The ongoing statistical revolution in basketball has meant a lot of previously fringe NBA players have found a valuable niche for themselves. For these players, when you look at their per game and "traditional" stats, you find mostly nothing remarkable. But when you start to prorate--per 36 minutes or per 100 possessions--or glance at more advanced statistical metrics, their value can sometimes become very apparent.
For the Toronto Raptors, no player--save for now departed starter Amir Johnson--has benefited more from these kinds of assessments than Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough's pre-NBA pedigree is well-known. After four years at North Carolina, he was considered one of the best collegiate basketball players in America. After getting picked 13th in the 2009 Draft and spending six years spent largely on benches in Indiana and Toronto, Hansbrough is clearly no one's idea of an NBA superstar. And yet, in today's NBA he does have some value.
Last season for the Raptors, Hansbrough put up blah traditional averages of 3.6 points and 3.6 rebounds, while shooting a solid 52 percent from the field in 14.3 minutes per game. Despite a memorable dust-up or two (hello Festus Ezeli!), Hansbrough's year was, on the surface, largely unimpressive.
But then you look at his per-36 numbers last year, and Hansbrough starts to look far more productive: 9.2 points and 9.0 rebounds. Per 100 possessions? Now we're up at 13.2 points and 13.0 rebounds. Most impressively, while Hansbrough is not much of a shotblocker (or really, a go-to offensive weapon), his net rating last year was a team-leading +10.5. He actually led the team in both offensive and defensive rating. Now, it's easy to counter-argue that this is largely due to his smaller usage rate when compared with the Raptors' ball-dominant perimeter players, but it still suggests that Hansbrough generally affects the game when he's in it.
A look at Hansbrough's 2014-15 shot chart above from last season indicates that he's a limited offensive player. He gets what he can in the paint and that's about it. (Please do not send me a supercut of all his missed layups--my heart can't take it.) On the plus side, Hansbrough plays within himself; he rarely tries to do anything he can't do, and you can count on him to make the right pass or fill the right lane at the right time. It's also worth noting that his true shooting percentage falls just shy of 60 percent. Couple this with his ability to set screen and his relentless (/reckless) hustle on the defensive end, and you've got a player who understands how his NBA bread is buttered. And while the "Psycho 3" experiment is unlikely to gain much traction, it at least shows Hansbrough's willingness (to Dwane Casey's chagrin I'm sure) to change with the times. Hustle only gets you so far.
With the departure of Johnson (and presumably Chuck Hayes), and the signing of DeMarre Carroll and Bismack Biyombo, there remains a hole in the Raptors frontcourt at power forward. While names like Tobias Harris and Kyle O'Quinn have come and gone, and undersized players like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari still out there, the Raptors have not yet addressed any move towards just re-signing Hansbrough. Admittedly, Casey would have to get creative with how to juggle minutes between Jonas Valanciunas (semi-defensive liability), Biyombo (massive offensive problem) and Hansbrough (high IQ, but lower talent), but it feels like a reasonable fit--or at least, a solid short term solution for the team.
As it stands, Patrick Patterson looks to become the full-time starter for Toronto, with the potential for Carroll to play some small ball 4. And while Biyombo's game is that of rim protector, the team will need one more big man to effectively cover the pick-and-roll and at least catch the ball when it's passed to him. You don't need him to play 40 minutes a night, but as the numbers show, Hansbrough is best in small doses.
So, is there space on the Raptors next year for Tyler Hansbrough? What do you guys think?