By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — You might have heard of the Indiana Pacers’ 2009 first-round draft pick. He was on the television once in a while during his four-year career at North Carolina.
Tyler Hansbrough, who wrapped up a successful NBA Summer League on Friday, gives Larry Bird and the Pacers a player with more star power than anyone on the current team.
While Danny Granger has emerged into a go-to scorer, Hansbrough gives Indiana a much-needed low-post scorer, who will show that he can also shoot from the perimeter. Too much weight should not be put on the rookie league performance, but Hansbrough impressed, pairing with 7-foot-2 teammate Roy Hibbert to provide a glimpse of the Pacers’ frontcourt future.
Indiana finished 5-0 in the rookie league after a Friday win in which Hibbert had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Hibbert and Hansbrough only knew one another from when Georgetown knocked UNC out of the NCAA Tournament in 2007, but he likes what he sees.
“I told him he’s going to like playing with me,” Hibbert told NBA.com. “I’m a passing big. I like to pass the ball, and he likes to pass as well. I think we mesh well together. I can’t wait for him to go out there and show people what he can do.”
Hibbert was overall unimpressive in his rookie year last season, but he’s only 22 years old and actually younger than Hansbrough.
As the all-time leading scorer in Atlantic Coast Conference history, Hansbrough will translate to the NBA as a scorer, which is fantastic, but the Pacers must improve defensively to be relevant in the Eastern Conference. Apparently, Bird has taken one step in that direction with the signing of former Duke player Dahntay Jones, whose toughness on the wing was a key ingredient for the Denver Nuggets last season.
As Bird has said, Hansbrough’s work ethic and toughness will make him a successful pro. How good a pro? To me, a career like former Kansas Jayhawk Danny Manning is how I see him, although I wouldn’t wish the injury woes Manning incurred upon Hansbrough. The 6-10 Manning peaked five years into the league at 23.7 ppg and 7.0 rebounds, which seems like a realistic ceiling for Hansbrough.
Manning’s college coach and former Pacers’ coach Larry Brown had some praise for Hansbrough during a pre-draft interview with www.sportingnews.com.
“He’ll be fine. Anybody that plays every play, treats every possession like he does is going to be successful. If you have your motor running and you have a work ethic, I don’t think you can ever not be successful,” Brown said. “He gets extra possessions. He hustles. Big guys in our league don’t like to block out on every play so if you have the mentality to do those things, you have a chance. He’s used to winning and doing the right things so I think he’s going to be fine.”
And Hansbrough should be ready to contribute big minutes right away. Hopefully Hibbert can also step it up a notch and help make Indiana a true contender in the East.
“It always helps when you play in a real solid program and you’ve been really well coached,” Brown said of Hansbrough. “The transition’s much easier. Being 22 and being 18 or 19’s a big difference, physically and emotionally.”
One knock on Hansbrough is his athleticism, which certainly pales in comparison to the highlights we’ve watched of No. 1 pick Blake Griffin the last couple years.
“People were just saying that and people bought into it. I still get the job done, whether it’s athletic or not. I think I’m athletic,” Hansbrough told the Associated Press after scoring 23 points, including two 3-pointers in one summer league game.
He won’t be a superstar caliber player. He won’t be Adam Morrison either. The Pacers got a top-five caliber pick at 14th.
Now, it’s time to sit back and watch a young team develop into a young, winning team.
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (812) 231-4357.