January 26, 2011
The Indiana Pacers have lost 10 of 15 games and the group hasn't looked cohesive on either end of the court. With Danny Granger's(notes) semi-resurgence helping the team stay competitive, most eyes are rightfully turning to beleaguered big man Roy Hibbert(notes).
Hibbert seemed a shoo-in for Most Improved Player earlier this season, as he not only amped up his per-game numbers with an increase in minutes, but also raising his per-minute numbers as well. And yet, while he trended downward in December (just under 11 points on 41 percent shooting), January has been a miserable time for the Georgetown product.
Just 8.2 points in nearly 22 minutes a game, despite plenty of looks, and 35.9 percent shooting for the 7-footer. These are scary stats when you consider Hibbert's size, his talent, his touch and the fact that he isn't exactly out there to launch 19-footers. This guy is making less than 36 percent of his shots, from about 3.6 feet away.
Time and again Hibbert has either rushed shots inside, or tried to split semi-doubles or unintended defensive traffic on his way to the rim. And, over 60 percent of the time, his shots are spinning south. He isn't playing selfish basketball, and I wouldn't call his play scared (Hibbert is a career 72 percent free-throw shooter, so he's not scared of contact, and he's not exactly avoiding it either), but you have to question his decision-making.
That stuff counts, even for big men who are a foot away from the hoop, and this is something we're often overlooking as we come down hard on a point guard for calling his own number on the break, or a shooting guard who decides to pull-up for the 20-footer instead of driving. Big men need to make the right decisions, as well, and poor decision-making is often what separates an above-average Most Improved Player candidate from a millstone in the middle.
Hibbert is taking and missing poor shots, trying to hook over the top of stationary defenders without much angle to work with, and you can't call this a case of bad luck. These aren't shots that are supposed to go in. And while NBA teams aren't planning their entire evenings around how to stop Roy Hibbert, his presence was perhaps the biggest factor in Indiana's 11-10 start to the season. Teams are adjusting merely by paying more attention to the third-year center.
And this is where Roy needs to adjust. Rob Mahoney, as he typically does, put it quite well the other day:
Though Indiana's system and roster have their limitations, the responsibility is Hibbert's to counter the counter. N.B.A. players face all kinds of schemes and defenders on a nightly basis, and the onus is on them to produce regardless of circumstance. So goes the logic that the league's biggest stars cannot be stopped so much as hindered. When featured prominently on the scouting report, today's Hibbert can be stopped. The goal for tomorrow's Hibbert is to overcome that limitation, and take a step toward stardom.
Counter the counter, even if the counter isn't the all-out blitz that you usually see affixed to a newly established player. This isn't some rookie slugger who is getting nothing but off-speed pitches in his second turn around the league. Rather, the pitchers in this instance are just paying better attention to the fastballs they're sending his way. Hibbert isn't being double-teamed as soon as he touches the ball. He's just playing against defenders that know his name, now, and hasn't adjusted.
And if Indiana (a game in back of Charlotte for the eighth spot in the Eastern playoff bracket) wants to make its first postseason since 2006, Hibbert will have to adjust. Quickly.