How Tyler Hansbrough Got His Groove Back

March 14, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers power forward Tyler Hansbrough (50) dunks the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Philadelphia 111-94. Mandatory credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE

Tyler Hansbrough has struggled mightily this year, there's just no way around it. Supplanted in the starting lineup by David West, he was supposed to become the anchor of the Pacers' second-unit, scoring on the interior, devouring rebounds and leaving a trail of broken and bruised bodies in his wake. Other than a handful of brilliant flashes, he's look very little like the player who broke out in the second half of last season.

I'm definitely a numbers guy, but the numbers have a difficult time telling the story. Hansbrough is shooting an abyssmal 40.3% from the field, but more of his shots are coming from close to the basket this year than last, and he's also getting to the free throw line at a higher rate.

Season % FGA <10ft. % FGA >10ft. FTA/40
2010-2011 44.0% 56.0% 6.6
2011-2012 53.1% 46.9% 7.6

So if he's getting his shots from better locations and earning even more trips to the free throw line, why has it been such a struggle for him to get the ball in the basket?

Part of the problem is that his shots are coming in different situations. The table below shows the percentage of Hansbrough's offensive possessions by type, and his points per possession in each situation for this year and last.

Possession Type 2010-2011 % of Plays 2010-2011 PPP 2011-2012 % of Plays 2011-2012 PPP
Isolation 9.5% 0.75 12.4% 0.84
Post-up 20.0% 0.84 27.8% 0.79
Pick-and-Roll Man 18.3% 0.86 14.6% 0.85
Spot-Up 16.5% 0.89 11.0% 0.72
Off Screen 0.2% 0.00 1.3% 0.67
Hand Off 0.5% 1.50 0.2% 0.00
Cut 11.1% 1.29 11.5% 1.38
Offensive Rebound 11.4% 1.00 9.5% 1.19
Transition 6.4% 1.27 3.8% 1.29
Other 6.1% 0.71 7.9% 0.81

When I look at the chart I see three big shifts. The first is that Hansbrough is seeing a lot more possessions in the post. These are extra possessions on the block are coming at the expense of pick-and-rolls, spot-up jumpers, offensive rebounds and transition opportunities. The second and third big changes are that he's been much less efficient in the post and on those spot-up jumpers.

Hansbrough is most effective in the post when he has a strength advantage, which is not always the case. The idea that he's spending more than a quarter of his offensive possessions there seems like a risky proposition for the Pacers' offense. However, a bigger problem is the drop in efficiency.

When I wrote two nights ago that I didn't think Leandro Barbosa would make a difference in offensive efficiency for the Pacers, I was thinking mostly about his individual offensive skills. I argued that the Pacers would be better off putting the players they had in more advantageous offensive situations, like not giving Tyler the ball on the block quite so often. Barbosa wasted no time in making me eat my words and helped Hansbrough to one of his best offensive games of the season. The difference, and one I neglected to consider in my opinion, was the effect Barbosa would have on the Pacers' spacing.

To illustrate the point, I'm taking a first stab at video analysis. I'm still learning the video capture software so neither my video or analysis is as detailed as you'll find from Sebastian Pruiti or Jordan Kahn.

The video below shows five of Hansbrough's offensive possessions from Tuesday night against the Clippers. You'll see a couple of cuts and a few pick-and-rolls. On each of those possessions you'll see that Hansbrough had space to catch the ball and make a move to the basket. On all except the last possession you'll also notice that the Pacers always had two other shooters on the floor (Danny Granger and Barbosa) besides the ball-handler.


Having those shooters behind the three point line gave the defense just a second's pause and allowed Hansbrough more room to operate.

In this second set of possessions, four pick-and-rolls from just over a month ago against the Bobcats, you'll see something completely different. On the first three of these possessions, Hansbrough catches the ball and the defense immediately collapses on him. The reason they're able to do that is that two of the three back court players on the floor are non-shooters. On the first two possessions this is painfully obvious as Dahntay Jones and A.J. Price stand behind the three-point line completely unguarded while Hansbrough misses an interior shot. On the fourth, when Darren Collison is running the pick-and-roll with Hansbrough, while Granger and Hill man the other wing spots, he gets a wide open jumper that he simply misses.


Hill has moved to point guard, but in purely personnel terms, the trade for Barbosa means swapping out another shooter for A.J. Price. When Hill is running the pick-and-roll with that second unit having Barbosa on the wing means one less defender to rotate onto Hansbrough or collapse into the paint on a drive. When Barbosa is running the pick-and-roll the defense no longer has the option of a soft hedge or going under the screen because the ball is in a shooter's hand.

Last season Tyler Hansbrough played most of his minutes alongside Collison, Paul George, Granger and Mike Dunleavy. This season he's spent a lot more time alongside Jones, Price and Lance Stephenson, none of whom are outside threats. All those non-shooters have made it much more difficult for him to find space to shoot, regardless of the location or possession type. I think there may still be problems with the way the second unit has been re-organized, but many of those may be mitigated by giving Hansbrough room to work.

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