This post was somewhat spawned by a nice back-and-forth I had with a poster on another thread. I’m not sure if he’s a Pacer fan, or just a UNC fan that’s following the Pacers now because of Psychotic Tyler (wanted to go formal before the jump).
Tyler Hansbrough could be the key to this season. I don’t think we are looking at a true championship run here. I also believe that it would take a fair amount of bad luck, or a complete collapse in morale and discipline for us to miss the playoffs. However, the difference between teetering on the edge of either contention or irrelevance could be, among several other things, the play of Tyler Hansbrough.
I never wanted us to draft Tyler Hansbrough. In the summer of 2009 the Indiana Pacers looked like a team that was a long, LONG way from being anything worth watching, and that they were pretty pathetic. It’s not that I didn’t like Tyler or thought that he had no place in this league. It was the simple fact that I believed Tyler, at best, would be a quality, high energy role player off the bench. Aside from Danny Granger (somewhere between a glorified role player and a pseudo-star in his own right), the 2008-09 Indiana Pacers, were nothing but a roster full of role players in need of some legit talent.
Alas, we did draft Tyler. I was hoping that somehow Jordan Hill would fall to us. I wasn’t sold that he would be a stud, but he had upside. A long, athletic, skinny F/C who had shown great improvement in his last year at Arizona, he looked capable of being the kind of raw talent I was hoping to groom. Clearly, he hasn’t been much to write home about and that outcome would’ve been ok with me. I knew Tyler would contribute to keep us at about 35 wins. Hill would, at best, take some time to come around, improving our future draft position and we could continue to off-load bad contracts for worse contracts of equal length and more draft picks. When Hill was drafted, I then hoped that we could trade down, wheel and deal ourselves into a couple late picks and draft Darren Collison and Taj Gibson. But, we ended up with Tyler and I just had to hope for the best.
Tyler’s first season proved me to be correct in my desire not to draft him, and incorrect in my assumption that he would be a valuable role player with smarts and energy. However, late last season, he proved to be everything I had hoped and more. Given the minutes he produced. Given the proper motivation, he played smarter and harder than his first season. He did the one thing I knew he was going to have to do to make me eat my words. He changed his game and developed professional skills beyond his, "I’m bigger and stronger than you, and I get the preferential calls" college mentality. He chose his shots better and more importantly, he developed reliable range out to 20 feet. And, the real key to his success, is that he blended some of his new skills with all of his existing skills coming out of school. Tyler gave us all the feeling that we had a good player to add to our growing arsenal of respectable, if not slightly underwhelming, young talent.
There have been several Pacer players this season that have been a disappointment in one aspect or another. But, most of them have at least impressed in some other fashion. I would consider Danny’s poor shooting, but vastly improved defense one example. Paul George’s increased shooting range, but slight defensive regression and less than expected all around improvement as another.
Tyler on the other hand has been utterly abysmal. At least compared to the advancements he made last March and maintained to a promising extent through April. Tyler is not the only player on the team that is getting tunnel vision and forcing bad shots. However, most of the team seems to be improving a little here and there over the past few games. Tyler is the only one that has shown little improvement. While he’s begun to pass more, he’s getting the ball less. I’m only looking at the past couple of games, but a trend is emerging. If Hansbrough isn’t getting his touches, he becomes disengaged. Or perhaps, it’s simply that his reckless, but usually effective offensive contribution is virtually all he can contribute. When that contribution begins to evaporate so does Tyler’s value.
We need Foster. We need a 3rd reliable big man to have any hope to stay relevant. Tyler could be that player. He's proven that he can be. But right now. He's not. I don’t ever expect Tyler to be a lock down defender or dominate the glass. Those are both areas where he can contribute some and should improve slightly with experience and effort. This year, he’s doing just that; contributing some. In 25 minutes, he’s turning the ball over 1.3 times per game (quite a bit for someone no longer getting many touches). He’s shooting just 38%. These numbers must improve. Specifically the 38%. What Tyler lacks in Foster's length, nose for the ball, and embracing his off the ball role as a five field goal attempt per game offensive player; Tyler could make up for with improved shooting, passing, and scoring. They can both frustrate the crap out of opponents on the floor around the basket.
Aside from West, Hill, and Hibbert, the whole team is struggling to score efficiently. The way that Roy is playing, I’m comfortable saying, the players I just listed are all new Pacers…because Roy is playing like a new man. The rest of the team is struggling to make good decisions, take good shots, and consistently move to spaces on the floor where they can be effective, or hit open teammates when they have moved to those spaces. However, for the most part, everyone seems to be showing slight, incremental improvements except Tyler.
