It hasn't been the best season for Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert. After a breakthrough 2011-12 campaign that saw him post career per-game highs in scoring, rebounding, shot-blocking and Player Efficiency Rating, make his first All-Star appearance and earn a max-level contract offer from the Portland Trail Blazers (which the Pacers quickly matched), Hibbert's struggled offensively, shooting a career-low 40.5 percent from the field, dipping below 69 percent from the free-throw line and averaging less than 10 points per game, which is probably not what the Pacers had in mind when they eagerly agreed to pay him an eight-figure salary.
True leadership, though, reveals itself when a player sets his mind to contributing to the team even when his own game's not going. And with the clock winding down during the Pacers' big Tuesday win over the Charlotte Bobcats, Hibbert showed just how much he supports his teammates by putting his four-year, $58 million deal to some greater-good use, according to Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star:
[...] Hibbert realized during a late time out Tuesday night that the struggling Charlotte Bobcats might not score 80 points.
His mouthed opened and out came a challenge.
Keep the Bobcats in the 70s, Hibbert instructed the five reserve players checked in the game. It's worth $100 per man.
“I'm a man of my word,” he assured them.
[After the game], the highest-paid Pacer ($13.66 million this season) handed out large bills to three teammates, including one he couldn't name, Dominic McGuire, who is playing on a 10-day contract. Jeff Pendergraph refused his reward. Ben Hansbrough must wait until Hibbert finds an ATM.
“He's a rookie; he gets his last,” Hibbert said with playful defiance.
I mean, what's the sense in making the money if you can't have fun spending it, right?
Judging by play-by-play data, it seems most likely that the timeout in question came at the 2:29 mark of the fourth quarter, about a minute after reserve guard Hansbrough had checked in for his brother Tyler to complete a five-man backup unit with McGuire, Pendergraph, point guard D.J. Augustin and rookie shooting guard Orlando Johnson. At that point, the Pacers led 100-72, with Bobcats rookie Jeffery Taylor at the line to shoot two free throws. He made them both, but Indy's subs allowed just two more points over the final two-plus minutes, holding the Cats to 1 for 4 shooting down the stretch to lock down a 103-76 win that improved the Pacers' Central Division-leading record to 24-15. (And for anyone fearing an NBA remix of "Bountygate," it's worth noting that the Pacers' subs didn't commit any fouls or take any whacks, even inadvertent ones, in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Just good, clean, feet-shufflin' Hoosier D.)
The gesture's obviously nice, but even if Hibbert hadn't ponied up $500, it's not especially likely the Bobcats break 80 on Tuesday night. After all, they'd only managed 72 through 45 1/2 minutes, a rate of about 1.6 points per minute; they would've have to score eight points in 2 1/2 minutes, effectively doubling that rate of offensive output, in a last-chance-saloon effort. And even though the task wouldn't have been quite so difficult with the starters of the NBA's stingiest defense getting a breather, it's not like Charlotte featured a potent unit at the time — their five-man group (Taylor, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Adrien, Reggie Williams and Gerald Henderson) didn't even feature the best scorers on the league's third-worst offense.
Still, it's pretty fitting that Hibbert would focus his financial contributions on the defensive end, considering he's made a pretty substantial on-court impact there, too. While much of the discussion of the 26-year-old pivot's play has focused on his offensive woes, the 7-foot-2 Hibbert's been pretty rad defensively. He's blocked the third-highest percentage of opponents' shots in the league this year, according to Basketball-Reference.com; he's holding opponents to 36.5 percent shooting on post-ups and ranks among the league's top 20 defenders of dive men in the pick-and-roll game, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data; and Pacer opponents have shot just 45.6 percent in the restricted area when he's been on the court this season, way below even Indy's stingiest-in-the-NBA 51.9 percent overall mark on point-blank tries, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
Whether the Pacers' potentially-historically-great D will be enough to propel them deeper into the postseason and further toward title contention than last year's model remains to be seen, but for the better part of two months, it's been money in the bank. For a few teammates, Hibbert just made the metaphor literal. (And he got to learn Dominic McGuire's name in the process. Total win/win.)