The Indiana Pacers have won eight of their last 10 games, and still hold possession of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. For any team, however, there are the occasional mishaps and instances where they stray away from a central game plan.
That is sometimes the case for the Pacers and center Roy Hibbert, who has asserted himself this season as a menacing presence in the paint, particularly on defense over offense. With that said, anyone observing Hibbert this season would firmly acknowledge that his post-up game has improved a great deal, highlighted by the turnaround jump hook he has implemented into his game. The ability to be ambidextrous in the paint and score with the left hand has separated him, to me, from the rest of the big men outside of Dwight Howard.
Hibbert can have his games over 25 points, which come at times that Indiana appears unbeatable, for any team in either conference.
On the contrary, Hibbert can become completely irrelevant on the offensive side of the floor. For this reason, he’s become one of the most inconsistent assets to watch night in and night out.
The most recent display of this tendency occurred in Atlanta on Wednesday evening, as the Pacers tasted defeat at the hands of the Hawks, 97-87. Hibbert scored a season-low two points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field, and never got to the free throw line. He also grabbed just four rebounds and blocked one shot, leaving teammates David West and Paul George to do the dirty work by cleaning up the glass. As a result of his poor performance, Hibbert played just 22 minutes in the game.
After the loss, Hibbert was quick to address the fact that the team’s loss was due to his lack of effectiveness:
Talked w/ Roy Hibbert, he said no excuses, that he played horrible. Added, "you can tell everybody out there this one's on me, I apologize"
— Jeremiah Johnson (@JJFSINDIANA) January 9, 2014
With this unit, one missing piece can significantly hurt their chances of winning. Lance Stephenson missed his first game of the season due to a knee injury he suffered against Toronto on Saturday, which meant more offensive execution was going to be on the agenda in Atlanta. When a link is missing in this lineup, it makes it difficult for Indiana to adjust. Sticking with their interior identity, the best approach would be to pound the ball inside and utilize West and Hibbert against a weak Atlanta frontcourt.
However, it was Paul George who felt as if he needed to pick up the slack. George shot 11-of-25 from the field and scored a game-high 28 points. He was asked to play a high level of minutes (42) and entered superstar mode numerous moments during the game. What would have been easier for Indiana, however, is any type of presence from Hibbert in the paint. 27 3-point attempts was too much, especially on the road. It’s widely believed that teams are more likely to be better outside shooters in front of their home crowd, and utilize their paint threats on the road.
If the season ended today, it’s hard to argue anyone else would have a stronger case at being named Defensive Player of the Year over Hibbert. Averaging 2.7 blocks per game after beginning the year with multiple games of six or seven in a single contest, he has been on record through Twitter stating that it’s an award he truly has his eyes set on when April rolls around. While he’s not leading the league in blocks per game at the moment (Anthony Davis – 3.15 per game), there are two reasons why Hibbert’s defensive efforts have out-shined Davis’.
First off, Davis missed seven games with a hand injury. Hibbert has been consistently protecting the rim with the exception of Wednesday’s lackluster effort in Atlanta. Nine games this season, the Pacers’ defensive stalwart has collected five or more blocks. Another point to mention for his case at the award, would be the team’s overall success. Defensive Player of the Year should be awarded to a player that has the standout defensive performances on a contending team. Maybe that’s just my opinion, but such a prestigious award should be given to someone who has help propel his team to a shot at the NBA title. Hibbert certainly meets that criteria, as the Pacers remain the toughest team to score on (88.6 points allowed per night), while the New Orleans Pelicans are the fourth worst team defense in the league. Understandably, it’s not Davis’ fault, but that’s how the world works in terms of award during most years.
With the best record in the league, the Pacers can indeed improve their game. Defensively, it doesn’t make much sense to keep stressing that side of the floor to them; they are naturally terrific defenders and one of the few teams in the league that are going to stick by that game plan no matter how big or small the stage may be. Offensively, there are issues that cause this team to stumble over obstacles that they should be hurdling. Roy Hibbert is still growing as an offensive tool, and his teammates need to be the ones that help him reach the level of firepower Dwight Howard brings the Houston Rockets on a nightly basis. The first step, is certainly letting him have more of an offensive responsibility on the floor. Depending on what the Miami Heat do in regards to Greg Oden or Andrew Bynum, the Pacers are going to need all the points they can get come Eastern Conference Finals time.