. He just goes back to work. Let him get all of the work he can handle.
Hansbrough's lost rookie season thus far is a microcosm of the struggles the Pacers have had as a team. Instead of being well past the rookie stage of the season and to the point where he could actually help the Pacers improve, Hansbrough is still just trying to get back on the court.
Similarly, the Pacers have juggled injured player and 18 different starting lineups, longing to find some consistent production and play from the team. The Pacers don't qualify as one of those teams with a refined offense or defense at this point. Just another reason to throw Hansbrough back into the fray when he's ready.
JOB remains happy with Hansbrough as a player but is obviously frustrated with how the season has played out for both his team and the rookie.
"We are thrilled to have Tyler as a Pacer. Loved his aggressiveness, his ability to get to the foul line. We think he can be a terrific defensive player, think he's perfect for our high-tempo game and he's a winner," JOB said of the rookie. "To go through the large majority of the season without him or the guy that you would expect to be his mentor, Jeff Foster, is a setback. But one you can't dwell on, you have to just go."
Hopefully when Hansbrough returns, JOB won't dwell on the decision to play him and instead just let him go.