With Foster out, the second unit lacks cohesion; lacks a voice. We need Tyler to be that voice. To do so though, I think he needs to be the best or 2nd best player on the floor in those situations (when Hibbs, Granger, and West are not on the floor). With Foster out, we are going to have to play some small ball with Tyler and West as our only bigs for some stretches…or we are going to have to live with Amundson giving us 15 foul plagued meaningless minutes of poor defense and offensive obscurity.
I would love to see the following things happen as it pertains to Tyler Hansbrough:
1. 1. Be more decisive. One dribble. One move. Quickly decide to attack or pass. Letting the double team come is killing us. Teams are starting to figure out Ty’s unorthodox style and he’s not getting to the line as much because of it. Tyler needs to get the ball and immediately look for his shot. If it’s not there, he needs to pass it out and re-establish.
2. 2. Flash out to the elbows. Tyler’s 20 footer was so nice last season. He’s failed to convert the few he’s attempted and since abandoned it. I’m not saying that should be his primary role, but it’s generally a pretty good starting point. Tyler isn’t going to break anyone’s ankles with his cross-over. For an ox-like player, he’s got a decent face up game…or had one last season. When that 20 footer is falling he has the ability to shoot that or take one strong dribble and attack that rim. If he could add a kick-out to an open man or a big-to-big pass to the other side of the paint to his game, he’d be almost as good as any non-Allstar PF on the offensive end of the court.
3. 3. Keep posting up. Along with item #1 above, making this aspect safer is more on the coaches and teammates, but Tyler has to make it worth their while. Tyler isn’t a great back to the basket type player, but he’s got enough goofy looking moves around the rim to continue to make this part of his game. The key however, is having someone flash open near the corner of the court so that he has an outlet if there’s no where for him to turn and make a play at the rim. Right now (or a week ago when he was still getting touches), he would get the ball on the left block and no matter what he would take too many dribbles and then fire off a terrible shot straight at the rim. Sometimes there was a player on the perimeter on his side of the court, but they were usually guarded. They need to start that play with no one over there so that it’s an open space that someone can move to either coming under the basket from the weakside or moving from the top of the key or crossing the lane. This should give Tyler a way out of those bad situations he seems to find himself in…then it’s up to him to learn how to make the right decision.
4. 4. Make Tyler the primary scoring option when Danny and Hibbert are on the bench. Maybe not primary in the sense of ‘best’ scoring option, but primary as in first. Paul George is not ready for that role just yet. If West is out there with Tyler, it’s a luxury to have two short, but strong guys that can do several things offensively, but West should be secondary in this part of the rotation so he can get a little rest and get easy open baskets. Hill is also a very good option when he’s on the court (and DC too), but they should be getting open looks when/if Tyler passes out of the post. I know that’s never been his strength, but it’s something he must begin to develop even if it’s simple stuff. Having Tyler be the primary option should allow teams to focus on someone who a.) can get to the line a lot and convert, b.) is somewhat of a red herring and isn’t really our preferred option, but draws defenders away from our preferred options.
I know number 4 is a stretch and not something that we’ve seen, unlike the other two. But, if Foster misses significant time, it is probably our best option. We can’t out score any team in the league straight up. But, we could send wave, after wave of solid options if we can get them playing correctly.
A lot of Tyler’s future with this team will depend on the remainder of this season and next. Of course West’s long term future as well as draft picks and FA acquisitions will play their part in his Pacer destiny as well.
I firmly believe that a small market team’s best bet to build talent is to be bad for a while and collect draft picks and draft well. I’m afraid we never fell far enough to fully take advantage of that tactic, but we did draft well. This team already has enough young talent to win too many games to expect to get end up with a top 10 pick. I am looking forward to building around Hibbert and George. But nothing says that those two players are legitimate top of the heap, complete players at their position.
It would seem, that if we intend to build a deep, talented team and make it cost effective, we are going to have to rely on incomplete players. However, if we get players that can complement each other; players that are willing to work hard to mold their games to the need of the team; players that work hard and bring energy, intensity every single game; I believe we can build a strong team. I believe that Tyler can fit right into that architecture, but he needs to change his mind set and focus on his decision making and improving the aspects of his game that are hurting this team.
For my vote, along with looking for open cutters and screeners, getting back to that 20 footer/face up as a major part of his repertoire should be priority number one. If Foster misses a significant amount of time, getting back March 2011 Tyler could be key to staying above .500.