If I had posed this question a couple months ago, you would have thought I lost my mind: Should the Pacers bench Roy Hibbert for the rest of this series?
First, let’s be clear about what Hibbert is – a defensive force. He’s never been a great offensive player, but his rim protection has easily made up for those shortcomings. But what about when he isn’t a defensive force anymore? Is he even playable?
To be frank, no. Out of all players in this Pacers and Hawks series that have played at least 10 minutes, Hibbert, the self-proclaimed Defensive Player of the Year, has actually been the worse defender on either team. His 111 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is easily the worst out of everyone, in fact.
So what should Frank Vogel and the coaching staff do? Well, they may not like the answer. They should go small.
I looked at what the best two-man combinations have been for the Pacers so far, and there is a very clear common denominator.
Despite what people have said about the Pacers bench, they have actually been the reason that the Pacers have even been competitive at times with the Hawks. CJ Watson has given them very good minutes, and Ian Mahinmi has been better than Hibbert.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the Pacers should be done with Hibbert for good. Just this series. He's struggled against the Hawks all year, and it’s unrealistic to ask him to suddenly match up well against them. He doesn’t do well against perimeter big guys, and the Hawks give two of them – Paul Millsap and Pero Antic – a lot of run against the Pacers.
If Vogel doesn't want to commit to small-ball, then they should play a more mobile big man against the Hawks. Here were the next three best two-man combinations for the Pacers, and you'll see another trend.
|Minutes||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg. ||Net Rtg.
|Ian Mahinmi - Paul George||39||108.4||87.2||+21.2|
|Ian Mahinmi - George Hill||33||111.3||93.3||+17.9|
|Ian Mahinmi - CJ Watson||44||108.3||91.4||+16.9|
The data is pretty clear - the six best lineups for the Pacers versus the Hawks either include CJ Watson or Ian Mahinmi.
Now, the Pacers will eventually need Hibbert. While this is a bad matchup for him specifically, his play will be the key to whether they want to advance far in these playoffs and contend with Miami for the Eastern Conference title. It's a tough situation for Vogel and his staff - Hibbert has been crucial to their identity for so long, and benching him could kill what little confidence he has left, dooming them in later rounds.
But right now, they need to mix it up. Hibbert's confidence may be irrelevant in a week if the Pacers don't make the correct adjustments and lose in the first round. Regardless, it'll be fascinating to watch.