Hansbrough Signing Made Official but Could Raptors Have Done Better?

Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE

Yes, I just spent over 1500 words on "Psycho T."

Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri spoke to the Toronto media regarding a topics yesterday, including the back-up point guard situation, and of course a certain signing.

From a back-up point guard perspective, it sounds like the signing of Dwight Buycks is imminent, but the Julyan Stone situation may be in limbo.

TSN.ca's Josh Lewenberg tweeted:

Raps still finalizing the signing of Dwight Buycks, not done yet. Julyan Stone signing has been put on hold as he rehabs hip/knee injuries

Stone had hip surgery last year, also battled a knee injury in Denver. Raps will revisit the situation next month as he continues to rehab

We'll keep an eye on this situation as it unfolds.

More importantly though, the Toronto Raptors took advantage of a break in Summer League action to make official the signing of Mr. Tyler Hansbrough, their top free-agent acquisition so far this summer.

Ujiri had this to say about the signing:

"He has toughness, grit, he's a winner for sure," Ujiri said. "He's won every step of the way. We want to add those kinds of players."

Much to the Duke fan in me's chagrin, Hansbrough has been quite the winner.

He was a McDonald's All-American in 2005, was an All-American First, Second or Third team member in each of his four NCAA seasons, won an NCAA Title with the Team That Shall Not Be Named in 2009, was the AP National Player of the Year in 2008 and Wooden Award winner in 2009, and is the ACC's all-time leading scorer.

There simply haven't been many more decorated NCAA basketball players in Division 1 history.

Of course, all of that was prior to his NBA career and as we know, stud college players don't always turn into stud NBA players.

And indeed, Tyler Hansbrough hasn't exactly lit the L on fire.

He's averaged a shade under 9 points and 5 rebounds for his career, a far cry from his UNC averages of 20.2 and 8.6. Of course Hansbrough was hardly the feature in his former club's offence though as he averaged only 20 minutes a contest. His numbers therefore look much more "Tar Heelesque" when averaged over 36 minutes: 16.3 points and 8.7 boards.

For the Raptors though, he'll likely stay in that 20 minute range, backing up players like Amir Johnson, so I'd expect numbers like 9 points, 5 rebounds to be the norm over the course of a season. He might even have a chance to improve on them here in Toronto in fact, as he won't be stuck behind the bevy of experienced, top notch, big men that the Pacers had.

And if the Raps can get productivity like that from a player with his winning pedigree, for a salary of around $3M per season over the next two years, that has to be a steal right?

That's the big question for me.

$3M a season for the next two sure sounds like a solid price for Hansbrough, but would other options have been a more productive use of those dollars? For instance, could the Raptors not have found someone from the D-League or overseas to do what Hansbrough does? Forget the UNC glory and his name, at face value it's hard not to think that the Raps couldn't have slotted James Mays or JaMychal Green into the line-up for 10 - 15 minutes a night and gotten similar totals. After all, both were in the top of the D-League for double-doubles, averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds and 13 points and 8 rebounds respectively for their clubs, and both are more athletic options than Hansbrough. Could they have provided better overall value in terms of both offense and defense?

As that's one of the biggest knocks on Hansbrough.

He hustles, there' s no question of that. But while it looks like he's a gritty defender, the stats don't back this up. (As SI.com's Rob Mahoney noted in this breakdown of Hansbrough, "activity should not be confused for acuity.") He's posted a career defensive rating of 104 which equalled David Lee's mark last season, (yes, all-defensive team member David Lee) and last year for Indiana, the team was a +6.4 with him off the floor, and slightly negative with him on it.

But here's where my Hansbrough bashing stops.

When you start to look at the numbers a little deeper, especially situational ones, you see that Hansbrough in fact does provide value, and could be a nice little addition for the Raps off the pine.

For one thing, Hansbrough excels in a few areas that don't exactly grow on trees in the NBA. He's a terrific offensive rebounder, and excels at drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line. Last season Hansbrough hauled in 13 per cent of the offensive rebounds available while he was on the court, a mark that puts him in a class with the likes of DeAndre Jordan, Kenneth Faried, and Zach Randolph. He does an excellent job getting position on the offensive glass and simply out-working his opponent to loose balls.

He also knows how to draw contact on the offensive end. Last year he averaged 3.2 fouls drawn, a top 60 mark in the league, and that's playing only 20 minutes a game.

