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Ben Hansbrough Gets His Opportunity

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

December 10, 2012

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Obviously, something was up.

As the Pacers shot around to close out their practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday, Frank Vogel and Brian Shaw both stopped by to talk with Ben Hansbrough as he shot free throws. At that point it was uncertain if Hansbrough had been released, sent to Fort Wayne to play in the Development League or promoted to backup point guard.

Once George Hill took him aside and began offering instruction about the halfcourt offense, it was obvious: Ben is going to replace D.J. Augustin and join his older brother Tyler on the second unit, starting with Wednesday's home game against Cleveland.

Vogel described it as "for the short term," but clearly opportunity is knocking for the free agent from Notre Dame, who does not have a guaranteed contract.

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"D.J.'s been in a slump this year," Vogel said. "Our bench as a unit has been struggling and D.J. is not in any way solely responsible, but I don't want to change the whole bench and throw everybody upside-down. So we'll change one part and see if it has an impact."

Augustin, signed to a one-year free agency contract over the summer after starting in Charlotte the past two seasons, has averaged just 3.2 points on 27 percent shooting while playing 13 minutes per game. He averaged 11.1 points last season and 14.4 two seasons ago. He entered this season shooting 41 percent from the field, 34 percent from the three-point line and 87 percent from the foul line over his previous four seasons.

Hill said Augustin's limited playing time and unfamiliarity with a new offensive system have affected his performance, a point Vogel also made.

"I don't think anybody in the NBA is effective when they're playing that many minutes," Hill said. "Just knowing where his shots are going to come from. That's something he doesn't know yet with this system and that group. Sometimes he has to force a shot because he may not have one."

Augustin didn't disagree.

"I think it's hard for anybody to play 10 minutes a game, and have five minutes here and there, but if that's what the coach is giving you, you have to take it and do your best, and that's what I'm trying to do," he said.

Hansbrough, younger brother of backup forward Tyler, has made three game appearances for a total of 13 minutes, and scored four points. He usually performed well in the preseason, with his best game coming in a win over Minnesota when he had 10 points and seven assists – with five points and six assists coming in the fourth quarter when the Pacers overcame a 13-point deficit.

"I've waited on this opportunity for a long time," he said. "I just have to make the most of it."

Vogel hopes the move will bring a spark to a reserve unit that has performed well below expectations so far. Hansbrough is more emotional by nature than Augustin, better defensively and is likely to shoot better.

"Defensive intensity," Vogel said when asked what he wants from Hansbrough. "And I want to see if he can get the second unit to flow better on the offensive end. And to defend better, too. Last year's bench struggled to score, but at least they got stops. This year's bench is struggling to defend, so hopefully Ben will help us out."

Hill doesn't doubt that Hansbrough will bring defensive energy, having had to deal with him in practice.

"He's a maniac," Hill said. "I never thought I'd see another Tyler Hansbrough, but you see a guard version of Tyler. The passion that Tyler plays with, that's doubled because (Ben's) a smaller size. He's a point guard."

Vogel added that Jeff Pendergraph, who has scored 11 points in 12 minutes this season, also could receive more playing time before long.

"I've seen things from Ben Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph (in practice) that make me think they'll do well when they get the opportunity," Vogel said. "Right now it's Ben's chance to see what he's got. Pendy will get his chance, too, and he'll do well when he gets his chance."