From the moment the Pacers rescinded their qualifying offer to Tyler Hansbrough and made him an unrestricted free agent, it was obvious that this was the player who fit Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey’s model and would be the player they targeted in free agency. However, this tough, gritty defensive power forward has been ready to prove he can rumble at the offensive end of the court as well. There is more to Hansbrough’s game than we have been led to believe.
“I can bring a lot of toughness to the team,” Hansbrough said. “A lot of hard work and effort, bring some leadership with just the way I approach the game and hopefully it can rub off. I am very excited about this situation. I feel like we can really prove some things this year.”
“(Hansbrough) puts pressure on you,” said Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball operations Masai Ujiri. “There is number where he might be 5th in the NBA in getting to the free throw line per 36 or per 40 (minutes) and that is pretty impressive.
“All that means is he keeps putting pressure on you and attacking the boards and attacking the rim. He has developed some kind of jump shot from 15 feet (out). He has improved. He has become a mature player and that’s what you want with a power forward of that caliber. I think he is a strong rotation player for sure.”
Hansbrough puts so much pressure on defenders in the paint that he is 5th in the NBA in free throw attempts per 36 minutes according to SportingCharts.com and with a career free throw percentage of 76.6; he keeps up the pressure by knocking them down.
Hansbrough averaged 17-22 minutes during his four seasons in Indiana and playing behind former All-star David West the past two seasons that’s understandable, but his per 36 minute numbers tell a different story about his productivity, productivity that Hansbrough maintained when he got his chances to start.
“Definitely, I feel like it was in my 2nd year, I was starting for Indiana and I proved that a little bit,” Hansbrough said. “I can be more than a 20 minute energy coming off the bench at times. I feel like I can really add a lot and I have improved my jump shot and become effective.
“I feel like I can bring a lot, there comes a time you get the minutes and your repetition goes up and you work on it at practice and adjust to a new system, naturally it comes. I’m excited about having that opportunity, that chance.”
This robust 6’ 9” 250 lb power forward averaged 16.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and a steal per 36 minutes over his four seasons in Indiana. When he started 29 games in his second season, he put up 14.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 27.5 minutes and last year in his eight starts, he averaged a double-double of 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds in 26.8 minutes. Those per 36 minute numbers could actually be underestimating what he could do as a 30 minute per game rotation player with the Raptors next season.
The happiest person in the Raptors organization after Ujiri landed Hansbrough was undoubtedly Casey.
“Coach was very excited about Tyler and that is how coaches are,” Ujiri said. “You bring in players that play the way (the Coach) wants to play and they are excited, but generally everybody knows the caliber of player (Hansbrough) is.”
Ujiri might be mistaken about Hansbrough’s reputation. Hansbrough arrived in the NBA after four years at North Carolina and fresh off an NCAA Championship season, however, he might have been best known as “Physco T” for his overly aggressive play and a lot of fans still remember him that way. The big man is now 28 years old and his college days are well behind him. He has learned how to be aggressive and effective in the NBA. Hansbrough has averaged a manageable 4 personal fouls per 36 minutes over his career. For comparison, the Raptors Amir Johnson has averaged 5.5 personal fouls per 36 minutes and Aaron Gray is at 6.3.
“It’s tough, it’s an adjustment period (out of college),” Hansbrough said. “You have to learn how to manage your aggression. Not to pick up silly fouls, something I got in trouble (with) sometimes is picking up early, stupid fouls, but it’s tough, you have to know the fine line how to control yourself.”
“It’s something that I’ve done my whole life, it’s a part of my game, obviously I am gritty and bring a lot of toughness, but I can do more than that, so it’s something I plan on bringing.”
Ujiri sees a maturing young player who has learned a lot in Indiana while still bringing that grit, toughness and winning attitude the Raptors need.
“He is maturing and that is what happens when you play,” Ujiri said. “Before when you plug him in there, he would sometimes hold the ball, but he has gotten so much better at it now. He kicks the ball out and plays under control, but he’s tough. He is going to knock you down. I think we need a little bit of that and we are excited to have him.
“Toughness, grit, a winner for sure, (Hansbrough) has won every step of the way. We want to add those kinds of players. Toughness and grit and good experience in the NBA as a power forward, I think he will be a nice addition for us.”
It would be a mistake to underestimate what Hansbrough could mean for Toronto while playing for a coach that wants him on the floor next season. He shows all the signs of a player poised for a breakout season, which in this case may merely be getting a chance to show what he can do. Coaches and managers almost never want to set expectations too high, in Hansbrough’s case, perhaps they should be raising them.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.