Thank you to all of you who have written me or PM'd me in the last couple of days requesting one of my reviews of the Pacers newest member, Tyler Hansbrough. It is nice to know that my opinion is so valued by some of you. With that in mind, I did an extensive study of a huge amount of video of Hansbrough this weekend, since I had a 3 day weekend from work.
Before the draft, I included Hansbrough in my "best of rest" draft thread. Here is what I wrote prior to the draft about the UNC forward:
"Tyler Hansbrough will be a decent NBA player that your coaching staff is always glad to have on your team. He will help in practice as a guy who will push your veterans to play hard, and he has some skills to really help a team as a bench role player. He is exceptionally fast at changing ends, and will be among the league leaders in garbage points if he plays enough. On cold February nights during a stretch of 3 games in 4 nights, he will come in and spark a team to a victory with his hustle and hard play. Fundamentally his footwork with the ball is excellent, despite the fact that he can't score over anyone bigger than him at this level I don't think. Utah makes alot of sense at #20 for him, and teams on either side of them may be interested. He reminds me alot of a Luis Scola type player."
With that as my initial impression before my "superstudy", let me put his game under the Tbird microscope.
The first thing that always is mentioned about Hansbrough is his effort level and motor, so let me delve into that first.
My impression of some fans is that many of them do not in truth understand what "playing hard" really is. Playing hard isn't just a state of mind, or a conscious decision like most people think. Always, when you see Tyler Hansbrough play, or read about him, or talk about him amongst your family and friends, remember this ultimate coaching truth:
PLAYING HARD IS A SKILL!!!!
Playing with maximum effort takes just as much drill work, practice, and mental discipline as being able to rebound, dribble with both hands, shoot from outside, or any other fundamental skill you want to talk about. The concept of "playing hard" doesn't come as a natural thing, it has to be taught, practiced, and drilled into you.....and/or you have to be naturally gifted with such a disposition that doing anything less than your best is unacceptable to your own being.
Players, and people in general for that matter, don't all naturally do their very best at anything all the time. Most people tend to want to work right to the point of where it gets uncomfortable, and most also are greatly influenced by the work ethic of those around them. We are all guilty of being that way from time to time I am sure.
Hansbrough seems to be one of those rare people who are extremely self motivated, and truly genuine about getting the absolute maximum out of his ability. This isn't just apparent in game conditions....in fact, games are the worst place to be able to tell who plays with passion and who doesn't. To really understand that, you have to see how much willpower and dedication a player has in his willingness to prepare himself to succeed when no one is watching, when no cameras are rolling, and when there is no glory in it but the personal satisfaction of knowing you are giving everything you have to achieve a goal.
Hanbrough is in great condition, and plays the game with a reckless enthusiasm on game nights....we all can see that. But the true sign of how a player like Hansbrough can succeed isn't by watching ESPN, it's by watching him come in at 11 at night and shoot jump shots by himself, or how he watches game film with the coaching staff (which he did at UNC regularly), or how he studies his opponents with great intensity and purpose, looking for any single small edge that may help him and his team succeed.
Find all of that corny if you will, but Hansbrough is a winning basketball player with the right mentality to achieve every last drop of success his abilities will allow him. You cannot ever go wrong with adding guys like that to your culture of your locker room.
Some analysts who don't think Hansbrough has any NBA skills are incorrect.....playing and preparing hard is a great skill to have, and Hansbrough has more skill in that one fundamental than 95% of the NBA.
Let's discuss Hansbrough on the defensive end first.
On draft night, when some of you asked me this at the draft party, I compared Hansbrough to a "Jeff Foster" type of defender. I didn't mean that to say that I think he will be a Jeff Foster overall type player (Hansbrough is much different offensively and in style and size) but I do think in terms of defensive technique he will do things very similarly.
Hansbrough on the perimeter is what I would call a "one way" defender. He won't be quick enough laterally to guard a player straight up and shut down his dribble in either direction, he will need to be able to cheat one way or the other, and force a player in a predetermined direction toward help. In other words, he will in no way be a great defender overall, but he will be able to play in a designed defensive concept and scheme as long as it isn't too wacky.
For example, if Hansbrough is stuck on the perimeter trying to guard a quick hybrid type of "4 man", he will have to play a guy "over half way" and forece him in a particular direction. Teams will no doubt try to isolate Hansbrough on the wings when they have him in a mismatch potentially (Jamison, Lewis, etc etc), and when they do, he will need to force them into help that is organized and pre determined.
