Every team needs a player like Tyler Hansbrough. The Pacers just can't afford to play him in the starting lineup. At least not right now. Unfortunately, unless a trade is made—which is a serious possibility—the Pacers have no choice.
Most teams rely on a high-energy, hustle player to grab a key rebound, pick the team up when others are flat and provide a spark at critical moments in the game. If you look around the league, the most successful starting fives always have such a player.
In Cleveland, the Cavs had Anderson Varejão to help them claw their way into the finals. The Bulls, they have Joakim Noah. For the Lakers, Lamar Odom filled their high-energy role even although he was a more polished version.
In Oklahoma City, Serge Ibaka always seems to always come up with the loose ball or the big-time shot block in the clutch. Same too in Dallas where Tyson Chandler filled that role.
Besides a similar playing style, each of those guys had another, possibly even more important trait, in common: They all played with superstar scorers.
For Varejão it was LeBron James. Chandler, he has Dirk Nowitzki, while Ibaka can defer to Kevin Durant. In Chicago, Noah has Derrick Rose to do the heavy lifting and in L.A. Odom can rely on Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol on any given night. Each of these energy guys knows their role and doesn't have to worry about scoring.
For Hansbrough, that is not the case and his game suffers as a result. Hansbrough is caught between being the energy guy, but also being counted on to score and his game isn't up to the challenge.
For energy guys to thrive on the glass, it's all about timing. Hansbrough like Ibaka, Noah or Varejão doesn't have the frame to take the wear and tear of banging down low. He isn't your traditional 20-10 power guy in the mold of Karl Malone. Instead he relies on timing, positioning and athleticism.
Having the offense run through an energy player throws off that player's timing and positioning limiting the effectiveness of his rebounding. For Pacers fans, it is not an uncommon scene to see Hansbrough pop out and shoot an 15-footer.
You could argue that it is important for him to add that shot to his repertoire, but how many times are you going to see Varejão or Noah step out for a mid-range jumper? Hardly ever.
They know that neither of their perspective teams counts on them to score. In Indiana, Hansbrough has that pressure. In truth, Hansbrough is not a bad shooter and scorer. But he is also not elite enough to constantly demand the ball.
When he does get it, his rebounding suffers. There is no excuse for Hansbrough pulling down a paltry 5.2 rebounds per game.
Yet the Pacers can't afford for Hansbrough not to be part of the offense because they do not have a superstar scorer. Danny Granger is the go-to guy, but he is not the type of player you can clear everyone out for and tell him to take over the end of a game.
So both the Pacers and Hansbrough are stuck. Until the Pacers can find a true second scorer (possibly George, Collison or Hibbert), Hansbrough will be burden with a larger role in the offense than is fitting for his style of play.
This isn't to say his contributions aren't valuable. Energy guys are the glues that make teams work. But so far the Pacers haven't been able to maximize his talents.
However if the Pacers can find someone else to lighten the scoring load, Hansbrough's rebounding total should skyrocket and he will find it much easier to have the impact that is expected of him.
Until then, Hansbrough should come off the bench to spark the Pacers when they are in need of an energy and rebounding lift.