Up until the NBA’s All-Star break, the Indiana Pacers were the clear-cut best team in the NBA. That does not appear to be the case anymore. The problem with the Pacers has never been defense—they still have the best defensive unit by a wide margin. Indiana’s problem has been that they are inconsistent offensively and rely heavily on the defense to bail them out of trouble. During the first half of the season, the defense was stellar and, thanks to Paul George’s early MVP-caliber play, the offense was very solid as well. Since the All-Star break in mid-February, however, the offense has taken a relatively steep nosedive, and many fans are pointing the finger at one of the Pacers who made an appearance in All-Star Game, Roy Hibbert.
Let’s face it, Hibbert was never an offensive force to begin with. Despite spending the vast majority of his time down in the paint, Hibbert has never had a season where he shot better than 50 percent from the field. For his career, he has averaged 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game which is pretty much in line with his stats from this season—11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. But Hibbert has seen some statistical decline. During the 2011-12 season, he posted his best season, averaging 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds, and had a similar season statistically the year before that. What caused this decline? A lot of this has to do with Hibbert’s usage rate which declined from 23.6 percent and 21.1 percent, in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, respectively, down to just a 19 percent rate this season. This means the Pacers’ offense is less Roy-centric, and a lot of this is due to the emergence of George and Lance Stephenson.
Hibbert’s defense is his meal ticket and for good reason. He is the best rim protector in the NBA, and, quite frankly, it isn’t even close. NBA Sports VU data shows that he is facing about 10 shots at the rim per game, which is, of course, the highest percentage shot on the court, and is only allowing a made basket at a 41 percent rate. Brook Lopez is the only player who could possibly compete, but he has been sidelined the majority of the season with a broken foot. Going further, Hibbert is fourth in the league in defensive win shares at 4.5 so far on the season. While a lot of credit may go to Frank Vogel’s defensive system and the excellent defensive players he has around him (Paul George, George Hill, etc.), it is hard to argue that Hibbert isn’t one of the premier defensive players in the NBA.
It is true that the Pacers’ offense is searching for consistency, especially after the acquisitions of Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum. And it is also true that Hibbert can be a big part of finding that consistency. What fans need to realize is that Roy is what he is — a guy who will average about 12 and eight per game on the offensive end while playing great defense. He’s never going to be a Shaquille O’Neal or a Dwight Howard, but the Pacers don’t need him to be. Hibbert is going through a slump, but he will work through it. He’s a major piece of the team’s core, so the organization need not lose faith in the big man because of his offensive “decline.” As long as Big Roy continues to put up a solid effort on the defensive end, he will be worth every penny of that max contract and will help the Pacers contend for titles for years to come.