Roy Hibbert is the starting center for the Indiana Pacers–a team known for its defense and regarded as a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference. Despite being a dominant force in the middle for the Pacers, Hibbert’s defensive contribution in 2012-13 was overlooked by both the media and coaches.
Below is an explanation of what happened and whether Hibbert was in fact snubbed.
NBA Defensive Player of the Year: This award is decided on by a panel of 121 sportswriters and broadcasters in the United States and Canada. Memphis Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol, who earned the honor for the 2012-13 regular season, received the most first-place votes (30), followed by LeBron James of the Miami Heat (18) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (14).
According to NBA.com, Gasol (7’1″, 265 lbs) was one of only six players to average at least 1.5 blocks and one steal per game this season. Furthermore, the fifth-year pivot anchored a Grizzlies’ defense that surrendered a league-low 89.3 points per game on the way to a franchise-high 56 wins and a fifth-place finish in the Western Conference.
Here are the overall results for the award which was announced on April, 24. I will mention that Hibbert finished 10th with three first-place votes, two spots behind teammate Paul George, who garnered eight first-place nods.
Player Comparison: The tables below will help demonstrate how the 7’2″ Hibbert, also a fifth-year center, measured up to the success that Gasol had in 2012-13.
Hibbert’s 2.6 blocks per game were fourth-best in the league behind Ibaka (3.0), Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks (2.8), and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs (2.7) and he pulled down more rebounds per contest than Gasol, but their advanced statistics cast a different light on the story.
Gasol grabbed a higher percentage of his team’s rebounds and the same goes for steals, while Hibbert blocked a higher percentage of shots for the Pacers. The defensive rating (DRtg)–an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions–actually reveals a slight advantage for Hibbert, as a lower number is better in this category. Overall, though, Gasol had more defensive win shares (DWS), which according to Basketball-Reference.com, is the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense.
For accuracy, Gasol’s DRtg was actually 98.5 and Hibbert’s was 96.9, so the difference is even greater than illustrated in the table above.
Team Comparison: As mentioned above, the Grizzlies allowed less points per game (89.3) than any other team in the 2012-13 regular season, but the Pacers were a close second, giving up just 90.7.
Both Hibbert and Gasol were also surrounded by defensively strong teammates. Aside from Hibbert posting the second-best defensive rating in the NBA behind Duncan at 95, George finished third with a DRtg of 97.1 and David West (98.6) finished eighth overall.
Similarly, Gasol had the fifth-best defensive rating league-wide, a pinch behind teammate Tony Allen (98.4) and ahead of fellow Grizzlies’ forward Zach Randolph (99.5) and point guard Mike Conley (100.2), who also placed in the top 20 in this category.
So the point is that neither Gasol nor Hibbert were alone in their efforts on defense.
Verdict: If we want to take it to the absolute bottom line, the Grizzlies won 56 games compared to 49 by the Pacers, but on an individual level, Hibbert had competition for the award even from his own teammates.
George, a third-year forward, was named the 2013 NBA Most Improved Player for his contributions on offense and defense, but this doesn’t fully explain the extent to which Hibbert was overlooked for his defensive prowess this season.
The NBA recently announced the members of the first and second all-defensive teams for this season as voted on by the league’s 30 head coaches. Hibbert’s name was nowhere to be found on either list.
Allen (the Grizzlies starting shooting guard) was named to the first team along with James, Ibaka, Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls. Notice how Gasol’s name is not on this list.
Instead, Gasol earned second team honors as did George, Conley, guard Avery Bradley of the Boston Celtics and Duncan.
Hibbert was overlooked on both fronts as Paul, Bradley, Chandler and Conley all placed below him in the vote conducted by the sportswriters and broadcasters, but were recognized by the coaches as having superior impacts.
Making a case for Hibbert as Defensive Player of the Year is tricky though, because their are eight other deserving players between him and Gasol in the final tally.
However, my guess would be that Hibbert is taking solace in the fact that the Pacers defeated the New York Knicks 93-82 on Tuesday, May 14, and are now one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.