For Roy Hibbert, this season was a tale of two halves. He was spectacular before the All-Star break, averaging 11.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game with an offensive rating of 104, a defensive rating of 95 and a massive plus/minus of +12.8. At the All-Star break, the Pacers were sitting at 40-12. Hibbert was named an All-Star and was widely considered the front-runner to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Unfortunately for Pacers fans, the former Georgetown Hoya was a completely different player in the second half of the season. Hibbert's points, rebounds, blocks, offensive rating, defensive rating and plus/minus all dropped significantly and he seemed to be playing with considerably less confidence.
|Points/Game||Rebounds/Game||Blocks/Game||FG%||Off. Rtg||Def. Rtg||+/-
|Pre All-Star Break||11.8||7.7||2.5||46.4%||104||95||+12.8|
|Post All-Star Break||8.9||4.7||1.8||39%||88||106||-3.1|
Hibbert's post All-Star struggles were a bit of an anomaly. Nobody was quite sure what caused Indiana's center to play so poorly, but the Internet had plenty of theories. Here are some of my favorite reasons for Hibbert's on-court woes according to the Internet "trolls."
1. The addition of Andrew Bynum: Although Bynum only played a total of 36 minutes this season, many thought that just his presence on the bench alone was enough to throw Hibbert off his game. Despite the fact that the former Lakers' center has long been considered a cancer, adding a high-upside piece like Bynum could have made Hibbert feel insecure about the Pacers front office's confidence in him and his future in Indiana.
2. The departure of Danny Granger: Granger may not have been contributing on the court the same way he did in his prime, but according to several unreliable sources, his presence in the locker room was key to the Pacers' success, specifically Hibbert's. Trading for a player like Evan Turner, who has never been on a good team, could have poisoned Indiana's locker room to the point where guys like Hibbert and Lance Stephenson collapsed without that veteran leadership that Granger provided them.
3. Paul George slept with Hibbert's girlfriend: This is my personal favorite. In LeBron James' final season with the Cavaliers it was widely reported that his playoff struggles were in part to him being depressed due to Delonte West sleeping with his mother, so why couldn't Hibbert's play be negatively impacted by George (allegedly) sleeping with his girlfriend?
No matter what the reason truly is for Hibbert's struggles during the second half of the season, for whatever reason, it seemed to get worse through the first eight games of the playoffs. In Indiana's opening round series against Atlanta, the Pacers' center averaged just 5.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while adding only three total assists and zero steals in seven games.
Although he did show signs of life in Game 7 against the Hawks, dropping 15 points and 7 boards while adding 5 blocks, Hibbert seemed to hit an all-time low in Game 1 against the Wizards. The former Defensive Player of the Year candidate posted a double-bagel, zero points and zero rebounds, with just two blocks and an assist in 18 minutes of action.
As ineffective as Hibbert was in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals though, he was equally as impressive in Game 2. Hibbert scored 28 points while shooting 10 for 13 from the field and 8 for 8 from the charity stripe in Game 2. He also grabbed 9 boards and added 2 blocks and an assist in 33 minutes.
Hibbert's numbers are certainly impressive on face value, but they become even more impressive after watching the game tape. For the first time in seemingly months, the Pacers' center played with energy and confidence. He ran the floor well, fought for rebounds, attacked the basket and was not hesitant to shoot, all aspects of his game that were lacking through his recent drought.
Of course Hibbert's change in on-court demeanor once again fired up the Internet "trolls." Here are a few of my favorite reasons for Hibbert's turnaround:
1. Bynum leaving the team for the remainder of the playoffs: Just before Game 2, the Pacers announced that Bynum would be shut down for the remainder of the playoffs due to his knee injury and would not be traveling with the team. Without Bynum looking over his shoulder, Hibbert excelled. Coincidence?
2. Coach Frank Vogel threatened to bench him for the remainder of the playoffs: As I mentioned earlier, Hibbert hit rock bottom in Game 1. It was widely speculated that Coach Vogel was going to bench Hibbert after he struggled against the Hawks, and after Hibbert's Game 1 performance, the rumors started swirling again. In result, Hibbert stepped up with his back against the wall.
3. George apologized to Hibbert for sleeping with his girlfriend and the two of them made up on their recent fishing trip: During their off day between Game 1 and Game 2, pictures surfaced of George, Hibbert and teammate George Hill (who has also played poorly so far these playoffs) fishing. With George and Hibbert friends again, a huge weight was lifted from Hibbert's shoulders and the former Hoya was able to once again focus on basketball, resulting in his monstrous Game 2.
No matter what you attribute Hibbert's Game 2 success to, one question still remains: Is Hibbert back to playing like an All-Star or was Game 2 just a flash in the pan? The good news for Pacers fans is that Hibbert has looked impressive in two of his last three games. But the bad news, as Brett Weisband points out in his most recent article, the Pacers have been a different team on the road.
In order for the Pacers to win this series, Hibbert will have to continue play significant minutes, specifically because of his defensive prowess. Unlike the Hawks, the Wizards feature two powerful frontcourt players who can both score - Marcin Gortat and Nene - which makes Hibbert's size and athleticism critical to Indiana's defensive success. If Hibbert is as impressive tonight in Game 3 as he was in Game 2, or even if he simply contributes like he did in Game 7 against the Hawks, it will be a great indicator of Indiana's chances of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. Contrarily, if he struggles, at least we should get some more interesting thoughts from all of the "trolls" out there.