Feb 22, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Indiana Pacers power forward Tyler Hansbrough (50) shoots the ball in the second half against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Pacers defeated the Bobcats 102-88 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE
66 GP 21.8 MP .405 FG% .813 FT% 1.7 ORB 4.4 TRB 0.8 STL 1.0 TO 9.3 PPG
Coming off of a quality second season, finishing the year in the starting lineup, while playing well to open the postseason, Tyler Hansbrough was going to be one of Indiana's biggest bench advantages heading into the 2011-12 season after the team bolstered their starting lineup with free agent David West. The depth of the Pacers looked formidable with not only Hansbrough, but with George Hill in addition, giving them a reliable scoring punch off the bench. Hansbrough wasn't exceptional in his time last year, but he certainly looked capable of holding serve and making plays to go alongside his high octane energy level.
The reality of Indiana's bench proved to be another issue when Hill struggled to find his rhythm to open the year, forcing Hansbrough into a heavier scoring load in the second unit. He was able to score in double figures in nine of the season's first eleven games, but did so on a fairly inefficient 40% shooting. Not only was Tyler's shot and shot selection a bit of an issue, so to was the fact he made no effort to involve his teammates when he had the ball. There are black holes, then there is Tyler Hansbrough's start of the 2011-12 season, where he didn't register an assist in the first nine games of the year, something that was far from a coincidence watching Tyler take the ball to the hoop every single time he got a touch.
Assists didn't prove to be a favorable stat for Tyler, who continued to do most of his work off of rebounds and broken plays. In his rookie season, limited to 29 games due to his bout with vertigo, he totaled 28. In last year, playing a full 66 games, he registered just 30. Tyler isn't a reliable shooter, and with his form at the basket, he likely never will be, but for him to lack teammate involvement while shooting 40%, it was a concerning development.
Hansbrough was largely inconsistent through the season, and as inconsistent as his overall game was, so too was his jump shot, something he'll need to really be any kind of dangerous threat in the league. Tyler's ability to get to the free throw line was helped by his career high free throw percentage, but far too often, Tyler looks for the foul without aiming for the points. It created too many opportunities for lost possessions, and while not a killer in the regular season, his decision making with the ball proved to be detrimental in the postseason, particularly in the series against Miami.
Tyler was solid for stretches against Orlando, never piecing together a full game, and the solid play slowly diminished against the Heat, to the point where hustle and energy were creating bad fouls and horrible turnovers. Generally, the lack of size in Indiana's front line was a disadvantage in matching up with the Miami front line, but Hansbrough's play was in no way showing that it would've been a difference given the backbreaking unforced turnovers in the team's final three losses.
In the end, Hansbrough, in addition to the switch of Hill to the starting lineup and Leandro Barbosa's own issues, created an absolute void in the second unit that the team had no answer for. Tyler needed to be a semi-reliable option in the second unit in the way he was in the 2010-11 season, but especially as the postseason wore on, he became less and less efficient, making the second unit a glaring weakness rather than the strength it was supposed to be.
Tyler plays an ugly game, but when it's effective, it can really be a maddening style of play for opposing players. Tyler's free throw percentage was a career high 81.3%, and was second on the team with free throw attempts at a tough over 4 a game. And whether you like him or not, you can't deny his ability to hustle for the ball on every given opportunity. Curiously, however, Hansbrough posted a career high in win shares per 48 minutes with .129. Whether that was a biproduct of the team's success, or him being a bigger impact on the team's success despite being a step off consistently, the team certainly benefited from the times he played well.
Hansbrough could've been a lot better, and that's the biggest problem regarding his season. Given the expectations on him to help be a pillar in the second unit, his woeful shooting percentage, inconsistent jumper, somewhat questionable decisions with the ball, and not being a real threat on the defensive end, Tyler unfortunately fell short more than he came up big. All season, fans waited for him to have the games he had against the Knicks last year, posting back-to-back career highs, which helped him get on track for a great finish to the year, but it never really came into fruition. Of course, the decision making in the series against Miami really ended his already lackluster season a real sour note.
And the Future
By this point, Tyler, who will be 27 at the start of next season, likely won't continue to improve much, but any kind of improvement can be a huge advantage for Tyler, who still hasn't had a true NBA offseason due to his vertigo and then the NBA lockout this past sesaon. Tyler would benefit more from adding facets to his game than honing the skills that still weren't polished enough.
That is, largely assuming, the team won't find an upgrade for Hansbrough in the offseason. Moving Hansbrough is a tricky proposition. He's not a star by any means, but Tyler provides a unique skill set that can absolutely help a team in winning games. Getting fair market value, rather, getting an upgrade, on a player like Tyler, who likely doesn't have a particularly high market at the moment, may be difficult.
If the Pacers would look to move Hansbrough, it would have to be a clear upgrade. Not a "We'll see if Leandro Barbosa works out" flier. Hansbrough is still a contributor, and the Pacers can't afford to lose his contributions if they don't get a guy who can do the work he can do. In the meantime, expect Tyler back with the Pacers and hope that a true offseason with Frank Vogel and the Pacers staff will round him into a solid bounceback season next year.