A Learning Process for Hansbrough
There’s logic to it, I guess. Tyler Hansbrough has achieved double-doubles in each of the three game he’s started this season, and the Pacers won all three, and David West is a savvy, team-first veteran so surely he wouldn’t mind, right?
Start Tyler Hansbrough and bring David West off the bench? The argument could be made, yes.
The issue has come up in the wake of Hansbrough’s consecutive double-doubles against Cleveland and Orlando this week, games in which he combined to average 16 points and 12.5 rebounds while David West nursed his strained lower back. Add the 19 points and 10 rebounds from Hansbrough’s only other start this season, against Charlotte, and a trend takes form.
So, should the Pacers start Hansbrough and bring West off the bench in an attempt to get maximum output from both? No, they shouldn’t.
Start with the fact that West is, all things considered, the better player and doesn’t deserve to be demoted just because Hansbrough struggles to find a niche off the bench. Add the fact West’s more complete game fits better into the starting lineup and the bottom line is clear: Hansbrough’s going to have to find a way to become more comfortable in his backup role.
He said as much following Tuesday’s win over Orlando, when he finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds (but hit just 4-of-14 shots). He also admits to his difficulty in doing so. You can’t blame him, really. Every player prefers longer stretches of minutes, rather than staccato bursts that don’t allow much time to get into the flow of a game. Hansbrough, hyper-competitive at the DNA level, has the added challenge of being a three-time college All-American – four, if you count The Sporting News selection as a freshman. He’s accustomed not only to starting, but to starring, even more than most NBA players. He puts pressure on himself to perform, which is exacerbated by his limited role.
The Hansbrough-as-starter argument would carry more weight if he shot better. He’s hit just 30 percent of his shots outside the foul lane but inside the three-point line. He’s hit 34 percent of his shots inside the foul lane but outside the restricted arc. He’s hit 54 percent of his shots within that arc.
West’s percentages for the same shots, in order: 48, 43 and 59.
Hansbrough’s shooting problem is puzzling, because he hit 39 percent of his three-pointers as a senior at North Carolina. (But it’s not puzzling, because he has a fundamental flaw in his shooting form.) Still, the question remains: if he can hit a 21-footer in college, why can’t he hit a 15-footer in the NBA?
Hansbrough has played well off the bench just often enough to indicate he can do it consistently. He had 18 points and six rebounds at Orlando, 14 points and 11 rebounds against Detroit and 19 points at Boston. He’s scored in double figures 12 times as a reserve.
Perhaps a compromise could be reached, at least in the remaining regular season games. He averages 16.1 minutes per game, while West averages 33.4. A few more minutes for Hansbrough and a few less for West might do both some good before the playoffs.
Long-term, the issue will have to play itself out. West becomes a free agent this summer. The Pacers obviously will make every effort to keep him. If so, that might make Hansbrough want to test the free agency market after next season, when he becomes a free agent, because he’s not going to want to make a career of coming off the bench.
In the meantime, it would do Hansbrough good to work on his jumper.