When looking back at the Charlotte Hornets' 2015-16 season, Tyler Hansbrough isn't a player you might thank for helping the team win 48 games. However, as an energetic big who knows how to defend, work hard, and only receives the veteran's minimum, he was a definite luxury to have on the roster.
An experienced veteran embracing a role as a stopgap is an added bonus for any NBA team. A player like that can help a good team stay the course when injuries hit by staying ready and contributing when called upon, much like Rasual Butler did for the Washington Wizards in 2015, per example.
The 30-year-old Tar Heel's averages of 2.4 points in 7.8 minutes in 44 games places him among frontcourt players with the label of "twelfth man". Greg Dreiling and Scott Hastings have had the most of such seasons, while Calvin Booth and D.J. Mbenga are the more contemporary examples, per Basketball-Reference's player season finder.
Even if you ignore Hansbrough's excellent college career, he's clearly overqualified for a role like this. The seven-year veteran has a long track record of playing solid basketball as the back-up power forward on good playoff teams. Instead, he only had the opportunity to face opposing bench warmers in the last minutes of blow-outs for Charlotte.
Tyler Hansbrough's only real playing time came in a six-game stretch in late January when Cody Zeller joined Al Jefferson on the injured player list. Hansbrough's play wasn't exactly great, but he nevertheless helped Charlotte to a 4-2 record over that stretch of games, most memorably giving the team extra six fouls against DeMarcus Cousins in a wild game against the Sacramento Kings back in January. This play perhaps exhibits his excitement in that game the best:
That doesn't mean that Hansbrough didn't approach the rest of his playing time as if it wasn't "real". A 20-point lead didn't rob the aptly-nicknamed Psycho T of his vigor and spirit. There were still plenty of collisions, falls, fierce offensive rebounds, and even sights of blood (he was actually treated for a wound twice in the freaking preseason).
It served as proof that a game doesn't necessarily have to be a high intensity one for an opposing player or a referee to get bothered by wrecks initiated by Hansbrough on the court.
(The last clip in this compilation came from a preseason game against the Miami Heat.)
The North Carolina legend also was quickly adopted by the Time Warner Cable Arena crowd as the team's beloved garbage time hustler and human victory cigar. His late game scores were sometimes treated like crucial baskets in a close fourth quarter:
I have to admit, though, that there isn't anything not to like about garbage time 3-pointers made by unusual suspects.
What's next for Tyler Hansbrough?
It's clear that Hansbrough sticking around on a similar contract and in a similar role would be ideal for the team, but not the best situation for the 6'9" big himself.
The modern NBA might have robbed him of the possibility of playing regular power forward minutes as almost all of his production comes beneath the rim. However, he can be a competent defender and basketball player-laborer as a five. Hansbrough's mobile and smart enough to execute all kinds of pick-and-roll coverages, although his lack of height can hurt him in regards to rim protection.
Additionally, his season as the sixth big in the Hornets' rotation might have changed the perception of him around the league as tends to happen with NBA players past their athletic peaks. Unless some team targets him as a below-market steal for their back-up center spot, Hansbrough might have found himself in the phase of his career where he is now only viewed as a player worth those stopgap minutes — even if that reputation is undeserved.
If that does indeed happen, I bet that the Hornets wouldn't mind bringing him back for another season.