There’s a job open in Indiana, and given their fast pace, three-heavy Jim O’Brien offense, fantasy owners should be interested. The competitors for the power forward spot there are Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough, two very different players, so it’s probable that one is more suited to the role than the other – and that we can use HoopData’s stats to figure out who that candidate is.
Next to them in the paint will stand Roy Hibbert, and although he’s been playing well this preseason, he does have some flaws to his game. Despite being large (7’2” and 278 lbs.), Hibbert is actually just an average rebounder for his position. He upped his total rebound rate (TRR) to 15.5 last year, and the average center sported a 14.8 rate. And that includes all of the centers in the game – if you sort for centers that played 25+ minutes a game, the average rebounding rate is 15.8. And he used to be worse.
So a strong rebounder in the four would be a good thing for this team, it seems. The problem is that neither McRoberts nor Hansbrough fits this need. McRoberts hasn’t seen a ton of minutes on the court, but in 12.5 minutes per game last year – the most in his career – his TRR was 13.2. Hansbrough’s, achieved in 17.6 minutes a game, was 14.8. The average power forward? 14.3 TRR (14.8 TRR for 25+ mpg).
But this is also a team that took the third-most threes in the league last year, so three-point shooting gives a slight nod in McRoberts’ direction. He hit 34.8% of his threes last year – barely above the break-even point (33.3%) – and once hit 38.5% of his threes at Duke. Then again, his last year saw him shoot 21.7% from three, so it’s no open-and-shut case even here.
McRoberts is only an inch taller than Hansbrough, but in one facet of the game he plays bigger. Last year, he was blocked on 8.9% of his shots – Hansbrough got rejected 13.8% of the time. Neither is particularly good at this facet of the game – the average is 6.6% at their position (6.3% for 25+ mpg) – but McRoberts is not a Blocks Allowed machine like Hansbrough. In fact, Hansbrough was 12th in the league in this dubious stat last year, and of the players ahead of him on that list, only Joel Pryzbilla and Chuck Hayes averaged more than 20 minutes per game. Whatever it might be, that's not 'playing large.'
Defense favors Hansbrough, though. The D was 1.45 points better than average with the Carolina option, while it was 1.67 points worse than average with the Duke option. For a team with a negative overall rating on defense but was also 15th overall in defensive efficiency per John Hollinger, it’s unclear how much of a priority this is. While it is worth noting that McRoberts was better than average in 2008-2009, that rating came in so few minutes (8.3) that it’s hard to put too much stock in it. The difference may be real - McRoberts has never had a reputation as a strong defender.
Unlike our first couple of spotlights, this one doesn’t have a neat ending. Both have shown the ability to score, but McRoberts has more range. Both are middling rebounders, but Hansbrough has the slight edge. Both aren’t monsters of the paint, but McRoberts doesn’t get blocked at twice the average rate for a four. Both are close to scratch defenders, but Hansbrough once again owns a slight edge. McRoberts has been starting in the preseason (6.2 rebounds in 22.6 MPG), but Hansbrough (4.5 rebounds in 18.75 mpg) was working his way back from injury and recently has been stealing time from him.
For fantasy owners in deeper leagues looking for value from their sleeper, McRoberts is the pick. Yahoo has Hansbrough ranked 178th going into the season, and McRoberts at 245th. If the race is as close as it seems here, that’s a lot of value going much later in the draft.
For Pacers fans wondering who their power forward should be, they’re just going to have to wait. More time on the court should sort out the difference between these two players when it comes to rebounding and defense, the two places where the edges are the slightest.