Hansbrough getting his groove back
March 2, 2012 - Moving to the bench normally isn't the sort of thing a competitor enjoys. In this instance, however, it seemed like a win-win for Tyler Hansbrough.
Not only would he continue to get a healthy diet of minutes, he would be much more of a go-to scorer with the second unit.
For a variety of reasons, the transition wasn't as seamless as expected. Hansbrough had to adapt not just to a new role but new players on the floor that brought a new rhythm and tempo -- not to mention the fact opposing defenses could focus much more of their attention on him.
It might've taken a little longer than hoped, but Hansbrough appears to have found his groove.
In the last two games, Hansbrough has totaled 40 minutes, 37 points and 18 rebounds as the Pacers extended their winning streak to five. He scored in double figures in consecutive games for the first time since early January, shot 46 percent from the field (12 of 26) and attempted 16 free throws.
That's more like it.
"I think it was just a matter of time, continuing to try to put him in position to succeed and do his thing," Coach Frank Vogel said. "Guys like that don't struggle too long. They bring that type of energy and effort and sooner or later it comes through."
Hansbrough averaged 27.5 minutes, 14.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and shot .503 in 29 starts last season. When David West was signed, the two-time All-Star moved into the starting lineup, shifting Hansbrough to the second unit. His numbers in that role this season were much like last year, when he averaged 18 minutes, 8.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and shot .423 off the bench.
In the 21 games prior to his 22-point breakout against Charlotte, Hansbrough averaged 7.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and shot .371.
"Even though we're all one team, it's two different units with two different styles, almost," said backup point guard A.J. Price. "It took him time to get acclimated again to playing with the people on the second unit with certain guys around him. We don't have as many shooters so the floor's kind of condensed a little bit. I think he's doing a good job adjusting."
Hansbrough's lack of production had been one of the mysteries of the season. When he got open looks, he struggled to knock down the open mid-range jumpers. When he drove to the basket, he frequently found himself running into a wall of defenders. Lately, however, he has looked much more like the player that helped spark last season's turnaround under Vogel.
"I think it is just kind of getting a rhythm with some of these new guys and getting back on the bench and coming in there and trying to give a spark instead of getting into a rhythm," Hansbrough said. "When you're a starter, you're playing more minutes. When teams know what you do and they're locking in on you as a second-unit scorer, they're trying to shut you down."
Hansbrough has established himself as a high-energy, extremely aggressive player; Vogel believes he'd benefit from changing gears -- or, to use a baseball analogy, mixing his pitches rather than uncorking the fastball every time.
"I think he' got to vary his speed in his attacks," Vogel said. "He's 100 miles an hour all the time and that works for him in a lot of ways, especially on the defensive end and in the hustle areas. But he just needs to grow his change of pace to his offensive game so there's more stop and go, there's more under control, and it's not just all 100 miles an hour."
This is a radical concept for Hansbrough, who has known only one speed his entire career.
"It's something I'll look at," he said. "It's tough to go less than 100 but whatever can help my game I'm willing to do."
Whatever works, the key is to get Hansbrough rolling. The Pacers are all about depth, which means they lean more heavily on their second unit than most teams. Hansbrough is the primary frontcourt weapon off the bench, which is a different role but no less important.
"It's huge," Vogel said. "This team's built to have a strong bench and we need him and all our guys off the bench to come in and raise the level of play."
He looks like a much more confident player of late. There is no hesitation in his shot, no uncertainty in his movement.
"Everybody needs confidence but I don't think I ever lost my confidence," he said. "I'm always confident in my abilities and I'm always going to come out ready to go."