In terms of a post defender, Hansbrough likes to body up on people, which isn't good....he will need to learn not to do this as much at the pro level. Hansbrough does a reasonable good job on film of meeting post players up the lane and bumping them, but he doesn't always make a giant effort in fighting for defensive position. Of course, at the college level sometimes you want the ball thrown inside as a team defense, as most colleges don't have a good enough post player to score consistently after the catch of any real move is required.
After his man catches the ball in the low post, Hansbrough does reasonably well if the man makes a traditional back to the basket move. Hansbrough plays physically, and got away with bumping people smartly during their turnaround jumpers against him. Hansbrough would "walk into" an airborne shooter, or lightly touch their chest, just enough to perhaps throw off their shot. Normally, TH did a good job of getting both hands up and extending his arms, locking in his elbows to give himself maximum height. Super top notch players can rise up and shoot over Hansbrough, as he usually stayed on the ground in order to get blockout position instead of going for a shot block. Average wing span and lack of quick leaping ability makes Hansbrough a below average shotblocker in the NBA game, and that seems to be one area unlikely to improve.
Hansbrough is going to have to play with better balance defensively, and improve his athleticism thru some plyometrics or agility drills. In the above scenario, many players will be able to post him and score over the top of him, so Hansbrough will need to be able to be taught to jump in the air quicker and contest post jumpers better. To do that, he will need to play less flat footed and more up on the balls of his feet, and play with his knees flexed so he can get off the ground more quickly. On tape, even if he did leap to try and block a shot, the ball would be released before he got to the apex of his leap.
Against high quality NBA post up power forwards, Hansbrough will at times need double team help....not all the time, but it will at least have to be part of the package you put in defensively.
When his man catches the ball inside and faces him up, Hansbrough can be beaten off the first move/step due to some balance issues. He looks to me that he plays bent over at the waist, leaning too far forward, which means he can be beaten when he loses his center of gravity. He is going to need to be able to improve that at the NBA level, because teams are more and more going to quicker, better ballhandling 4 men who can score off the dribble.
However, in this same scenario ( a post guy catches and faces up) when the offensive guy chooses to rise up and take a jump shot, Hansbrough does contest this particular shot better. While he is sometimes a tick late to influence the shot much upstairs, he does influence below the release point by blocking vision, bumping someones chest or waist, and by particularly being very physical in blocking out a jump shooter. Taking a baseline jump shot is UNCOMFORTABLE against Hansbrough because of his aggressiveness and physicality....you can get the shot off...but upon landing is where the hard work begins.
As a help defender, he won't block shots, but he will influence them by knowing the scheme well and being in the right spot. Much like Foster does, Tyler Hansbrough will likely take a huge amount of charges for an NBA power forward in his career, once he gets the respect of the officials in a couple of years this will be very effective for him. In the short term, Hansbrough will have to fight foul trouble from time to time, as most NBA young bigs do.
Long term, with the games/styles of Hibbert and Hansbrough, we will need to add a third player who can play each of the front court spots, who hopefully can rebound in above average way and can defend both spots. Each of these guys project to be slightly above average offensive players, great teammates, and quality players, but they also are going to be slightly below average defenders and only average rebounders for their positions. To be successful long term, we will need to add someone who compliments both players. Somewhere between Joakim Noah and Dale Davis would be nice.....JO in his prime (without the attitude) would be even nicer.
As a rebounder, Hansbrough looks like he will to me be about average, probably getting a rebound about every 4 to 4.5 minutes played. He is relentless at rebounding his own shots particularly. Hansbrough isn't a super leaper, but he reads the ball in the air well and goes after almost every rebound. He wont get a bunch of boards outside his own area, but if the ball comes near him he will fight harder for it than most will. He has good to great hands and is active the entire game...he is aggressive, and seems to like contact.....I sometimes think Hansbrough likes being blocked out, so he can try to outquick/outbattle/outthink someone to the ball.
His lack of super size, lack of reach, elite leaping ability, and being quick off the ground will keep him from being an "A" level rebounder, but he will be efficient and sufficient for the position I think long term. An elite level rebounder at some point is going to be needed to the roster to pair with both Hibbert and Hansbrough however, as neither of our current young bigs are going to be above average for their positions as total rebounders.
If I were coaching Hansbrough and Hibbert, I would work with both of them on making the 2 handed overhead outlet pass. Both these guys have the natural ability to master this skill....particularly Hibbert does as a very good passer overall. Learning this great fast break starting skill would cause teams who play us to retreat back on defense instead of crashing the offensive glass, and therefore mitigate each of their own rebounding shortcomings. This is would be a major point of emphasis for me if I were to advise Jim O'Brien.
