Not every coach in the NBA has such an option when his team is in dire need of a spark. In fact, it’s quite possible none ever has. Only three other brothers have been teammates in the history of the league and none bring the — what’s the polite word to use in print — intensity the Pacers get from the brothers Hansbrough, hereafter referred to as the Hansbros.
The decision to elevate Ben the Younger into the bench rotation alongside Tyler the Elder was one Frank Vogel didn’t plan to make. The idea was for free agent acquisition D.J. Augustin to become one of the best backup point guards in the league.
After a lifeless month-and-a-half, it became clear the former Bobcat wasn’t even the best backup point guard on the roster.
And so Ben, who surprised many of us by surviving the final cut, has joined his brother in a second unit that has been third-rate.
If it works, welcome to Bensanity.
If it doesn’t, well, let’s just say there doesn’t appear to be a Plan C readily available.
“We’ll see what it does for the second unit,” Vogel said. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of chemistry. A different guy, a different type of game or style of play can change things. We’ll see. What I’ve asked of him is to play with great intensity on the defensive end, not go overboard and foul too much and offensively just try to play within, make the smart and simple play.
“He’s a high-intensity, in-your-face type of defender. He’s got to bring great energy and needs to make sure that he maintains discipline and not foul or it’s counterproductive.”
The first returns were positive, not to mention telling. Ben had six points, two steals and an assist, while Tyler had seven points and three rebounds in the Pacers’ 96-81 victory over Cleveland Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The bench still was outscored 35-21 and reserves not named Hansbrough combined to shoot 3-of-14 so there is work to be done but at least there was some sense of spark.
“They bring it. It’s just in their nature,” said Paul George, who extended his recent scoring surge with 27. “It’s weird to see them both approach a game the same way in two different positions.”
Where Tyler attacks the rim from his power forward spot like a blitzing linebacker chasing a quarterback, Ben is a fullback of a point guard. Neither has elite athleticism, at least relative to the NBA. Both play with a passion that borders on competitive rage.
That’s what separates this brother tandem from the others – Brent and Mark Price, Dominique and Gerald Wilkins, Tom and Dick Van Arsdale – that were NBA teammates.
“At the time we’re on the court, I really don’t think about ‘I’m playing with my brother’,” Tyler said. “I know his tendencies because we grew up with each other. I know what he’s thinking, I know what he’s going to do and he knows the same thing with me so we’re kind of working off each other out there.”
Two moments in the game could foreshadow what is to come. In the first half, Ben dove out of bounds to save a loose ball with a behind-the-back pass that wound up in Tyler’s hands and a transition bucket resulted.
In the second, Ben stuck his nose into a scrum under the basket and caught a stray elbow from Cavs forward Tristan Thompson, sparking a brief exchange in which Tyler hustled to his brother’s defense.
“People ask what it’s like playing with your brother in the NBA. It’s great but once we get out there on the court, you go into compete mode,” Ben said. “Obviously, Tyler’s always got my back and I’ve always got his back, as you saw when things got physical.
“One of the things me and Tyler have is I know how to get him going. For instance, in the first half, he came off a pick-and-roll and he didn’t shoot it when he was wide open. The next time I told him, ‘Tyler, you’ve got to trust your shot.’ He came off and made that jump shot. We know how to push each other’s buttons and light a fire under each other so I think that’s a positive.”
If Ben can find a way to get Tyler rolling, that would be invaluable. This has been older brother’s worst season by far; he’s averaging just 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds, shooting an abysmal .389 from the floor. Even last season, he struggled to build any kind of rhythm or momentum coming off the bench.
“I understand Tyler’s game I think better than anybody because I’ve played with him more than any other teammate he’s had,” said Ben, referring to their three high school seasons together. “I know how to push his buttons, being his brother, and understand his psychology. I think we’re good for each other.”
Whether they can be good for the team remains to be seen but this much is clear: with the Hansbros together, the Pacers are much less likely to go down without a fight.