Roy Hibbert, your chariot awaits.
So could you just get on it already? The fate of the Indiana Pacers depends on it.
No seriously, it does.
The immediate hopes of the entire Indiana franchise—a team that was considered by many fit to contend for a title—now rest upon the shoulders of a 7'2", 255-pound center.
Why? Because extenuating circumstances have demanded as such.
What about Danny Granger, who has been the face of the Pacers for nearly seven years? He'd seem like the logical choice to lead Indiana's current cause, wouldn't he?
That would be correct, yet as per the Indiana organization itself, Granger's left knee continues to prevent him from playing and there is no set timetable for his return.
Forward @dgranger33 has continued soreness in his left knee and will be out indefinitely.— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) October 30, 2012
What about Paul George, though? Surely he can be the one to carry the Pacers to the promise land.
Well, one day he will, but at 22 and with just two years of professional experience under his belt, he's nowhere near ready to handle such a task, prepared to shoulder such responsibility.
Which leaves Hibbert, whose 2011-12 accolades earned him a max contract over the summer. He is now the one who must lead this team; he is now the most important piece to this fundamentally complex puzzle.
Not Granger and not George.
Even if—and when—Granger is healthy, this has to be Hibbert's team. Not only is the small forward on the cusp of 30, but the Pacers put themselves on the map last season because of their top-10 ranked defense, not their 25th-ranked offense.
Does this diminish the importance of Granger? Not at all, but the numbers don't lie and the forward isn't exactly what you can consider durable anymore either.
Let's also not forget that Indiana has not lived-and-died by Granger's performance since last year. During the playoffs, he all but disappeared, shooting a horrid 39.7 percent from the field on his way to a misleading 17 points per game. He also coughed the ball up nearly three times a night as well.
And yet the Pacers made it all the way through to the second-round, at one point seemingly appearing as if they were prepared to overthrow the Heat. They rallied behind the staunch defense of Hibbert, riding him to a 2-1 series lead during the semifinals.
No, Hibbert's stat lines didn't appear overwhelming, but his 11.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game set the tone for Indiana's defense, which propelled the team to more than 15 minutes of fame.
Then Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals rolled around. The Heat and Pacers were knotted up at two games apiece and there was still plenty of hope that Indiana could overtake the reigning conference champions.
But Hibbert disappeared. He shot 3-of-10 from the field, still managed to grab 12 rebounds, but couldn't protect the rim aggressively to save his life. Hibbert committed just one foul and blocked just one shot that game, a tell-tale sign of an underwhelming interior performance.
Simply put, he crumbled. And so did the Pacers, who went on to get blown out in that game and shortly after, lose the series.
Why is this important?
Because it signified a shift in tides. Granger had played bad for most of the postseason, but Indiana managed to keep its head above water. The minute Hibbert faded, though, the Pacers wilted underneath the pressure of performing without their defensive pillar in top form.
The same has held true early on during the 2012-13 campaign. Hibbert is currently averaging just 8.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest, posting a paltry PER of 9.70. Subsequently, the Pacers have incurred a loss at the hands of the lowly Charlotte Bobcats and couldn't even begin to keep pace with the San Antonio Spurs.
Is this a coincidence? Most definitely not. As Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star and Indiana head coach Frank Vogel noted after the team's loss to the Spurs, the Pacers won't go very far if Hibbert isn't playing up to snub:
Center Roy Hibbert, the $58-million player, missed his first six shots and didn't score until midway through the third quarter. He finished with two points in 27 minutes.
"Any time one of your go-to guys has an off night, you're going to struggle," Vogel said.
It should come as no surprise then that Indiana is currently struggling. Not because Granger is nowhere to be found, but because Hibbert is nowhere to be found.
And he's actually on the court.
There's a reason that the Pacers ponied up some serious cash to Hibbert, and it extends well beyond the notion that competent big men are hard to find.
Did the Portland Trail Blazers force their hand? To an extent yes. But this team was always going to match any offer thrown his way, because they needed him. They knew the time was coming—or already had passed—when the team's success was predicated on Hibbert performing at an All-Star level.
So, here we are watching Hibbert struggle to develop his low-post game, watching him average a career-high in minutes, but career-low in field-goal percentage.
Here we are watching Indiana struggle to find an identity, because Hibbert is struggling to find his.
Here we are watching as the Pacers season is unfolding in the hands of a 25-year-old behemoth who was supposed to carry the team to prominence.
And carry them he will—though to where, we do not know.
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