While Hansbrough isn't the quickest moving his feet side to side, he is among the fastest I've seen at changing ends of the floor. It is so so difficult to get bigs to relentlessly sprint down the floor, yet Hansbrough has had that ability since he was in high school. The ability to transition from defense to offense is just as much a mental toughness issue as anything, the ability to play the game at a higher concentration level than your opponent. Hansbrough absolutely busts it down the floor all game long, which helps him establish early post position and leverage against trailing defenders.
This skill will be huge for our Pacers right out of the gate. The Pacers had excellent threats everywhere on the floor in an early offense situation, except as a vertical threat right down the lane near the rim...now we replace Foster, Nesterovic, and Hibbert in this role with a player who is among the very best at it coming out of college....that is a major upgrade for the 20 possessions or so a game that end up being early offensive chances, assuming TH is in the game when they occur. Hansbrough will get a couple of layups/dunks a game just by beating his man down the floor and recieving a lead pass next year.
Offensively in general, Hansbrough has alot of room to grow and improve, which he will need to do to make it.
With his back to the basket, Hansbrough is good at establishing position and recieving the ball. He seems to take it personally when teams deny him the basketball, and he is so physical about fighting for the ball that many players just let him catch as the game goes on. At this level, that will translate, partially for the same reasons it did in college, but also because at this very second of his development, Hansbrough is going to struggle to score over someone his size or taller anyway.
Hansbrough loves contact, and likes to jump into defenders, bounce off them, get the whistle, and then shoot AROUND them, not over them. Bigger players, less generous whistles, and more sophisticated defenses are going to give Hansbrough trouble early in his career when trying to become a true low post option as a power player. He will likely for a while next fall get his shot blocked from the weakside quite a bit, which will probably cause alot of consternation in the arena, on the bench, and on this board. Hansbrough will likely struggle early in his career with his back to the basket, but he will over come it in ways that I will talk about just a bit lower in this article.
Going off the dribble, Hansbrough has some decent abilities in short bursts, but when asked to dribble more than once or twice he is turnover prone. He can get a bit off balance, especially since he likes to drive right into the defenders and spin off them rather than go around them. Hansbrough particularly likes to to dribble, turn his back, spin and go back to his right shoulder. Knowing that, some smarter teams sent "diggers" in from the perimeter to try and strip him from the ball, with moderate success. He needs to show more patience here, instead of acting like a bull in a china shop. A clever jab step to set up his dribble move would be a nice first thing to work on. One thing he does great is pivot hard and strong, but then he doesn't always wait and read his man to see what move would be best....he rushes it a beat too fast. He also drug his pivot foot an alarming amount of times, and was rarely called for it for some reason in the college game. He made traveling moves that reminded of me of Patrick Ewing's dance steps back in the day. He will need to clean that up at the next level you would think, although with the way officiating is....maybe not.
Hansbrough is not yet a good passer from the low post. In fact, he is extremely focused on scoring once he gets the basketball. Of course, when you are the all time leading scorer in the best college conference of all time, you and your coaches aren't wanting you to pass anyway. This is clearly an area he will have to improve on with time.
Clearly, Hansbrough has a scorers mentality, which is one reason why the Foster comparisons are so overblown and incorrect in totality. But he will need to broaden his game as a scorer to be effective long term. Thankfully, we already know that Hanbrough is extremely coachable, and willing to put the work in, and being coached in an environment where everyone there seems to love him. Hansbrough could probably have not handpicked for himself a better place for him to be playing for his long term growth.
The key for Hansbrough as I see it to be a very good NBA offensive player is going to be his jump shot from 15-17 feet, and his ability to continue to broaden his footwork and moves as a post player.
Hansbrough's first step as back to the basket player if I were coaching him now would be to learn the "Sikma" pivot, and to get it down cold and be the very best at it. That being, make a "reverse" pivot after catching the ball with your back to the basket and "opening up" to your man, creating space. He needs to get the footwork down for that exact move, turning low and on balance, and holding the ball in such a way that if your defender stays back, you can use the extra room you created to make an open jump shot.
That move isn't easy, and the abilty to shoot quickly out of it is difficult, as most players hold the ball too low to shoot immediately when they do it. But I project Hansbrough to have the work ethic and be enough of a film watcher and gym rat to make that move work for him.
Next, you build on that by learning how ot make that "Sikma pivot" and use your improved quick jumper to shot fake and drive out of it. TH won't be able to blow by people, but this will get them off balance and get himself to the line, where he is an 80% shooter.
