After two years in unfamiliar territory, Tyler Hansbrough slipped back into the familiar role of a starter for the Indiana Pacers like his favorite pair of jeans.
While Hansbrough started one game as a rookie, he hasn't had the role of a starter with the opportunity to extend that role indefinitely since he was THEE man in Chapel Hill helping lead the North Carolina Tar Heels to an NCAA Championship.
With advanced notice of his start last night against the San Antonio Spurs, Hansbrough was primed and ready to go from the opening tip.
"My shots were falling. My teammates were helping me," Hansbrough said after the game. "It was just one of those nights when everything seemed to be working for me."
Actually, he appeared geared up for the start well before the opening tip.
I always enjoy watching the players go through their pre-game individual workouts. Not the warm-up layup lines, but a couple hours before the game when they work individually with a coach going through the various shots they have within the offense. Human nature and body language often combine to reveal which players are involved in that night's game plan and others who are inactive for the night.
Hansbrough normally isn't one of those guys. He goes through everything at the only speed he has, full. However, last night there was a little extra bounce in that pre-game workout. He was finishing everything with dunks, jumping easy, appearing amped to a level I hadn't noticed before.
Hansbrough walked into the Fieldhouse ready to take advantage of the opportunity.
"Knowing that Coach had the confidence to start me, was big," Hansbrough said. "I came out there and got off to a pretty good start and that always builds your confidence up."
Good start, indeed. Hansbrough put back a Darren Collison miss to get the scoring started and went on to score the first six points of the game en route to a 23 point, 12 rebound game.
DeJuan Blaircouldn't slow down Hansbrough who exposed the big fella by draining mid-range jumpers off the pick 'n pop. At one point late in the first half, Blair looked over at the Spurs' bench on his way back to the other end and simply shrugged his shoulders.
When coach Gregg Popovich tried to put Matt Bonneron Hansbrough to cover him on the perimeter, Hansbrough was able to muscle Bonner down in the paint.
"He almost took the game away from us," Popovich said of Hansbrough. "He played well all evening. We couldn't find anyone to guard him, quite honestly. I though Tyler just ripped us up."
Jim O'Brien wanted some increased production from his power forward spot and Hansbrough delivered, which should give Hansbrough an extended look for the rest of the season. Obviously, last night's production will be hard to match. In fact, against Atlanta tonight, Hansbrough will have his hands full with Al Horford and Josh Smith.
But as he showed last night, Hansbrough has the ability to fill the hands of opponents. Finding that consistent level of play and production, staying out of foul trouble and finding a good usage balance (19 shots shouldn't be the norm) are the next steps for Hansbrough's game to truly start maturing.
But as Hansbrough proved last night, the starting role fits him just fine.