Some guys really do play with chips on their shoulders.
That seems to be the case with Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough, who arguably has been the team’s most reliable player in terms of production during a recent 1-8 skid that left Indiana hanging on for dear life in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
Hansbrough’s current season averages of 10.5 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game certainly aren’t indicative of how the former North Carolina standout has played recently. He recorded back-to-back career-high scoring nights in a home-and-home sweep of the New York Knicks, posting 29 points Sunday at Madison Square Garden and one-upping that tally with the first 30-point game of his pro career Tuesday at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Surprised? Those who follow the Pacers regularly shouldn’t be.
By Drew Allen
Hansbrough has scored at least 20 points in the last five games and has not failed to score in double figures since the Feb. 25 home loss to Utah — the game that began Indiana’s descent into danger of falling out of the eighth spot. The 6-foot-9 power forward has been making it happen off the boards as well, relentlessly pursuing each missed shot and averaging 6.8 rebounds per game since the loss to the Jazz.
Couple that average with 18.1 points per game, and you have starter-quality production out of a guy whom many thought couldn’t get it done at the NBA level.
Hardly anyone would question Hansbrough’s greatness in high school and college. He led Poplar Bluff (Mo.) High School to back-t0-back state championships in 2004 and 2005 before stepping on campus at Chapel Hill, where he earned Player of the Year honors as a junior during the 2007-08 season and then led the Tar Heels to a national title as a senior.
However, analysts questioned whether Hansbrough could make the same type of difference in the NBA as a lanky, undersized four with less-than-favorable athletic ability. He was commonly projected as a late first-round pick, and it came as a shock when the Pacers made him the 13th overall selection in the 2009 NBA draft. The choice even led Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz to write a column wondering whether Indiana was too white (Hansbrough’s addition made nearly half the Pacers’ active roster at the time Caucasian players). That question soon began to surface amongst fans as well, who expressed concern that president Larry Bird might be passing on talent for the sake of the franchise’s image.
Those concerns appeared valid during the 2009-10 season. Hansbrough missed 53 games of his rookie year with vertigo. While other rookies like DeJuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, Darren Collison of the New Orleans Hornets and Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets — all drafted after Hansbrough — made significant contributions to their teams, Indiana effectively went a year without a first-round rookie.
Hansbrough appeared to have a minimal effect early on this season as well, though former coach Jim O’Brien very well might have been the culprit behind that in keeping many of the younger players on the bench in favor of veterans. Interim coach Frank Vogel has opened things up for Hansbrough and fellow power forward Josh McRoberts, who together have established surprising consistency at the four-spot in the Pacers’ rotation.
And now, Hansbrough seemingly is a safe bet to score 20 and pull down seven each night.
Only time will tell if Hansbrough maintains this level of play over an extended period of time and becomes for Indiana what he was for North Carolina, but he sure seems hell-bent on doing so.
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