Then, you build on that by learning the fadeaway jumper, dropping your base foot when posting up right between a defenders feet. This is a skill Al Harrington is great at, and that Mark Aguirre mastered. Larry Bird had this move too, except he was so great he could do it from 20 plus feet. Hansbrough won't be able to do that, but he needs to have it from inside 10 feet near the baseline or low blocks.
The moves off that are the drop step or spin moves, which Hansbrough already excels at. He goes to his right much better than his left currently, so he is going to need to improve that with hard work, which thankfully we know he will be willing to do.
To really be a multi dimensional weapon, Hansbrough needs to become a great screener. He is pretty good already, I'd rate him around slightly above average in my tougher grading scale.
Hansbrough can particularly end up being a great player in "pick and pop" situations, setting high ball screens for whoever our point guard is, and then rolling back slightly to make a 15 to 17 footer. I do not want or need Hansbrough to develop a 3 point shot, I think that will be silly and needless if JOB encourages that. But a player with the athletic limitations Hansbrough has needs to be able to consistently stick the straight on jump shot, the elbow area jumpers, and the corner dump pass jumpers.
There are lots of guys who make a living at the Power forward spot who feast as mid range jump shooters for a big part of their production. I'm thinking about guys like Horace Grant and PJ Brown, who feasted off the baseline jump shot. I particularly envision Hansbrough making the top of key and foul line jumper, or just beyond the elbow areas off a catch and shoot pop back type of situation.
Screening away from the ball, Hansbrough is better after he screens that when he screens, if that makes any sense. He sometimes stands too narrowly, and actually misses his target. He also takes off too soon occasionally, anxious to get in scoring position for a pass. He'll need to be taught patience as a screener. After he screens, he seems very intelligent about how to position his body, pivot and open up to recieve passes from the players who have the basketball.
So, what do we have?
Contrary to what people believe about Larry Bird's philosophy in drafting, this pick is much more a long term move than short term. In the short term, Hansbrough is stuck behind a player with an expensive long term contract in Troy Murphy, and neither has the skill set to play alongside each other on the defensive end....so it will likely be Murphy for 30 plus minutes, with Hansbrough getting the rest as a backup.
Hansbrough makes more sense long term. No one doubts that his work ethic, skill sets, and talents will give him a basketball paying job for the next decade. So he either will develop into a "4th big man", playing spot minutes in a rotation (this is where he is right now), as a "3rd big man" playing alongside 2 other good bigs in a 6th man type role playing 28-30 minutes or so on a highly successful team (this is where I see him if he improves by year 3 like I think he will), or as a legitimate starter at PF for the long term, playing 35 minutes a night (this is where I think Bird sees his potential).
I see his comparable NBA counterpart playing currently as Luis Scola of the Houston Rockets, a very valuable player on a very successful and smart basketball team, but probably the third or 4th best player in their lineup.
Others that do not like his game see him as Mark Madsen, career NBA benchwarmer, but I think is way way better than that. Madsen is a guy who seems happy to be on the team, Hansbrough is a guy who is going to be crushed by losing games and by not having success....he is too driven a personality to end up a 12th man.
As far as past NBA comparables go, I've read where scouts that love him compare him to former NBA greats Dave Cowens (Boston Celtics) or Dave Debusshere (New York Knicks). I think those comparisons are too ambitious....Tyler will be a good NBA player, but not to that level.
I think 2 better comparisons that come to mind, IF he develops the way I personally expect him to, would be :
Horace Grant, Chicago Bulls (among others)
Or perhaps the best long term prediction of a past player, IF Hansbrough pans out the way I think he will could be.............
Laimbeer was a better rebounder than I project Hansbrough to be, but he was a tough minded, hard nosed, borderline dirty player that his fans and teammates loved but his opponents loathed, including our own Larry Bird. He played extremely hard, and was one of the most intelligent bigs in the league. Right now Hansbrough has more offensive back to the basket game than Laimbeer did, who become primarily a jump shooter eventually, which is what I think will happen to Hansbrough after a few years of throwing his body around.
I hope all of you who requested this detailed breakdown of Tyler Hansbrough's game are happy with the end result. I must say that I wish I had done this one before the draft pick was made, but I just ran out of time between the lottery and draft night.
While I still would have picked James Johnson instead of Hansbrough personally, I feel better about Tyler Hansbrough after a few days perspective, and after studying game footage of him all weekend. Long term, Hansbrough seems like a very well thought out and sensible pick, and will only improve the winning culture that the Pacers are trying to build, both on the floor and in the marketing world.
As always, the above is just my opinion.