How do you make a 7’2 man disappear?
All of the Pacers opponents have had ideas, but only a few have succeeded.
In a way the Miami loss is an outlier because Indiana’s biggest defender was M.I.A for most the game. In that game the absence of Roy Hibbert played a key role in the Pacers loss. But how has Roy’s played in the other losses?
It shouldn’t be a surprise Roy’s worst defensive ratings came in losses, but he also had one in a win against San Antonio. For one thing defensive ratings are a bit too tightly tied to team defense, but its the only metric we really have. Included in the poor defensive games we see the Dec. 18 Miami game with Roy in foul trouble. That’s a given. But against Detroit on Dec. 16 Hibbert couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal a basket for most of the game, going 2 of 12 shooting. We’ll look at that game here in a second because the Pistons are one of the few teams with forwards and centers that can muscle up against Indiana. The Portland Trail Blazers are another team that can do that as well. Hibbert’s night at Portland was a double-double performance by him, but LaMarcus Aldridge abused David West as Robin Lopez (better shooter than I expected) seemed to always keep Hibbert too far away to help.
The key really is finding someone like Lopez or Drummond that demands Hibbert’s attention, and then taking advantage of another talented big abusing one of the forwards. This isn’t to absolve Hibbert of blame; he played quite poorly against Detroit on offense even if he wasn’t in his normal painted home on defense. Regardless of what he’s done in games offensively, keeping his body further away from the hoop pays obvious dividends.
In the loss to the Oklahoma Thunder, this strategy wasn’t as pronounced as in those two games, if nothing more than because he faced Kendrick Perkins, but OKC did enough to allow Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to go a perfect 11/11 from 8 feet or less. Those two simply had more success against whoever was guarding them, making George Hill and Paul George look like terrible defenders. There isn’t much more to say as those two got so badly outplayed that even Hibbert couldn’t think about rotating to help. Similar story in Chicago, even though some of the same issues still emerged concerning Roy not being allowed to be as dominant as usual. There were also other problems, such as Derrick Rose hitting six of Chicago’s 11 made three pointers. Even if Roy is having to pay attention to Joakim Noah, there were situations where the shell that Indiana usually forms around Hibbert was collapse in too far to protect the the mid-range and 3-point shots.
With all that said, the Blazers and Pistons game had the best blue print for neutralizing the size advantage of Pacers… which to no surprise is having quality size of your own. (This isn’t rocket science, fellas.)
Portland Trail Blazers (Dec. 2)
It was LaMarcus Aldridge’s 28 points that may have hurt Indiana the worse. Instead of the Pacers Five taking care of business, you had the freakishly big and talented forward doing damage to West. When the Blazers offensive possession came down to the two of them facing off, Aldridge went 7 of 10 against West, posting him up or knocking down jumpers. When he faced Hibbert in those situations, he has 1 of 4, with the lone make being a shot well away from the paint.
San Antonio Spurs (Dec. 7)
This was another example of where good bigs are match up issues for the Pacers. Roy started the game primarily guarding Tim Duncan, but you would see some switches with West and Tiago Splitter. Man-to-man, Hibbert did fine covering the Big Fundamental, only allowing a 10+ foot jumper, but at least one of the other made baskets came when Hibbert went to hedge out to help West. One foul by Hibbert came on a West help play by Roy. The Spurs were always looking to lure Hibbert out to help West.
On offense Hibbert looked like a bit much for Duncan, forcing two Spurs fouls early on.
As the game went on the game moved away from the paint and out to the wings. It shoudl be noted this was one of Hibbert’s best offensive game efficiency wise. He only took four shots, going 3 of 4 but also went 6 of 6 from the free throw line for a tidy 12 points.
Hibbert vs Duncan was mostly a even draw, but when the Spurs got to the big man, it was usually when he got caught spreading himself thin.
Detroit Pistons (Dec. 16)
The Pistons bodied up Roy with Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe or Josh Harrellson when they could, crowding him and throwing him off his normal game. A center not shooting well when he doesn’t have space isn’t shocking, but considering his usage rate was lower than normal it is somewhat surprising Indiana still struggled and lost. Indiana doesn’t always need Hibbert’s offense, but they surely need his defense.
The problem in Detroit wasn’t even so much Hibbert’s fault as much as it was a match up issue down the line up. Hibbert was often pulled away from the basket more than usual and that allowed the size of Josh Smith and Greg Monroe to be used against Indiana’s forwards. Though Drummond only had 8 points, Smith and Monroe had 43 points combined. Smith spread the floor away from Hibbert, while Monroe posted up Hibbert or attacked him six times, coming away with four baskets.
I can’t explain that other that Roy got outworked in those situations. It just looked like one of the three regular big fellas of Detroit found a way to exploit the defense, either with pulling Roy away from the rim or just taking advantage of an interior pass to beat Hibbert. (Of course, Indiana didn’t have these same problems when they played them earlier in the season.)
In those games Hibbert was either outplayed in some way or taken out in some way and one of the forwards found a way to expose Indiana. The combo of competent big men against the Pacers is one way to try to handle the Pacers. Outside of that, you need players like Durant and Westbrook, two of the game’s best. When the Pacers play them again, they’ll need Paul George to step up in his efforts to stop Durant. Hibbert can maybe get some buckets, sure, but Serge and even Perkins aren’t the easiest big guys to handle.
It should be noted some of Roy’s other poor performances are against team’s with serviceable to good bigs: Memphis, New Orleans and Brooklyn.
I was expecting to learn something from the Houston Rockets game, a game where Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola outscored Hibbert, and Roy’s counterpart Dwight Howard, had 19. But of course Roy had +25 to Dwight’s -17. That game surprisingly was more about Lance Stephenson and PG doing their thing than anything to do with Roy.
Watching plays, looking at numbers, it makes me think with the exception of the loss in Miami and Roy getting outworked by Detroit, he’s been a steady presence. The only real threat I see to Hibbert’s dominance is foul trouble. When you look in the games where the Pacers lost, you can see how Roy has rarely been outplayed individually, but been undone due to a multi-pronged attack. If you let Roy spend his night in the paint, it isn’t going to work out. But if he’s picking up West’s slack then it is going to be harder for him to be his normal, dominant self.
Is Hibbert perfect? Far, from it. But like any good player, if you let him in his zone, you aren’t going to win.