The Indiana Pacers sit at 18-3 to start the 2013-14 NBA season and, while many people expected them to be successful, they look surprisingly like the best team in the Eastern Conference and possibly the entire league right now.
There are a lot of factors you can point to as to why the Pacers have had as much success as they have over their first 21 games of this season. For one, Paul George has been out of his mind to start the year, playing like a legitimate MVP candidate. Moreover, the Pacers’ offense has noticeably improved this season as has their bench production. However, this team still feeds off their elite efforts on the defensive end.
The Pacers have by far been the best defensive team in the NBA this season, allowing only 93.2 points per 100 possessions thus far. While there are great defenders across the board, including George, for this Indiana team and while Frank Vogel’s system sets this team up to succeed, Pacers’ center Roy Hibbert’s value as an interior defender.
For the year, Hibbert has been the fifth best defender in the league in terms of points per possession, according to Synergy, giving up only 0.56 points per. Moreover, he’s the best player in the league against post-ups, giving up only an astonishing 0.28 points per possession in those sets. Hibbert is also only giving up just 0.48 points per possession defending the screener in the pick-and-roll, which is also the best rate in the league.
While his numbers are undeniably elite as a defender, possibly the biggest testament to his ability as a defender is how few plays are run in his direction. Through 21 games, Hibbert has seen only 136 plays directly run at him. That’s just over six plays being run at Hibbert per game, which is just how fearsome a defender he is.
George deservedly gets a ton of love for this team and could very well earn some hardware this season, but Hibbert deserves plenty of recognition as well and possibly a trophy of his own. It’s still early, but I don’t see Hibbert’s defensive impact changing. As a result, it’d shock me if the Pacers’ big man doesn’t wind up the Defensive Player of the Year this season.