Both of these stats can make big differences in NBA games, giving his team extra possessions and opportunities to score with the clock stopped. It's likely why despite his pedestrian box score stats, he's been an above average player PER-wise over his young career, and has been a plus in terms of metrics like wins produced (he produced 3.7 last year based on Wages of Wins.)

And beyond those two intangibles, his game promises to be a nice fit off the bench for Toronto, especially when used in tandem with certain players. One of Indiana's most effective lineups last season based on 82games.com, saw a quintet of Hansbrough, George Hill, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert combined for great success. Of the 28 occasions this line-up was used, the five-some outscored their opponents 71 per cent of the time. In this grouping, Hansborough plays the 4 and likely is used as the pick-and-pop option in screen-and-rolls, and gives an offensive option 8 feet from the hoop. It's a very sound defensive group around him too, hiding some of his defensive weaknesses and allowing him to do what he does best - bully his way to the hoop and cause havoc in the paint.

For Toronto, this would mean combining Hansbrough with perhaps Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. It's not the same obviously in terms of the quality of defensive options, but gives a somewhat similar look and feel, and maybe something Dwane Casey experiments with in pre-season.

Whatever the combination, the key for Hansbrough to be effective is indeed giving him the opportunity to attack the hoop, and also, limiting his offensive options to in-close to the basket. Over the past three seasons, Hansbrough has finished on almost 60 per cent of his shots at the rim, however once he starts getting pulled further out, it gets ugly in a hurry.

He's made only 33 per cent of his shots from 3 to 9 feet over his career, only 29 per cent from 10 to 15 feet, and a slightly better, but certainly not stellar, 36 per cent from 16 to 23 feet. (Forget three-pointers.) He's simply not going to be a floor spacer for the Raps, but should thrive on pick-and-rolls and what we'll call "scrappy" opportunities in close.

Tom Lewis of SB Nation's Pacers' blog, Indy Cornrows, sums him up as so:

This seems to be a pretty good deal for the Raptors at least from a contract point of view.

With little news about Hansbrough in free agency early on, chatter had started about the Pacers using their remaining $2-plus million in cap space to bring him back.

That made sense from the Pacers' side but not Hansbrough's. He is looking for a bigger role after seeing his minutes diminish with David West returning to good health. Hansbrough was most effective for the Pacers when he played more minutes. For whatever reason, he struggled to consistently produce when playing 12-15 minutes.

His mid-range shot is key to his success offensively because he will always bully the ball into the lane where he is pretty adept at drawing fouls. But when the defense has to honor his 15-18 foot jumper, then he is even more effective. Hansbrough really struggled with that shot after going to the bench, but he has it in his game. He's also not shy about using the ball when he has it in his hands which doesn't always end well and will drive you nuts.

When Hansbrough is on the floor he does have a presence because he's so active and relentlessly looking to put his nose in the action. Opponents have to account for him when he's on the floor in two ways. For one, he will force the ball to the rim and look to score or get fouled. But also, there is the "where is he, I don't want to get drilled" factor. He creates a unique dynamic on the floor which you may come to appreciate when he's on your side of the action.

Which Pacers' big man Roy Hibbert admitted to Grantland's Zach Lowe this past season. From the post:

Please admit it: You would hate Tyler Hansbrough if he were not on your team.

(Hibbert:) I did hate him when I was in college. I thought he was an overrated guy who just lived at the free throw line. But now I have a tremendous respect for him, and his work ethic. When I walk through the garage and into the arena, he's already there shooting shots before practice - an hour and a half before.

I mean, I probably would hate him, still, if he weren't on this team.

Yep, that pretty much sums things up.

So the only remaining question for me again is if the Raptors could have gotten a more productive overall option at the forward spot with their $3M per season, and I think the answer is no.

Considering some of his intangibles, the need for the Raptors to get tougher, and the fact that middling big men like Chris Copeland and Carl Landry signed similar or larger deals, it's hard to find much to be upset about regarding this signing.

Especially since the cost now appears to be even less than initially reported. The Toronto Star's Doug Smith posted that Hansbrough would make $2.5 million next season, and the same in 2014-15, but if the Raptors wanted to cut him after one season, he could be bought-out for a million bucks.

So all in all, I think Hansbrough makes a pretty solid investment, one that has upside, and even at past levels of production, represents a fair contract that won't unduly burden the club going forward, something you could rarely say about free agent signings during the Colangelo era.

Just don't ask me to cheer for him next season...

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