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Energetic Hansbrough Gives Hustle, Heart

by Mark Montieth

October 17, 2012

Here we are, entering Tyler Hansbrough's fourth NBA season—his contract year—and what do we know?

We know he's energetic. He'll go after every rebound known to man, bowling over teammates and opponents alike in pursuit of the brown sphere as if it stored diamonds. Or perhaps a new contract. Which it does, in a manner of speaking.

We know he's difficult to get to know. He's not particularly friendly, but he's not unfriendly, either. He's approachable, but he gives the vibe of always being in a hurry and needing to be somewhere else. Where? Who knows? He never seems to smile, never seems to frown, just wears a blank mask.

We know he likes life in North Carolina, where he's still a legend for being named a consensus first-team All-American three times and leading the Tar Heels to the national championship in 2009. But if not for citizens video-taping him diving off an apartment balcony into a swimming pool or drinking a 40-ounce beer out of a brown paper bag in a bar, we'd know nothing of his off-court life there, either.

But do we know his future with the Pacers? Every team needs an energetic player willing to engage in dirty work coming off the bench, but the upcoming season will determine how much the Pacers are willing to spend for that. David West's arrival last season reduced Hansbrough's role. West is in a contract year too, however, so the power forward position remains a mystery longterm.

The uncertainty and erratic nature of Hansbrough's game was on display in the Pacers' 102-98 victory over Atlanta at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night. His line in the box score seemed a tidy summation of his career. He scored seven points off the bench in 22 minutes. He grabbed nine rebounds, including a game-high five at the offensive end. He hit just 1-of-8 field goal attempts and 5-of-9 foul shots and had no assists, one block and three turnovers.

Four of his offensive rebounds came in the final quarter in less than six minutes of work. He converted just 1-of-4 foul shots, however, and missed all three field goals.

A little bit of everything there, with plenty of ammunition for supporters and critics alike to debate.

Hansbrough seemed on the verge of a breakthrough after his second season. He had started 29 of the 70 games in which he played, averaged 11 points and and 5.2 rebounds, and shined a couple of times in the playoff series with Chicago. He opened it by scoring 22 points in Game 1 and closed it with 14 points and 11 rebounds in Game 5. In between, he scored 20 points over three games, but overall he left a positive impression that inspired hope for a bright future.

A little bit of everything there as well.

Hansbrough's productivity and playing time dropped last season under the weight of West's arrival. He averaged 9.3 points in the regular season and just 4.4 in the two playoff series, leaving a vague impression that inspired an uncertain future.

Where is he now?

"Here's what I see in Tyler Hansbrough," coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday. "He doesn't always do things the right way, but he's got more heart than anybody I've ever been around on a basketball court. He makes stuff happen. Forget the stat line. Just understand he makes positive things happen for your team. When the game's on the line, the ball finds him. I'm comfortable with where Tyler's at."

Hansbrough worked on developing his left hand around the basket in the off-season, to make it easier to coax the ball through the basket as he flails away amid a sea or arms. It didn't pay off Tuesday, but reportedly has been effective in practice.

For now, he's satisfied with the role he's got, willing to supplement West off the bench.

"I know my role," he said. "Provide energy and a little scoring.

"I just want to win right now. Down the road I'd like to be a starter, but with this team we've got a lot of things we can accomplish. Yeah, I've got individual goals. I want to be the player I can be and reach my potential."

"What goals do you have?" he was asked later.

"I don't set goals," he said.

That conversation finished, he headed for the sinks while pulling a black T-shirt over his head, calling over his shoulder for younger brother Ben to come along.

Where he was headed, nobody knew.

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