Most Pacer fans have always considered Hansbrough's style bench appropriate. Not end-of-the-bench appropriate, but his energy and relentlessness have always seemed a picture-perfect match to unleash on other teams' second units. Despite a collective preference for a Hansbrough-bench role, I'm not sure many have considered the possibility of him becoming an elite sixth-man. At least not at this early stage in his career. Well, it might be time to bump up the expectations because it's starting to appear as though #50 could be the first legitimate sixth-man candidate to wear the blue and gold since Detlef Schrempf. Here are three reasons why:
Dip into the history of NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award Winners, and you can easily decipher one constant characteristic among the masses: scoring ability. Some have been more elite than others (Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry, Manu Ginobili, etc.), but the vast majority of winners reaped double-digit scoring production. This should be no problem for Hansbrough, who, in spite of spending half the season surviving through Jim O'Brien's inconsistent playing rotations, averaged 11 PPG last season while playing just under 22 MPG. Tack on his performance during the preseason and one might conclude that 13-17 points a night could be a very realistic scenario. All he needs is minutes, which he should be offered aplenty, as he's proven presently to be the team's most dynamic, frontcourt-scoring option.
"Are you talkin' about playoffs?"
Ten of the last 10 Sixth-Man awardees parlayed their bench marksmanship into playoff appearances, and I'm positive the playoff connection doesn't just end there. Playoff appearances among winners may be the most important constant of all. Why care about one's bench impact if it doesn't lead to some sort of team-wide success? Hansbrough and his fellow Pacers have playoffs on the mind, and for good reason, as the Pacers' roster is widely regarded as one of the most promising and flexible in the league. With Larry preaching a top-flight bench product, and with George Hill needing time to acclimate to his new on-court surroundings, the leading bench role is all Hansbrough's for the taking along with a bevy of talk about him being the main cog in fulfilling Larry's bench vision. Make the playoffs, put up the stats, and Hansbrough will undoubtedly be a prominent fixture on the minds of voters.
Let's call it the "Tebow Effect." A bunch of collegiate accolades + an unorthodox style of play + success at the professional level that hardly anyone foresaw = the perfect storm of fan, media, and player discussion. Hansbrough's not there yet, but does he have the potential to be? Absolutely. One could argue that no one in the league sans LeBron is better equipped to possess the love-him-or-hate-him mantle than Tyler Hansbrough, who's always been a lightning rod for discussion. Imagine the media attention if the Pacers live up to the hype with Hansbrough playing a major role. It would be Hansbrough delirium, his haters, of course, would be pining to see him fail, his supporters would be simply ecstatic he's on their side. Either way, he'd be on the minds of NBA followers everywhere. You don't think that would play a role in the voting process?