Without the services of injured forwards Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson and the fact that Amir Johnson was again playing through pain, it was difficult to imagine how exactly the undersized Toronto Raptors were going to escape the ”Big Easy” with a win on Wednesday night.
In need of a victory and tired of being pushed around in the paint, Head coach Dwane Casey accepted these realities and turned to the one man who could immediately create a presence under the basket, and Tyler Hansbrough happily answered the call with a season-high 13 rebounds.
Currently in his first year as a Raptor, the former Indiana Pacers player was Toronto’s only offseason acquisition of note last summer when the Wooden Award-winner was signed to a two-year deal by new GM Masai Ujiri. Brought in to provide the Raptors with some much-needed toughness, Hansbrough has built a reputation as one of the NBA’s most formidable low-post threats in terms of pure strength and determination, and Wednesday’s performance was a prime example of what the bruiser is capable of when given the opportunity.
As basketball junkies are sure to remember, while Hansbrough has never hesitated to engage in the paint or get in the face of anyone who took a shot at one of his teammates, the feisty forward spent all four years at the University Of North Carolina as one of the nation’s most prolific scorers.
But just like former NBA-er Kurt Thomas before him, Hansbrough’s role as a dominant collegiate big man was of no use to him in the NBA at 6-foot-9. So instead of accepting a possible ticket to the NBA D-League, the ACC’s all-time leading scorer simply continued his natural progression into ”Psycho T”.
As an important role player with the Pacers, Hansbrough replaced his ability to contribute as a scorer with solid defensive play, tenacity, and rebounding over the next three seasons while Indiana enjoyed a trio of playoff appearances, and that’s where the gritty rebounder may be most valuable.
On a roster that’s seriously lacking playoff experience, Hansbrough’s presence in the paint could be crucial against larger teams such as the Pacers, and is something that no other Raptor can replicate.
While ”Psycho T” obviously isn’t going to average 15-20 points a game as a pro, Toronto will undoubtedly need him to flourish in the postseason. But in order for that to happen, Casey needs to give Hansbrough enough time to establish that presence, and 15.9 minutes a night just isn’t enough.
Ty is a writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @abovethefoldty