Roy Hibbert’s last three games have shown that a dominant center still has a place in the NBA.
After putting together a terrible stretch of games against the Atlanta Hawks and Game 1 of the series against the Washington Wizards, Hibbert’s emergence from his Rip Van Winkle slumber has breathed new life into the Indiana Pacers.
In Indiana’s three straight wins over the Wizards, Hibbert is averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. In the Pacers’ four playoff losses, Hibbert averaged three points and 2.5 rebounds per game. If not for the play of Paul George in the Atlanta series, the Pacers would have completed the worst collapse in NBA history.
Hibbert’s disappearance had everyone, including fans, teammates and coaches, wondering aloud, what in the name of George Mikan was wrong with him? It had to be a mental block. He was walking around in a fog and being pushed around. He could not hit the broadside of the biggest barn in rural Indiana. Frank Vogel had to change lineups like he was changing socks. Hibbert had become a liability and a fixture on the bench, which is no place for a man of his size and skill.
With Hibbert back on track, the Pacers are a force and look to return to the Eastern Conference Finals. This is the reason he was given the maximum contract, to provide a presence that few teams in the league can contain. That is why Indiana is a No. 1 seed. The dominant center has very few natural enemies in the NBA anymore and utilizing this strength is the key to Indiana’s success against Washington.
In a league that has become inundated by shot-happy swingmen and speedy guards, Hibbert’s rejuvenated play harkens back to an era when giants roamed the paint; scoring, rebounding and swatting shots away at will. When somebody who is 7-foot-2 and 260 pounds is playing at a high level, they must be accounted for and it can change an entire game plan. The Wizards have no answer and it shows.
The days of Dikembe Mutombo finger-wagging, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sky hooks and Luc Longley clogging the lane are gone. No true center has won an MVP since Shaquille O’Neal in the 1999-00 season. After a long line of ineffective big men who succumbed to injury or the speed of the game, Hibbert is the one with the potential to make his mark as the next great center.
If he can keep up his spirited play and lead the Pacers to glory in the playoffs, maybe that can give him the confidence to take his place in history.