And the first guaranteed rotation player acquired by Masai Ujiri for the Toronto Raptors is… Tyler Hansbrough.
ESPN reported on Tuesday evening that the Raptors had come to terms with Hansbrough on a two-year pact at an as-of-yet unspecified rate [UPDATE: Sportsnet's Holly Mackenzie and Jeff Simmons are reporting that Hansbrough's deal is for $3 million per year over two years, with the second year being a team option]. For those of you that don’t know Hansbrough, he’s the NBA equivalent of a pebble in your shoe. He’s as irritating as a gnat and, to borrow a terribly overused cliché, is the kind of player who you hate to play against but love to play with.
Despite being a legendary college player from his days at North Carolina, Hansbrough is short on bankable NBA skills. You’d think, given his reputation as a hustle player, that he’d excel at rebounding, but he actually ranked just 22nd amongst power forwards in rebound rate last season, about on par with Amir Johnson. Amongst power forwards he ranked 37th in True Shooting Percentage, and only shot 50.5% on his attempts at the rim (by far his preferred spot to shoot). In fact, there was only one spot on the floor where he shot above the league average, and that was from the left wing, where he shot 5-of-11 on the season (according to nba.com/stats). To compound matters, Hansbrough also posted one of the worst assist ratios of any power forward in the NBA last season, ranking 67th out of 70 power forwards and – wait for it – finished the season eleven spots lower than Andrea Bargnani in that category.
When you bring Tyler Hansbrough to your team, though, you don’t do it looking at statistical production. Hansbrough works best mucking the game up, getting under the skin of his opponents and throwing them off of their rhythm. He can play both big man spots, which gives the Raptors some much needed depth up front, he can defend the pick-and-roll and he held opposing power forwards to a 13.1 PER last season, a vast improvement over the 16.4 PER he allowed in 2011-12. Also (and amazingly given his pellmell style of play), Hansbrough only averaged 4.0 fouls per 36 minutes last season, which was less than Aaron Gray, Quincy Acy, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas (aka Toronto’s entire frontcourt rotation). If Dwane Casey wants to ratchet up the defensive pressure next season, having a guy like Hansbrough who can accomplish that without fouling himself into oblivion is a huge asset in Toronto’s attack.
Then there is Hansbrough’s little secret: He gets to the line. A lot. He was in the top-ten in free throws attempted amongst power forwards with 3.7 per game, which put him ahead of guys who played nearly twice as many minutes as him like Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki and Carlos Boozer. The list basically goes: Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tim Duncan, David West, Zach Randolph and then Tyler Hansbrough.
Consider that for a second; Zach Randolph averaged 3.9 FTA’s per game, 0.2 more than Hansbrough. Randolph did that in 34.3 minutes per game. Hansbrough averaged 16.9 minutes per game last year. Want to look at it another way? Randolph averaged 4.1 FTA per 36 minutes last season, whereas Hansbrough averaged 7.9. Basically, Hansbrough gets fouled at the same rate as Kobe Bryant, and more than Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. Considering the Toronto Raptors were stuck in the middle of the league in free throw attempts last season, throwing Hansbrough out there for 20+ minutes a game could have a huge impact on that ranking.
It’s also worth noting that Hansbrough shot a career-low 72% from the line last year, below his career mark of 76.6% and well below his 2011-12 mark of 81.3%. Expect his percentages to uptick somewhat heading into next season, especially if he gets more floor time than he did in his final season in Indiana.
On the whole there isn’t a whole lot not to like about this move. The deal is short and cheap, Hansbrough fills a position of need for the Raptors and the contract is eminently moveable, which keeps Ujiri in a flexible position going forward. He may not possess a lot of refinement in his game, but Hansbrough brings a goon-like quality to the Raptors that is sorely needed. Valanciunas and Johnson both work the hustle game well, but neither one dirties up the game like Hansbrough does. It’s a personality the club has lacked since Reggie Evans left town, and it’s one that will help the Raptors toughen up heading into next season.
UPDATE: The fact that the Hansbrough deal reportedly possesses a team option for year two makes this signing a no-brainer. Masai Ujiri is doing a great job keeping this roster flexible on the margins while he tries to work within the tight financial framework that he inherited from Bryan Colangelo.