A back injury has sidelined David West for five straight games, but the Indiana Pacers have gone 4-1 over that stretch thanks to strong play from Tyler Hansbrough.
The four-year veteran, who will become a restricted free agent this summer, Hansbrough is averaging 14.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in just 26.2 minutes of action as a starter. He’s shooting 47.4 percent from the field and averaging 4.8 free throw attempts.
He doesn’t bring the same level of play defensively as West, but his constant motor leaves him on the right side of numerous hustle plays. At least over the short term, he has shown he can more than hold his own as a power forward asked to do more than just provide energy and aggravation off the bench.
Hansbrough has played a majority of his career games off the bench, 200 as a reserve against 36 as a starter, but there is enough of a sample size to suggest that he’s at least as effective -- if not more -- given more minutes.
Hansbrough Per Game Career Splits
Starter: 26.7 minutes, 14.1 points, 6.9 rebounds on 49.9% shooting
Reserve: 18.5 minutes, 8.1 points, 4.3 rebounds on 40.5% shooting
An effective bench player who has provided a scoring punch off the bench to a Pacers team that has lacked some offensive depth this season, Hansbrough is proving his worth in a larger role at a very opportune time. West isn’t expected to miss an extended period of time, likely to return during Indiana’s upcoming four-game road trip, but his injury might end up costing Indiana more than they know.
Of course, if the back injury lingers it would be a fatal blow to the Pacers’ chances of challenging in the postseason, but the excessive cost could be revealed this summer.
If the Pacers issue Hansbrough his $4.1 million qualifying offer, he’ll become a restricted free agent in a market short on young, scrappy power forwards. If they don’t, he’ll be unrestricted without the ability to match any offer he receives. A team with more money to spend and minutes to allocate could offer him a contract larger than one Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard would be willing to provide.
Retaining Hansbrough and the continuity of the second unit is something the Pacers want to do, but keeping him in blue-and-gold becomes much more important if they aren’t able to convince West to re-sign. Paul George might be the All-Star and the combination of Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert might make close to $30 million combined, but West is the backbone of the franchise.
If West leaves, the Pacers might need to pay Hansbrough above market value as it is.
As unorthodox as his jumper may be -- I liken it to a jumping jack -- someone is going to pay Hansbrough around at least $6 million to $7 million annually. Hell, the Brooklyn Nets are paying Kris Humphries $12 million this season.
As well as Hansbrough has played in West’s absence, he has shown an ability to play starter’s minutes effectively over his career. Since the Pacers used the 13th overall pick on him in 2009, he is averaging 16.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. He doesn’t have the best shooting percentages and his range doesn’t extend too deep, but his ability to draw contact and get to the line makes him a more effective scorer.
Hansbrough ranks behind only James Harden, Dwight, Howard and Kevin Durant in free throw attempts per 36 minutes. His ability to get the line carries value in foul accumulation as well, forcing opponents to the bench earlier than anticipated.
Numbers have indicated that he can handle a bigger role for quite some time, but just a few months before his next contract is worked out Hansbrough is getting the opportunity to showcase just how effective he can be offensively and on the glass.
His play has helped the Pacers tread water without West, but it might hurt them come negotiating time.