Why Did Frank Vogel Bench Roy Hibbert?

Credit: Star Media
Credit: Star Media /

By the time the Hawks got out to a 17-3 lead last night, Pacers coach Frank Vogel had seen enough. His team getting embarrassed in front of its home fans by an injury-riddled squad that almost never wins outside of Georgia, he yanked his starters. All five of them. Just six minutes into the game.

It was something I have never seen him do since he took over as interim coach in 2011, and the message was clear: You guys suck, get out of my sight.

Vogel sent in Donald Sloan, Evan Turner, Rasual Butler, Luis Scola, and Ian Mahinmi. If the starters couldn’t be bothered to do their jobs, let’s see if the plucky, less-talented reserves at least had some heart.

It wasn’t exactly effective.

Scola did rip a jumper through the net and Mahinmi showed some life by dunking a putback soon after. But the tide didn’t change whatsoever. By the end of the first quarter, the Pacers trailed 33-11. The bench guys, while slightly more productive than the starters, mustered only 8 points in 6 minutes while allowing the Hawks to put another 16 on the board.

It was the saddest quarter in what has been the saddest month for a franchise that may be in the midst of its saddest season in a long, long time.

This was the only response I could come up with.

For the second quarter, Vogel went back to his starters. His message was sent, and though his team was now in a (likely) insurmountable, 22-point hole, he wanted to see if his players were — finally — ready to play.

They were decidedly not ready.

After putting up 11 points in the first quarter, Indiana would manage just 12 in the second. The combined 23 points now stand as the lowest-scoring half in Pacers’ history. Atlanta led 55-23.

These are the darkest days. Of all the terrible play, all the lackluster performances, all the bickering to the press, nothing quite puts an exclamation point on The Struggle like coming out in front of a sellout crowd and playing the worst half in franchise history.

I really would have loved to hear what was said during halftime. Did they all sit there in silence? Did Vogel yell and throw stuff? Did they all just pull out their phones and check their email as if waiting for a bus?

Regardless, when they came back to the court for the second half, someone was missing. Roy Hibbert remained in the locker room for more than a minute of game action in the third quarter, Ian Mahinmi starting the half in his place.

Hibbert would join the bench in short order, but he would never enter the game. He simply sat in his chair, never looking engaged with his teammates, not engaging in huddles during timeouts or stoppages of play.

His final line would read “9 minutes, 0-for-5 shooting, 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 turnover.”

After the game, Vogel said that Hibbert was held out of the game because he is “worn down.” He mentioned that all of his starters looked “worn down.” Yet those four remained in a clearly unwinnable game while Roy sat, looking incredibly pissed off.

Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan explores the explanation.

"Yes, they had to spend an extra night in a Toronto hotel because a baggage cart damaged their luxury charter jet after the loss Friday night. Yes, they had a long travel day Saturday.That just made for a tired excuse.“Our whole starting five looks worn down to me,” Vogel said.Why, then, were three of them on the floor deep into the fourth quarter of a game your team never had anything resembling a chance of winning?“We were trying to win a game,” he said.It was a little late for that.At least Vogel, unlike his players, took some initiative, benching the starting lineup midway through the first quarter after the Hawks bolted to a 17-3 lead. Might’ve been a little late for that, too, but at least it was something.He benched Roy Hibbert for the second half entirely, citing fatigue. But for a coach to single out one of his two All-Stars on a night when the collective effort was just short of comatose screams of a much deeper issue.“I considered resting Roy in tonight’s game because he looks worn down,” Vogel said. “He’s a 7-2 player that’s played every game this year, which is very rare. He looks to me to be worn down. He’s giving good effort but he looks to me to be worn down.”For those scoring at home, that’s three uses of “worn down” in four sentences."

Conrad isn’t alone in calling BS on the rationale behind the benching.

Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, who wrote a column asking (legitimately) if Vogel’s job is safe, said basically the same thing.

"Vogel then did another un-Vogel-like thing to start the second half: He benched Roy Hibbert. Hallelujah, again. Hibbert was terrible, going 0-for-5 without a single rebound in 9 ½ minutes.After the game, Vogel spun it by saying that he was thinking about resting Hibbert before the start of Sunday night’s game. Then, after watching Hibbert struggle – and watching somebody named Pero Antic light him up from the perimeter – Vogel pulled the plug.Key word there being spun."

I won’t bother the re-spout my thoughts on the matter, but here was my series of tweets last night as Vogel’s quotes started to come out after the game.

Look, I don’t know if Vogel is spinning a decision he made for one reason into something else for his own sake, or if he is trying to protect the historically fragile Hibbert from taking outright criticism, or if he is simply following his own advice not to share “in-house” issues with the media.

His motivation could be any of those things or something else.

But while sitting on the bench, Hibbert certainly didn’t look like a guy who was happy to have a day off. And after the game, he refused to talk to the media, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star.

"“My choice,” Hibbert said, taking ownership for not speaking to the media after the game. Hibbert then mentioned the team’s director of media relations.“You could tell (David) Benner that. I’ll take the fine.”And, poof. He was gone. Hibbert left the locker room with his first game without recording a point or a rebound since March 31, 2009, against Charlotte, his rookie season."

There are also a few other things of note here:

(1) As Brunner mentions the team did have an abnormal travel day on Saturday
(2) Vogel said after the game that he considered not even playing Hibbert at all against Atlanta
(3) David West and Paul George are telling the same story about rest and about Atlanta’s Per Antic being a tough matchup for Roy (see link in #2)
(4) Hibbert’s minutes were limited early in the year against Atlanta as Antic torched the Pacers
(5) Vogel has previously joked around about the brutal March schedule and how it has worn down the team
(6) Vogel canceled practice today to give his team rest


There’s a bullet list of total fairness for ya.

But the rest of the evidence and several people following the team point to the notion that Vogel is just spinning yarns here. A coach benched all his starters for bad play then later benched just one of them because he was “worn down” but he didn’t bench the others who were “worn down” because he thought they could come back and win down 30?

OK, buddy.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter. The coach and the team and the individual players can all believe whatever story they want to believe.

All that matters is fixing this.

For some reason, Vogel used benching people as a method to help fix this last night. We may never know why exactly he decided to bench people, but by the time this season is either deemed repaired or irrevocably broken, we will have some better idea as to whether this choice helped or hurt the mending process.