Hansbrough, Pendergraph State Their Case

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by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 13, 2013, 1:46 AM

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Having three capable players at a position is one of those “good problems” for an NBA coach, but that doesn't mean Frank Vogel doesn't agonize a bit over it.

The Pacers' starting forward, David West, is an All-Star caliber player who averages 17.2 points. Former lottery draft pick Tyler Hansbrough showed promise as a starter before West arrived, and Jeff Pendergraph shows it nearly every time he's given enough time to work up a sweat. But most coaches would rather fit into shoes that are too small for them than fit three players from the same position into a game that isn't a blowout, which means Hansbrough and Pendergraph are going to have to deal with the frustration of limited or nonexistent minutes as long as West is healthy.

“I struggle with it, to be honest with you,” Vogel said following Wednesday's 101-77 victory over Charlotte. “They're both incredibly good kids and incredibly good basketball players, but obviously David West is David West. We're not going to change how we're using him, obviously.”

With West out because of a scratched cornea suffered in Monday's loss to Brooklyn, Hansbrough and Pendergraph were given time to issue rebuttals on Wednesday. Both stated their case nicely. Hansbrough started and finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes, 25 seconds. Pendergraph, scoring in double figures for the second straight game, had 10 points and eight rebounds in the remaining 24 minutes, 35 seconds.

That's 29 points and 18 rebounds from the power forward position for those counting at home, from two guys who have combined to average 9.4 points and 6.5 rebounds in the scraps of playing time left behind by West.

Even with Paul George amassing his first triple-double, Vogel opened his postgame media conversation on the topic of Hansbrough and Pendergraph. He had originally planned to start Pendergraph to keep Hansbrough in his familiar role of a backup, but changed his mind during the afternoon. He called Hansbrough into his office two hours before the game and pointed toward a photograph taken during the 2011 playoff series against Chicago, when Hansbrough started and averaged 11.2 points in a six-game elimination.

“I told him it's been a long time since you started, but this is your show and you're going to do great,” Vogel said.

Hansbrough doesn't say much, period, and certainly never complains to the media, but he's understandably frustrated by his current role. He scored in double figures in 13 consecutive games in the season before West's arrival, including back-to-back games of 29 and 30 against New York in March.

If those were his salad days, these are his appetizer days. But he accepts them.

“Obviously I want more minutes, but I understand how good David West is,” Hansbrough said. “He's an All-Star and I learn a lot from him in practice. Sometimes I'd like to be out there more, but I understand why. He's a helluva player.

“(But) I'm the type of person, if there's a chance I can start, I want to start. I want minutes, I want to be out there with the best. That's always my mentality.”

Hansbrough has struggled in his limited role this season, averaging 6.5 points in just under 16 minutes per game. What happened two seasons ago convinces him he would play better if he could play longer stretches.

“No question,” he said. “I'd be able to get in some type of rhythm instead of forcing things. If I get more minutes consistently I can steadily get in a rhythm and be more effective.”

Pendergraph shares Hansbrough's quiet frustration. He's played in just 18 games this season, for an average of 6 ½ minutes. Through it all, however, he's remained the team's most exuberant cheerleader.

“I've had a couple rough moments, but I've got the support of my teammates, too,” he said. “They have my back and that helps. I try to make the most of the minutes I do get and not get down on myself. I'm an NBA player and I'm here for a reason.”

The logjam is reminiscent of the 1999 lockout season, when Dale Davis, Antonio Davis and Austin Croshere shared minutes at power forward. All three were frustrated by their limited roles, and Antonio Davis wound up requesting a trade at the end of the season. He wound up in Toronto, where he became an All-Star the next season, while Dale Davis and Croshere happily divided the minutes the following year.

Pendergraph is a free agent at the end of the season. These opportunities, at least, allow him to prove to the Pacers and other NBA teams that he's a viable NBA player. They could reap dividends this summer.

“Whenever that time comes, that's when we'll deal with it, but until then I'll keep being me and help my teammates as much as I can, however I can,” he said.

Meanwhile, he and Hansbrough will make the best of the situation.

“You're on a top-three team in the Eastern Conference for the second year in a row,” Pendergraph said. “We're following D. West and he's had an All-Star season and he's saved us a lot in games. He's a great leader and a great player. That's a great problem to have, fighting for minutes with D. West.”