Tyler Hansbrough has been the only bright spot on the Indiana Pacers' roster over the last couple weeks.
Since he received his long overdue promotion over Josh McRoberts, he's shown what North Carolina fans have known for years: He can be a great NBA player.
Considering the big men in front of him, it's been mind-boggling to try and figure out why Hansbrough received such limited minutes this season.
When he's on the floor, he clearly plays with more energy and effort than anyone else on his team.
He works hard around the basket on both ends of the floor; he can finish above the rim; he knows how to draw fouls; and he converts at the free throw line when he gets there.
This season, he's averaging 17.8 points and nine rebounds per 36 minutes. Since the Pacers bumped him up on the depth chart, he's averaged 22.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.
Last night, he was, without a doubt, the go-to guy as Danny Granger missed the game. In that role, Hansbrough led the Pacers to a win over the New York Knicks, ending a six-game losing streak.
He put up 29 points and eight rebounds against one of the league's best power forwards in Amar'e Stoudemire. If he keeps this up, it won't be long before he's the team's first option on offense, whether Granger's in the lineup or not.
He's proving right now that he deserves major minutes and more touches on offense when he's on the floor. With each big performance, his teammates will put more trust in him.
If Granger gets back on track, he and Hansbrough could be one of the best forward tandems in the league (at least offensively).
What's really encouraging about Hansbrough is this: He's putting up these great numbers and still has a lot of room to improve.
He can get a lot better at some very basic skills and considering his work ethic, I'm sure he will. His mid-range jump shot, defense and rebounding fundamentals can all use some work.
Once he hones all those skills, he is going to be a nightmare in the Eastern Conference.
He's going to keep getting better over the course of this year and into the offseason.
And I wouldn't be surprised if he made the All-Star team as early as 2012.
He should be at least the second scoring option next year and his shot attempts could double. If that's the case, he could average over 20 points a game for the whole year.
I would expect his rebounding to improve a bit, but even if it doesn't, he'll average around nine a game.
That kind of production would certainly warrant an All-Star selection.
It will be about more than that for Hansbrough, though. After leading his team to a national championship at North Carolina, he knows what it feels like to win.
His attitude and intensity are infectious—it won't be long before much of this team starts taking on those intangibles.
A lot of great teams in the NBA over the last decade have been built around great power forwards.
And it's becoming increasingly clear that the Pacers have that kind of foundation in Hansbrough.
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