NBA teams will sometimes stage elaborate sales pitches to recruit free agents.
No such pitch was necessary when the Charlotte Hornets looked into signing power forward-center Tyler Hansbrough. Charlotte waswhere he wanted to play professionally.
“I always wanted to play in North Carolina. I’ve always been trying to get back here,” said Hansbrough, who starred for the Tar Heels 2005-2009. “It’s a place that is special to me. It is home.”
Hansbrough spent four NBA seasons with the Indiana Pacers and the past two with the Toronto Raptors before joining the Hornets.His best NBA season was his second one, when he averaged 11 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Pacers. His productivity slipped each of his next four seasons to a career-low 3.6 points and 3.6 rebounds last season.
He’s as aware as anyone his career needs a jump-start with the Hornets. Coach Steve Clifford said the best way for that to happen is for him to demonstrate that he can make the mid-range jump shot he used effectively and far more frequently earlier in his career.
“I have kind of gotten away from that. In Toronto the system didn’t lean toward that,” Hansbrough said. “I felt like at times I was effective that way in Indiana and that’s something I strayed from. It’s something I want to get back to -- that’s a way to put pressure on the defense that I need.”
The first week of this preseason confirmed what Hansbrough consistently demonstrated in college: that his energy and intensity are what make him NBA-worthy. Though he’s not particularly big or bulky by NBA standards (6-foot-9 and 250 pounds), Hansbrough can guard a wide variety of NBA big men.
“I think I do have physicality and a lot of times I’m quicker than most centers,” Hansbrough said. “Where I have problems is guarding someone 7-foot or 7-1.
“When I was in Indiana they put me on certain people knowing I could disrupt them, whether it be getting under them or using my energy and quickness.”
When the Hornets signed Hansbrough over the summer, Clifford speculated that, at minimum, Hansbrough would raise the intensity of practice. That’s certainly been the case in scrimmages the past several days.
“He’s such a natural worker, a natural competitor. And he’s an energy player,” Clifford said. “He’s been around enough that he picks up a lot quickly. It doesn’t take him a long time to adapt to things.
“Tyler is energetic. He’s not big and strong by NBA (standards). He’s more a power forward. As a center he has to rely on tenacity and quickness.”
One of Hansbrough’s natural strengths is offensive rebounding and the Hornets haven’t been particularly strong in that area. That’s in part by design because Clifford’s first concern is players getting back in transition defense rather than trying to crash the boards.
Clifford hopes Hansbrough will apply himself just as effectively as a defensive rebounder.
“I feel like as an offensive rebounder you’re more in pursuit (of the ball), where as a defensive rebounder you’re more in a one-on-one battle with your man,” Hansbrough said. “Sometimes size is a factor, but that’s something I’m aware of and working on.”
With Clifford wanting to play mostly one-in/four-out sets (center Al Jefferson in the post, surrounded by shooters), it’s incumbent on Hansbrough to extend his range. He spent much of the summer with shooting coach Bruce Kruetzer. For his career he’s made one shot in 19 attempts from 3-point range.
“For you to play power forward in this league you’re eventually going to have to shoot a 3,” Hansbrough said. “If a team chooses to isolate you on the outside, it’s important to have that as a tool.
“I don’t think that will ever be my strong suit, but it’s nice to have that at times.”
Hansbrough knows precisely what his strong suit is.
“I come hard to play every night,” he said. “That’s the thing I’ve done the past six or seven years that I’ve been in the NBA and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell