Game #33 Recap - 1 for 15

The Loss

Not a lot of need to hash through the play-by-play, as Nathan S at Indy Cornrows and Mike Wells of the Star have done that well enough already.  There were lots of subplots, but the story – to me, at least – can be shown in one picture.

That’s not going to get it done against anyone, let alone the Spurs.  This win could have given the Pacers a good start to a tough stretch.  It could have gotten them a little altitude that might have pushed them more towards the playoffs.  Instead it was just three quarters of strong basketball gone for naught.

Feet of Clay

I have a second picture.  It speaks to last night’s game, but also speaks to much, much more.

Those are 4th Quarter contributions of the two most important players on this Pacer squad – Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert.  As awful as it looks, it shows neither Granger’s two missed Free Throws at the 1:11 mark that could have given the Pcers a six-point lead, nor just how gawdawful ugly Roy’s last two “shots” were.  Mike Wells points out their culpability in the fourth, but I don’t think that takes it far enough.  Not by a long shot.

No, this is just the continuation of a trend that has been running since the beginning of December.  The Pacers have lost 12 of their last 17 games, and this corresponds directly to both Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert playing poorly.

Granger’s rebounding a little more, but his scoring is down, and his shooting has dropped precipitously.  It’s hard for any team to play well when their best player isn’t, and it’s doubly hard when their second best player is playing even worse.

And no single factor in the Pacers’ swoon has been more damaging than Roy Hibbert’s almost complete collapse over the last six weeks.

Hibbert’s scoring has dropped by a third and his rebounding by nearly a quarter.  Worse, he’s a 7’2″ center who can only manage to hit 41% of his shots.   His assist numbers and his FTA’s per minute both dropped by a third as well.  He’s dragged the team down with him.

Through the end of November, Hibbert had been on the floor for 63% of the minutes for the Pacers.  During that time, the Pacers had scored over 111 points per 100 possessions, much better than the 96 per 100 when he was off the floor.  Since then, he’s played 58% of the minutes, but the on-off numbers have turned upside down.  The Pacers have scored only 96 points per 100 with him on the floor, compared to 102 points per 100 with him on the bench.  (Source:  Basketballvalue.com)

These problems are not a function of being misused – specifically being played too far away from the basket.  On the contrary, his game has moved closer to the basket with 33% of his shots coming at the rim, compared to 27% in October and November.  He is, quite simply, not converting on his opportunities.

During the halcyon days of November, Hibbert got 58 shots at the rim and hit an impressive 72% of them.  In December and January, he got 64 shots in the golden area, but hit less than 55% of them.  Hoopdata.com’s advanced box score says that he missed three of his six shots at the rim against San Antonio.

The same box score says that he missed 5 of his 7 shots from inside 10 feet.  This continues a trend that shows Hibbert hitting 48% of his 85 shots inside of 10 feet through November, but only 42% of the 59 he’s taken since.  It’s not the shots, it’s the shooter.  In fact, his shot selection – as measured by expected effective FG% – has improved from .489 to .497.

Play like this prompted Indy Cornrows to ask, “Is Roy Hibbert Over?” a few days ago.  I must admit, in the heat of the moment following last night’s game, I may have been tempted to answer that question with a yes.   But even the article’s author (again, Nathan S.) brought up Rik Smits’ early years, and I’m forced to recall that the Dunking Dutchman spent much of his third year watching Greg Dreiling get the starting nod.

I’m also reminded of something I wrote myself in my preseason piece on Jim O’Brien.

Roy Hibbert – More than anything else, it’s important to remember that Roy Hibbert is not ready for the responsibility that is about to be thrust upon him.  Make no mistake, it’s time for him to become a true focal point of the offense and establish himself as a legitimate starting NBA center.  It’s just important to recognize that there will be more games like his preseason performance in Chicago than in Minnesota — at least before the the new year.  It’s up to both Hibbert and O’Brien to stick with it.  On both a macro and micro level, patience will be the single most important factor with Hibbert this season.

