Indiana's Struggles Illuminate the Complicated Nature of a Size Advantage
We've reached a point in our collective basketball analysis where successful big men are thought to cure all ills. The efficient post player supposedly rights entire offenses. The solid shot-blocker is apparently capable of cleaning up every mistake. The productive player (who just so happens to be seven-feet tall) is a magic bullet for any matchup problem, lag in performance or injury that may come along.
Big men are simply the NBA's holy grail, and with their drop steps and baby hooks comes the finest in illusory stability.
The Indiana Pacers have a great theoretical advantage over the Miami Heat in center Roy Hibbert, but by reducing our estimations of Hibbert's impact to a mere assessment of the matchup between him and Heat centers Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, we've functionally gone about analyzing an entire offense while ignoring most of its moving parts. Having a seven-footer capable of scoring from the low block is a tremendous gift in a league bereft of such players, but without the correspondingly strong guard play, spacing and offensive structure, that valuable commodity is drowned in a sea of swarming defenders.
The Miami Heat are simply too good of a defensive team to sit idly by as they're taken advantage of, which is why we've only seen Hibbert dominate intermittently over the course of this series. Hibbert gives the Pacers an intuitive means of creating offense, but if Indiana doesn't act quickly and confidently in both the prelude and immediate aftermath of establishing Hibbert in the post, they risk seeing their offense picked apart by a Heat team trained well to manage its most glaring weaknesses.
That weakness still stands, but by striking at the support structure around their opponent's perceived strength, Miami has given itself a chance to disrupt the Pacers' entire offense. Hibbert can't get the ball on the low block without his teammates making well-timed post entry passes; thus, the Heat took to blitz every Pacer guard in an effort to throw them off of their rhythm, prevent the easy entry and force Indiana into another, less convenient option. It's a strategy that Mike Prada catalogued to great effect in a post over at SB Nation, and one that will undoubtedly form the basis of the Heat's defense in Game 6.
It also emphasizes a woefully misunderstood aspect of competent post play. Contemporary NBA defenses are too fast and too slick to allow a plodding big man to work against them so deliberately, making the various post complements all the more essential to offensive success. After all, a good offense provides the foundation for a functional post scorer—not the other way around.
The Pacers may have a solid offensive concept and a cast of valuable players, but they currently lack the capacity to initiate their offense under duress and make optimal use of their greatest specific advantage. Hibbert still stands towering above all, but even the most glaring mismatches can't be of benefit without the capacity for consistent implementation.
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