With free agency looming and a major NBA offseason changing the future for many teams, we will also be taking a look back, evaluating how each Pacer played last season and what this may mean for the season to come in Indiana.
Going into the 2013-14 season, it wasn’t particularly unreasonable to expect big things from Roy Hibbert.
Just a few months prior, Roy had put on an absolutely fantastic show against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, a series which took seven games to decide, with Miami coming out on top. Roy averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds during those seven games, shooting a stellar 55.7% from the field and making his case as one of the league’s top centres.
For the first few months of the season, Hibbert lived up to these expectations to a degree. His averages of 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds through his first 53 games don’t exactly jump out at you, but hey, not every team has a small front-court like Miami’s which players like Hibbert are able to take advantage of.
Even still, it was actually defensively where Roy was making his real impact – his fantastic effort on that end deemed him worthy of an all-star selection. I wrote a glowing column praising him as ‘the league’s best defender,’ in which I also stated he was ‘running away with the defensive player of the year award,’ and at that point, it was the truth. Nobody batted an eyelid when he was selected as an all-star, and he was looking as though he really was worth his hefty contract, more-so than he ever had before.
Then the wheels fell off.
Nobody really knows what happened, but what we do know is that all of a sudden, the great team that we watched for the first few months of the season was gone. Instead, it was replaced with a team of selfish individuals, not only with its lack of a respectable offense now more evident than ever before, but now without its defensive identity that was what pushed them into the number one seed in the first place.
The drop off was perhaps more noticeable in Roy than anybody else. Through the last 25 games of the season, Hibbert posted thirteen games with six points or fewer. In this same stretch of games, he grabbed over five rebounds just six times.
If there’s one thing that stood out from the fall of the Pacers, it’s that Roy is a bit of an enigma. It’s so rare to see a player who can not only look aggressive and confident, but also generally skilful, on one night, and then timid, afraid of contact, and as though he has never touched a basketball before on the next.
Unfortunately, this play continued into the playoffs. Roy had four scoreless outings through his 19 playoff games, and six games with rebound totals of two or fewer. Scattered amongst these shocking performances were a few games where Hibbert looked as though he might be back – he had 28 points and 9 rebounds in game 2 against Washington, and 19 and 9 in game 1 against Miami.
With Roy’s good play, usually came good play from the rest of the team too. In that way, not only were his ridiculous bouts of inconsistency representative of the Pacers’ season, but likely also one of the major causes of it. This falls not only on Hibbert himself, but also partially on Vogel as well as the rest of the team. Vogel rode with Hibbert, continued to start him in times where critics said that sitting him might be the best option, and made it clear that if Indiana was going down, they were going down playing the same core that brought them so far up.
At times, he looked like a genius for this. Roy’s flashes of his old self during the playoffs often had people wondering why they ever thought that sitting him was the best idea, but before long, Hibbert would put on another poor display that brought the talks right back up.
Fittingly, Roy had just 8 points and 4 rebounds in game 6 against Miami, a loss which sent them home for the rest of the summer. It wasn’t just Roy: Paul George had just one point through the whole first half, and Lance Stephenson had a quiet night by his standards. However, it was at this point where the truth was clearer than ever: the Pacers’ had lost their identity, and moved from one of the great teams in the league, to a collection of above average individual players.
It’s a great shame that Hibbert’s season ended in such a way, because his efforts earlier in the year will be forgotten. He showed that he was capable of fantastic things on either end of the floor, but that won’t be what is remembered of his 2013-14 campaign, at least until he shows it again.
For now, Roy will continue to be the Indiana’s big puzzle, a player that nobody understands. I’m sure everybody who watches this team believes that the big fella can get it together, but until he does so, Roy Hibbert remains a mystery.