The player that is Hibbert is (hopefully) on the verge of becoming is being built by Roy’s dedication and hard work, but the design is primarily O’Brien’s.  Lighter and more mobile, the ideal is to have a player who can move fluidly within a team defense, but — more importantly — become a true pivot through which the offense flows.  I can see few systems that give Hibbert a better opportunity to excel, particularly offensively.  It de-emphasizes his physical shortcomings (primarily strength) and stresses his strengths (intelligence, passing, traditional post moves).  It opens up the floor and gives him room to work, while putting the ball in his hands both at the elbow and on the block.  Sure it’s uptempo, but uptempo systems can actually put more emphasis on a key post player.  The most aggressive team in the NBA will only get one out of every five shots out of transition.  The Pacers will be closer to one out of every six — and Hibbert will be the focal point of those half court sets.

It is the plan, and both player and coach need to give full commitment to it all year.

Sage words of advice.  I wonder who I stole them from.

So, there are reasons that preach patience when it comes to Roy, but there are some real problems there, too.  First, the teams’ playoff hopes may not survive the necessary patience.  Second, Roy’s performance has probably played a sizable role in Danny Granger’s struggles.  Though Ian Levy of Hickory High and Indy Cornrows would disagree, I believe a lot of Granger’s issues come from Hibbert’s sets failing, and his looks coming out of the garbage.

More than anything else, though, I’m very worried about Hibbert’s ability to deal with his responsibility and role on the team.  For the first two seasons, he was largely under the radar.  He’d have the occasional good game, but was mostly ignored by the rest of the league.  Then he put in the work over the summer, got in shape, and O’Brien built the offense around him, and he blossomed.  So the league paid attention.  They scouted him, they took the high post and the cutters away.  They challenge the entry pass, but once he gets the ball in the post, everybody stays home and makes Hibbert make a move.  It certainly seems that he’s completely folded when faced with the challenge.  He is way too fragile – mentally and emotionally – and because the team has so much wrapped up in him playing well, or at least effectively, that he’s dragged the entire team down with him.

A few days ago, some commenters on Jared’s piece about the Knicks game asked why he didn’t discuss (rip) O’Brien’s substitution patterns in his recap.  I don’t presume to speak for Jared, but I can tell you that this is why I think he was right to focus on what he did.  Effectively, the Knicks’ key players came up big when it matter, and the Pacers’ did not.

The win-loss record in December wasn’t the result of odd substitution patterns.  It wasn’t the result of a bad offensive system, or too many minutes for Posey, or not enough contributions from the power forward position.  All of that stuff is just noise.

The role players performed at largely the same level that they did in November, but the foundation has faltered.  Collison’s struggles are somewhat excusable and can be traced back to adjusting to O’Brien, but that won’t work for either Granger or Hibbert.  They are simply letting the team down with their performances, and there is no one else on this team that even approaches having the ability to offset their shortfalls.

This season – and really, the future – will be decided by the performance of the Pacers’ top players, and those players are coming up very small these days.

Apologies to Tyler

It’s a sin that I didn’t dwell on the performance that Tyler Hansbrough turned in last night.  The energy and the rebounding was not the least bit surprising.  There are plays that Buckaroo Banzai makes that make me fondly remember the days of LaSalle Thompson.  The one last night came early in the fourth when somehow he snatched a rebound away from Antonio McDyess and drew a two-shot foul on the putback attempt.  Plays like that always give me a thrill.

He scored 23 points last night, and I’m not sure how much to take that to heart.  Of his 19 shots, 12 came from outside of 15 feet.  Of his 10 makes, 7 came from outside 15 feet.  This information can be taken one of two ways.

The positive way is that he’s shown a very necessary skill for his success – the mid-range shot.  This is crucial to his survival in the NBA, because he simply isn’t big or athletic enough to be a volume scorer in either the pain or the post.  Additionally, this will make him a really good candidate for the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop.  This is an underrated plus, because Darren Collison is really suffering for a partner out there right now.

The negative way is to say that the game was fluky.  Now, I’d agree with that only so far as saying that 22 points is probably an aberration on the high side.  However, he earned that game and deserves all the praise that goes along with it.

Let’s see how he follows up over the next few games.

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Tags: Danny Granger Game Recap Roy Hibbert Tyler Hansbrough

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