The Indiana Pacers had an outstanding 2013-14 regular season, topping the Eastern Conference with a 56-26 record and looking every bit the championship contender for the majority of the season. However, over the course of the last few weeks of the regular season and now spilling into the playoffs, Pacers fans must be wondering what has happened to their team and especially All-Star big man Roy Hibbert. The Pacers are locked in a 3-3 series tie with the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks and if they find themselves eliminated early in the playoffs, management may have big questions to ask regarding both the coaching and player personnel.
Hibbert has never been a player who put up huge numbers, since his impact is predominantly felt on the defensive end of the floor where the Pacers have been elite now for a number of years. However, the recent dip in Hibbert’s production is alarming and it’s a trend that’s causing major issues for this team in the first round. Hibbert has averaged just 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds per game through the first six games of the playoffs and if the Pacers fail to make an impact in the postseason this year, he will be considered a major part of the team’s failure.
Hibbert’s production had been on the decline for months and Coach Frank Vogel is being forced to leave his center on the bench for extended periods as the Pacers are simply getting outplayed with Hibbert on the floor. His confidence is obviously at an all-time low and whether it’s a personal issue, problems with chemistry or something else, Hibbert is far from the cornerstone big man the Pacers thought they had locked up last season.
So why would the Celtics make a move for a big man who is playing arguably the worst basketball of his career and is owed an average of $15 million over the next two seasons? On paper, Hibbert is everything the Celtics need in their front court right now. The team was 23rd in the league in blocked shots this season, a statistic that Hibbert has been top five overall in for three seasons now, and desperately needs an interior defender to anchor the defense. Hibbert has anchored the Pacers’ D that allowed a league-low 41.9 percent shooting from their opponents this season and he has ranked top five in both defensive rating and defensive win shares in back-to-back seasons.
The Celtics lacked any real center on the roster outside of rookie Vitor Faverani and at 7’2” Hibbert provides the size and length at the position that would mesh perfectly with the likes of Celtics’ big man Jared Sullinger. With career averages of 11.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, Hibbert does not appear on paper to be worthy of the max contract that he’s signed to, but he has shown the ability to have a dramatic impact on a successful team. At 27 years old, Hibbert is the same age as star point guard Rajon Rondo and if the team plans on a quick turnaround to the playoffs, Hibbert could play a huge part in trying to achieve that.
Obviously Hibbert’s production and trade value are likely at an all-time low, so the Pacers should not rush to move him for pennies on the dollar. However if they are eliminated early from the playoffs, someone is going to have to take the blame. The Celtics have a surplus of draft picks, young talent, veteran contributors and sign-and-trade options that could potentially interest the Pacers, as well as the option of involving additional teams. If the big man does find himself on the trade market in the offseason, don’t be surprised to see Celtics’ General Manager Danny Ainge pop up as one of the executives making inquiries.