Numeric Narratives: Comparing Comparables

With the epic tailspin the Pacers find themselves in, last night's win against the Knicks notwithstanding, it's been difficult fo find reasons for optimism. No matter how obscure or obtuse the topic, I was determined to find something for this week's post that Pacers' fans could feel good about. I started with the idea that things could be worse. Sure, our favorite team has hit a bit of a rough patch over the past few years but certainly we're better off than some teams. Right . . ?

Nine teams have lost more games then the Pacers over the past five seasons. Unfortunately that includes teams like the Knicks, Grizzlies, Thunder, Nets and Clippers who all seemed better positioned for future success than the Pacers. Five other teams besides the Pacers haven't made a playoff appearance in the last four seasons. Again I was met by discouragement as two of those five are the Grizzlies and the Knicks who will be making the playoffs this season and doing it in much more convincing fashion than the Pacers, assuming Indiana makes it at all.

Finding nothing but a battered bucket for my salty tears of disappointment I tried to find something else to cheer myself up. The only thing I could think of was the inspired play of Tyler Hansbrough. Last week Tom Ziller put together a small piece on Hansbrough, comparing his style of play to Carl Landry and Ike Diogu. It's an excellent read and a flattering look at his style of play. Still, I felt a comparison to those two players doesn't quite do justice to both Hansbrough's potential and production.

I set out to find some alternative comparisons based just on production. Using Basketball-Reference's Play Index I was able to narrow my list down to seven players whose Pts/36 and Reb/36 averages are within a point of Hansbrough's. The list is below with a few other cherry picked statistics and the names removed for effect. Do yourself a favor and don't peek to find out who the other players are until you've really given the numbers a good once-over.

Tyler Hansbrough's Comparables

Player

Pts/36

Reb/36

FG%

FT%

ORB%

TRB%

TOV/%

FTA/36

Player A

18.9

9.4

50.1%

77.0%

9.3%

15.8%

6.8%

3.6

Player B

18.1

8.1

48.9%

80.7%

5.7%

13.1%

9.6%

5.7

Tyler Hansbrough

18.1

8.9

45.2%

80.6%

11.3%

13.6%

9.4%

6.2

Player C

17.9

8.3

52.8%

75.8%

7.5%

13.9%

11.0%

4.6

Player D

17.8

8.7

63.1%

74.7%

7.0%

14.0%

13.4%

6.1

Player E

17.7

8.6

43.1%

81.5%

10.4%

13.8%

7.8%

3.1

Player F

17.7

9.5

46.9%

80.3%

9.7%

15.8%

14.3%

5.6

Player G

17.1

9.0

47.3%

73.0%

6.3%

14.9%

15.0%

4.3

Although not the best player in the group, Hansbrough clearly belongs. He is among the best scorers and free throw shooters in the group. He is the best offensive rebounder, draws more fouls than anyone and is among the least turnover prone. If he could raise his FG% and do a little more work on the defensive glass he could even move beyond this group of players to the next tier of production. So who are these anonymous comparables I found for Hansbrough?

I was as shocked as anyone to see Hansbrough fit in with this group of established starters and borderline All-Stars. Keep in mind that these are his numbers for the entire season, not just his recent nine game double-figure scoring streak. The one thing that I left out of these collected stats is any sniff of defense. It's definitely not Hansbrough's strength and several of these players are major contributors at that end of the floor. At 0.5 per 36 minutes Hansbrough is dead last in blocks among this group. He does average 1.0 steals per 36 which is more than Bosh, Jefferson or Anderson.

This morning I tweeted, only half-joking, that after the Knicks game I was ready to sign Hansbrough to an NHL style 17 year contract. The Pacers' front office caught a lot of heat from fans and the media for taking Hansbrough with 13th pick. I'd like to point out that only 4 players taken in the 2009 Draft, Stephen Curry, DeJuan Blair, Ty Lawson and Blake Griffin, have a higher PER than Hansbrough this season. Blair is the only one of those 4 who was available for the Pacers at the 13th pick. Does it seem at all unreasonable that in 10 years someone will look at the 2009 Draft and wonder how in the world Jordan Hill was taken before Tyler Hansbrough?

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