Back before all that other crazy stuff happened in the fourth quarter and overtime, there was like a 30 percent chance that last night’s opener of the Pacers-Heat series was going to be known as “The Tyler Hansbrough Game.” Nah, he didn’t go full-on Nate Robinson or anything, but he did have a stretch where he hit four buckets in about a five minute stretch, keeping Indiana’s head above water during the Heat’s characteristic third-quarter surge and killing valuable time for David West on the bench. His name trended on Twitter. Reggie Miller made a reference to him being the MVP or some such. Then a couple crazy shots, a couple crazy fouls, a couple crazy defensive breakdowns, and now Tyler Hansbrough’s breakout is kinda whatever. Oh well.
I’ve long been infatuated with Tyler Hansbrough’s role on the Indiana Pacers, because I can’t remember another player in the league in a position quite like it. Usually, nominal sixth men/first men off the bench types are shooting/playmaking guards, or at the very least, big men with impressive post games like Carl Landry or Paul Millsap a couple years ago. Tyler Hansbrough is basically the Pacers’ sixth man by default, because they have no other good bench players (or even competent ones, really — would any of DJ Augustin, Orlando Johnson, Ian Mahinmi, Sam Young or Gerald Green get even spot minutes on the Heat?), but he’s definitely not a shooter or a playmaker, and his post moves are pretty pedestrian, if even that.
Still, he gets results, sort of. Taking a cursory look at Hansbrough’s per-game averages on the season, they certainly won’t blow you away — seven points, about five rebounds, 43 percent shooting and one turnover per game is pretty unremarkable stuff. Look a little deeper, though, and he starts to look decently effective. First and foremost, despite only playing the seventh-most minutes per game on the team — yes, even Gerald Green played more — he drew the second-most free throws on the team, shooting nearly four a game in his 17 minutes, good for a per-36 average of nearly eight a contest. He was one of only 38 players to shoot 300 free throws this year, and he played by far the fewest minutes of anyone on that list. And while he’s not quite a Reggie Evans-sized monster on the glass, he certainly crashes it with abandon, grabbing the second-most offensive boards on the team. Again, he was one of only 41 players to grab 160 offensive rebounds this year, and of those 41, only the prodigious Andre Drummond played fewer minutes.
To paraphrase Trey on a recent podcast, this is basically the entirety of the Pacers’ second unit offensive strategy: Tyler Hansbrough goes running around and hopes to draw a foul. The net results of that being your entire offensive strategy for stretches of the game at a time is obviously disastrous, as is reflected by Hansbrough’s unflattering on-court/off-court plus-minus numbers. But hell, if Hansbrough’s knees-and-elbows efficiency doesn’t do its damnedest to make it slightly redeemable. In the end, he posted an above-average PER for the season (15.3) and was worth a very respectable 4.4 Win Shares on the season, with his .154 WS/48 being the third-highest on the Pacers, higher than even All-Star and budding superstar Paul George. It’s not pretty, and Tyler doesn’t do anything to make it pretty. In fact, he makes it as brutal-looking as possible.