It may have never been pretty, but it was usually effective.
#50 / Forward / Indiana Pacers
After sitting out most of his rookie season with a frustrating ear infection turned vertigo that continued to quietly leak into the summer, it almost seemed like Tyler Hansbrough would never take the floor. In fact, as the season began, and he was getting healthy and rounding back into game shape, it seemed he would never take the floor.
But of course, that was another issue entirely.
Hansbrough played early, but didn’t play often. When he did, he would often play well. In fact, through the first two months, when Hansbrough played 20 minutes, the team was 4-1. However, such limited minutes created its own problems; the inconsistent role frustrated not only Hansbrough, but everyone involved with and a fan of the organization.
So it only made sense that pressure from the higher up would push Jim O’Brien to shift Hansbrough from out of the rotation into the starting lineup, where he immediately hit a (then) career high 23 points on 10-19 shooting against the Spurs. Following O’Brien’s dismissal, a sigh of relief could be heard around the Fieldhouse, none more than from Tyler Hansbrough, who could finally be Tyler Hansbrough.
Tyler shows tremendous respect for the game, so it was certainly a surprise to hear him all but discount O’Brien. Hansbrough would move back to the bench, but revel in the opportunity to coin the newly minted Goon Squad, which helped push Indiana back into the playoff picture. He came on with his strongest stretch when the team fell on the verge of collapsing early in March, seeming to be the only player who cared enough to put forth an effort, averaging 25.2 PPG on 61.5% shooting across five games to singlehandedly pull Indiana back into their final stretch run.
This was highlighted when he served up back-to-back career highs (29 & 30 respectively) against the New York Knicks, stuffing Amar’e Stoudemire in the two wins. Hansbrough jumped back into the starting lineup, providing the slow starting starters with a boost of energy, playing a big part in eliminating the slow starts and getting into back into the playoffs. Once there, Hansbrough made a fantastic debut.
In Game 1, as he torched the Bulls time and time again during the second half, you could just tell Larry Bird was feeling his questioned pick justified. Even following a hard foul (dirty? thuggish?) from Kurt Thomas late in the third that seemed to knock Hansbrough out of the game, he returned only to deliver the exclamation point jam that nearly daggered the Bulls in Game 1.
Unfortunately, the rest of the series wasn’t so kind as Hansbrough’s jumper was just slightly off the next four games, as he shot a woeful 10-41 to close out the series. Whether feeling the ill effects of the hit or just bad luck, it was a frustrating close to a productive season for the second-year forward Vogel summed up best by saying, "No one wants to play against Tyler Hansbrough." A little more consistency and that could be cold hard fact for not only opposing teams, but opposing fans as well.
So how did Tyler impress?
Tyler’s play is a well documented nightmare. It’s not pretty to watch, but it’s hard to say it’s not effective. The pre-draft questions about how the former National Player of the Year couldn’t perform in the NBA were answered by his stretches of dominating play across the season. If his jumper was falling, he became one of the most unguardable players on the court.
Hansbrough's drive remains one of his most impressive qualities. All he wants is the basketball, and all he wants to do is win games. His play during the team's 6-game losing streak in March was the single light during that whole dark stretch. It didn't seem to matter that no one else was showing up, Hansbrough went out and performed, and performed big.
And how did Hansbrough disappoint?
Consistency was Tyler’s biggest issue. There was no question he could, nay would, maintain a mean hot streak, but it was whether or not he could get the consistent play going. It feels like he’s an extremely limited player and that good coaching would be able to take him out of games. But it never seemed to line up so easily. Some nights he just plain had it and others he didn’t. Whether it’s an issue that can be fixed with more work in the offseason remains to be seen.
Another big issue throughout the season was Hansbrough’s play off of offensive rebounds. He improved considerably moving forward at looking at his teammates when grabbing the board, but spent most of the season seeking out the put back, regardless of the quality of the shot he was putting back up, often upping his offensive rebounding numbers on his own misses, time and time and time again.
Well, what’s next for Hans?
At this point, Hansbrough will head into next season the team’s starter at PF. Is that a good thing? Hansbrough provided the bench with such a lift that it seemed at times his abilities were a little lost in the starting lineup, but all the while, his play in the starting lineup did nothing but spark a lineup that had gotten off to painfully slow starts that Hansbrough would have to help erase.
We’re still getting to know Tyler and how good he can be, but for a player who will be 26 by the time the regular season tips off (regardless of lockout), it seems like it will be a limited window for him to improve and become a next level of player. If he should remain the level he is, however, he’s just the kind of high energy spark off the bench a good team needs; few players have the will to win more than Hansbrough, and most of those players with Hansbrough’s overall skill set often hurt their teams by trying to do too much. But Hansbrough seems to have that fine line between making smart basketball plays while maximizing his effectiveness, and that’s not a bad quality to have in one of your players.