Rewind back to the middle of December in Boston. The Pacers are struggling, coach Jim O’Brien is making odd substitutions and Tyler Hansbrough can’t seem to get meaningful playing time.
Prior to that Dec. 19 game against the Celtics, Hansbrough had played in just 16 of 25 games, tallying more than 20 minutes just five times.
“I haven’t been playing, but I guess the practice time has been useful,” Hansbrough, clearly frustrated, said when I asked him about his dearth of minutes.
In a 99-88 loss to the Celtics, the second-year forward went 0-for-4 from the field with four rebounds in 12 minutes. He played sparingly thereafter, until Jan. 7 when he logged 36 minutes against the Spurs. He rewarded O’Brien with 23 points and 12 rebounds on 10-for-19 shooting in a narrow defeat.
Hansbrough has played in 18 games since – he missed two games in late January with an illness – never playing fewer than 15 minutes.
While a number of Pacers have excelled under interim coach Frank Vogel, Hansbrough’s rise began before O’Brien was fired on Jan. 30. Two of Hansbrough's best games of the season came in January when he had 23 and 21 on 52.6% shooting against San Antonio and 27 points and 10 boards on 58.8% shooting against the Nuggets.
He is averaging 10.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 23.4 minutes this month, down a tad from the 12.4 points and 6.0 boards he posted in a minute less per game in January. The Pacers have played better, so we’ll excuse his dip in production, but his shooting percentage is troubling.
After hitting 49.6% of his shots in January, he’s shooting just 40.5% in February heading into the break.
There hasn’t been a gross variation in his shot selection over the last month, but it’s clear that Hansbrough needs to stick close to the basket and rely on his footwork and work ethic. His eFG% on jumpers (74% of his attempts) is just 38.1% this season.
Around the basket, the mark nearly doubles to 66.7%, but only a fourth of his attempts are from inside. The trick for Hansbrough to become a better isn’t just shot selection though, it’s also opportunity. His usage rate has dropped from 25.5% as a rookie to 22.0% this season. He also isn't getting to the line with as much frequency, dropping from 8.0 free throw attempts per 36 minutes to 5.6.
Given 25-plus minutes, he can easily notch four-six points on the offensive glass alone.
The issue with Hansbrough’s post offense is that when he’s not tipping the ball into the basket or dunking it, he’s getting his shot blocked an inordinate amount of the time. He has been rejected on 17% of his inside shots, including 21% of what 82games.com deems “close” attempts.
After playing in just 29 games in his rookie season due to injury, Hansbrough is finally getting a chance to adapt to the NBA.