None has been more vexing than the split personality of Tyler Hansbrough.
When he has gotten the chance to start, Hansbrough has looked every bit the promising young power forward we thought had a bright future emerging from that 2011 playoff series with Chicago. This season’s numbers: three starts, three double-doubles, 17.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, .462 shooting.
When he has not, Hansbrough’s lack of productivity has been baffling. This season’s numbers: 65 appearances, one double-double, 6.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, .419 shooting.
“I don’t know,” said Coach Frank Vogel. “I think it’s just part of … I really don’t know, to be honest with you.”
Hansbrough started the last two games in place of David West, who is recovering from a lower-back sprain, and on back-to-back nights racked up 32 points and 25 rebounds in victories over the Cavaliers and Magic.
He may get the call again Friday against Milwaukee, another opportunity to put big numbers on the board.
“I think it’s been a big issue for me, confidence, and not worrying about mistakes and just getting into the rhythm of the game,” Hansbrough said. “I feel like (his production in the last two games) is a big deal for me.”
NOT AS SIMPLE AS PLAYING TIME
The first place you look when a situation like this arises is playing time. Sometimes, a guy has been producing at a comparable per-minute rate but the numbers just look bigger when he plays more.
Not the case with Hansbrough. As a starter, he produces 33.0 points and 22.7 rebounds per 48 minutes. As a reserve, the numbers are 20.2 points and 11.9 boards.
Or is it?
He argues extended playing time allows him to get into a rhythm, as opposed the short bursts that come with the second unit.
“You kind of have a steady flow of minutes to get a feel for yourself and let the game come to you, versus coming off the bench,” he said. “Sometimes I feel kind of forced to do things and feel a little pressured like that. “
BETTER CHEMISTRY WITH STARTERS
Another possibility is how players interact on the court. Hansbrough has been much more successful when paired with either Roy Hibbert or West than with his primary frontcourt partner, Ian Mahnmi.
In 99 minutes with West, Hansbrough is plus-55. In 237.5 minutes with Hibbert, Hansbrough is plus-13. In 760 minutes with other reserves, he is minus-93.
Both West and Hibbert are offensive threats that require opposing defenses to respect them. That is not the case with Mahinmi, which allows an extra man to slide Hansbrough’s way when he makes a move toward the bucket.
“I feel like at times there is a little more comfort (with the first unit) but I know my position on this team,” he said. “As soon as David gets healthy I’ll go back to my position coming off the bench and try to provide energy.”
The energy will come, no question. What Hansbrough needs to figure out is how to translate that effort into more efficient production, to bridge the gap between playing hard and playing well.