Roy Hibbert's Struggles to Defend the Hawks' Pick-and-Roll and Fast Break


I love Roy Hibbert just as much the next Pacer fan. There is a lot to like about him, specifically on defense. He is a 7’2″ center who, over the past couple seasons, has emerged into one of the more dominant defensive forces in the paint. This is very evident in his ability to defend the restricted area, a place where Kirk Goldsberry found Hibbert to be especially difficult to score on.

The restricted area is the easiest place on the court to score; it makes sense considering it’s the closest to the basket. This season, teams shot anywhere from 54.5% (the Bobcats) to 67.2% (the Heat) from the restricted area. The league average in the restricted area was approximately 59%, making it the only area where teams make more than 50% of their shots.

Needless to say, if you do a good job at defending the restricted area, regardless of how well you defend other areas, you’re going to have a pretty good defense.

This means Roy is an incredibly valuable defender.

When Roy is on the court, Pacers’ opponents shoot just 50.4% in the restricted area. That’s insane. Even more amazing is that when Roy is on the bench, Pacers’ opponents shoot 57.2%, or almost league average. That’s a 6.8% differential between when he’s on/off the court, which is the highest differential even among the best defensive centers in the league. The closest was Joakim Noah, who had a 6.3% differential (56% on the court, 62.3% off the court).

Despite everything stated above, Roy has been pretty bad defensively since the last few weeks of the season. It’s not completely his fault though; teams have simply figured out how use him to their advantage.

In the last 12 games of the season, Pacers’ opponents shot 57.5% from the restricted area while Roy was on the court.

The secret was revealed: put Roy Hibbert in as many pick situations as you can.

At 7’2″, Roy is one of the taller players in the league. He might also be one of the hardest working centers.

Still, he can’t overceom with reality. He is an unathletic center in a league full of exactly the opposite, freaks of nature. Teams have finally realized this and are finding as many ways possible to take advantage. So far, the series against the Hawks has been a perfect example of how to attack Roy Hibbert.

One “right way” to defend against the pick and roll is for the player guarding the screen to cut off the ball handler so he has neither a lane to the basket or an open shot. Marc Gasol, even at his size, is excellent at doing this, which is one of the main reasons he was named Defensive Player of the Year.

Roy Hibbert, on the other hand, isn’t fast enough to be able to wait over the pick and make sure that the ball handler doesn’t zip around him to the hoop. Instead, he strafes backwards (kind of like a safety in the NFL) waiting for the ball handler to make his move and when he does, Roy contests the shot as best he can.

This is by design. Frank Vogel has adjusted to his center’s strengths and the goal is usually for Roy to protect the rim while the player defending the ball handler fights through the pick. When it works correctly, the ball handler’s only real option is to take a quick mid-range jumper before his defender recovers.

If the player defending the ball handler is able to get over the pick fast enough to make sure the ball handler doesn’t have an open mid range shot, everything works well. But in the case of the Pacers, that player is more often than not George Hill, who’s dealing with a hip injury.

Jeff Teague and Devin Harris have taken complete advantage of this. Whether it’s Jeff Teague knocking down uncontested mid range shots coming off a screen or Devin Harris zipping around Roy to the basket (even thought that’s exactly what Roy is trying to prevent), the Hawks have done it. They were taking advantage also in games one and two; it just wasn’t nearly as noticeable because the Pacers’ offense was playing great enough that they won pretty handily.

Game 4 was no different. I watched every Hawks made field goal and found seven plays that show how the Hawks are taking advantage of Roy Hibbert.

In this play, Hill is slow to recover to Teague and Hibbert can’t completely cut off the Hawks’ point guard from getting near the basket. Once Teague gets deep into the lane, it’s Hibbert’s responsibility to make sure Teague doesn’t get an easy shot off from close. He does that, but Teague passes it to a cutting Johan Petro and neither Roy nor anyone else is able to rotate in time to fully contest the shot.

Hibbert ends the play on the floor.

This play represents the worst of the worst. Pick-and-rolls and transition defense have turned into the Pacers’ Achilles heel this series. Here the Hawks use both of these at once as Al Horford sets a screen in mid-transition.

By the time Jeff Teague’s shot is off, Roy has hardly even turned around.

Here Devin Harris pushes the ball up quickly, as he has been doing all series. Al Horford follows his lead by running the court. Roy wasn’t able to get down the court quickly enough and was unable to deny Horford deep position.

Once Horford gets the ball that close to the basket, it’s more or less over, most centers in this league can take advantage of such deep position.

Another uncontested mid range shot by Jeff Teague coming off a pick.

Notice Hibbert falling at the beginning of the video? (Drink)

Johan Petro gets down the court, Josh Smith passes it to him in the lane, West has to guard Petro, which leaves Horford open before Roy gets back on defense. Easy dunk.

Looking at this first glance, you’re probably wondering how is this play on Hibbert?

In fact, it isn’t really. It just shows David West’s mind-set.

David West is used to it taking a long time for Roy Hibbert to recover onto his man, so he stays in position to deny Horford for a second too long, which gives Josh Smith an open three. I know the Pacers want Josh Smith taking long range shots, but you’ve gotta contest them well, which this one was not.

I’m pretty sure this is one of those rare cases where no weak side defender is supposed to switch onto the screener. If Lance does, Korver will open from the corner. If West does, Josh Smith will be open under the basket. I think in this situation it’s the job  of player guarding the picker (Roy) to recover as fast as he can.

Which he does not.

The result: an open mid range shot for Al Horford that’s almost automatic.

The Hawks are finding ways to take complete advantage of Roy. It’s up to the Pacers to figure out a way to help Roy out. If the Pacers end up making it to the next round against the Knicks, I guarantee the Knicks will take advantage of this, too, with Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler — possibly to an even larger extent.