If, heaven forbid, my four years in college had been streamed live on the internet, there’s a good chance you would have seen me doing one of five things every time you tuned in. The first is me socializing. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. The second is me hunching over my computer screen watching the Yankees on MLBtv. The third is me agonizing over whether or not to skip a class so that I can hunch over said screen. The fourth is me frantically writing papers or studying for tests, usually in a massive unlocked lecture hall at three in the morning. And the fifth is me making fun of Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough’s four years in college doubled (or even tripled) mine in fanfare, fame, and prosperity. You can familiarize yourself with his many accomplishments here, but it’s safe to say that he had one of the greatest college basketball careers in history. He was an incredibly effective and productive player, and there’s really no room for argument there.
Hansbrough was also one of the most awkward, high-strung, spastic, and irritating players I can ever remember watching. These things would have been true even without the heaps and heaps of sometimes-creepy adulation foisted upon him by the sports media. His celebratory high-fives often missed his target’s hand. He paced around the court during stoppages in a disturbing way, in a way that you would expect a tortured mad scientist to in the bowels of his dysfunctional laboratory. He always expected any physical contact with his body to result in a foul on the opponent, and when it didn’t happen, we were graced with what was – for my money – Hansbrough’s most enduring contribution: the Hansbrough Face. Bug-eyed, bobble-headed, and mouth agape, it was a look of almost total incredulity mixed with a bit of entitlement. It’s more than a little reminiscent of Beaker. It was this face that I relentlessly mocked throughout college, often with the help of my assenting friends.
During today’s North Carolina-Texas game, ESPN’s Dick Vitale fulfilled his contractual obligation to bring up either Tyler Hansbrough or Mike Krzyzewski at some point in the broadcast. Senior forward Deon Thompson scored a basket, which caused Vitale to say the following:
Deon Thompson is the number one or two option on this year’s team. Last year, he was the fourth or fifth option, because of all the great players on that team like Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. And how about Hansbrough proving all the doubters wrong in the NBA this season? That kid can play.
Tyler Hansbrough was a great college player. I knew this without Vitale’s paroxysmal reminders throughout Hansbrough’s time at North Carolina. But there is absolutely, positively no way that anyone can argue that Hansbrough is “proving all the doubters wrong” with his current performance in the NBA.
Hansbrough, as a 24-year-old, 13th overall draft choice benefiting from four full years at an elite school against elite competition, is shooting 37.4% from the field this season. That ranks 21st among rookies. This also places him behind (age and pick in parentheses): DeJuan Blair (20/37th), Omri Casspi (20/23rd), Toney Douglas (23/29th), Lawson (22/18th), Taj Gibson (24/26th), Jonas Jerebko (22/39th), Fan Interference favorite Wesley Matthews (23/undrafted), Sam Young (24/36th), Marcus Thornton (22/43rd), Chase Budinger (21/44th), and Darren Collison (22/21st). Nearly all of these players are smaller, younger, and drafted later than Hansbrough, and yet are more efficient scorers. Even when analyzed by True Shooting Percentage, Hansbrough is ranked 28th among rookies. As I recall, the major question intelligent analysts had about Hansbrough’s future was about his scoring ability. In college, his size, strength, dexterity, and motor allowed him to accumulate points without a particularly refined offensive game. These analysts wondered whether or not he’d be able to score effectively in a league where he’s no longer the biggest and strongest guy on the court, and against players that are just as determined as he is. So far, it looks like these questions had significant merit.
The other question about Hansbrough’s game revolved around his rebounding. Hansbrough got a reputation as a gifted and voracious rebounder in college, which was only partly deserved. He was certainly voracious, as most of his rebounds came emphatically or with some sort of primal yelling. And he was an effective offensive rebounder. But he had no real gift in general for recovering missed shots; his good rebounding numbers were a byproduct of playing at a fast pace, which meant more possessions, which meant more missed shots, which meant more available rebounds. This hidden deficiency has emerged in the NBA, where his defensive rebounding rate is much lower than his peers. He currently ranks 11th in that category, behind players like DeJuan Blair, Jon Brockman, Terrence Williams, Serge Ibaka, Jodie Meeks (!), Austin Daye, and Chase Budinger. Again, many of these players are either younger or smaller (or both) than Hansbrough, making this deficiency even more damning.
Hansbrough is not and will not quite make it into “bust” territory. His PER is right around 16, which means that he’s been slightly above average offensively. His FG% will undoubtedly improve and support his retained ability to get to the free throw line. So, no, Hansbrough is not a bad player. But it certainly appears to me that he has in no way proved his doubters wrong. He’s having trouble scoring efficiently against superior athletes, just like many suspected he would. And he’s having trouble rebounding opponents’ misses, just like a deeper look at his college numbers suggested he would. Thus far, I’d say his “doubters” have been vindicated.