The Indiana Pacers announced today that Tyler Hansbrough will miss six to eight weeks with a shin injury he suffered in his senior year at the University of North Carolina. Even though he should return for the start of the regular season, the possibility of an injury stunting his growth in his rookie year is very real.
But does the team's success this season really depend on the first-round draft choice?
The injury didn't seem to bother him in the Orlando Summer League, where he averaged 18.2 points per game and 5.6 rebounds and lead the Pacers to a 5-0 record. Hansbrough brought "Psycho-T" trademark toughness to the Pacer's interior and provided a scoring threat in the post that the team lacked last season.
His outstanding performance in the summer league re-energized fans that were disappointed with his selection in the draft, many of whom would have preferred DeJuan Blair or an explosive young player with tremendous upside like Jrue Holiday. Combined with the maturation of Roy Hibbert, who also had a tremendous summer league, it appears that the Pacers may have a young, developing version of the "twin towers."
The "twin towers" system has been extremely successful in the past, with tandems like Tim Duncan and David Robinson and Ben and Rasheed Wallace taking home championships. Since Shaquille O'Neal has been traded into the Pacers' division and another dominant center now resides in Orlando, a proven system that has defeated Shaq before would be a welcome design.
But if Hansbrough misses time or isn't able to develop a chemistry with the team this season, the Pacers may have to return to the run and gun system that has left the team without a playoff berth the last two seasons. Jeff Foster is not capable of creating his own shot, and isn't a viable scoring threat in the low post. Troy Murphy is a liability on defense and is really more of a perimeter scorer than a presence in the paint.
Ultimately, the team's hopes hinge on rising star Danny Granger. The NBA's Most Improved Player finished fifth in the league in scoring and is entering only his fifth season. He proved he can compete with the superstars of the league, even if he isn't a household name yet. If Roy Hibbert can stay out of foul trouble and provide additional scoring to take some of the pressure off of Granger, the team can still succeed without Hansbrough.
But just making the playoffs might not be good enough for this franchise, which is struggling to rebuild its once passionate fan base. Pacers president Larry Bird has vehemently scoffed at Hansbrough's critics, and has stated emphatically that "he's going to do very well in this league."
He had better be right—the weight of the franchise could be on Hansbrough's shoulders.