Roy Hibbert's role as rim protector is priceless for the Indiana Pacers.
The team is currently on a two-game slide and has lost four of its last five.
But this doesn't necessarily mean it won't do well in the postseason.
No matter how good or bad any NBA team is faring in the final stretch of the regular season, it has certain hidden advantages which it can put to good use when it matters the most—the playoffs. The Indiana Pacers are no exception.
For the purposes of this article, "hidden advantages" refer to under-the-radar facts which, in spite of their hidden nature, will play a crucial role in the Pacers' playoff push.
In other words, these are the intangibles which the casual fan may not think about right off the bat.
Take Roy Hibbert's rim protection, for example. But more on that in a moment.
The challenge for these Indiana Pacers is to consistently pounce on their strengths (one of which is defense, in which they rank second in the NBA, allowing only 90.5 points per game through April 15 as per ESPN), exploit their opponents' weaknesses and put these hidden advantages to good use.
If they do all of these, they should make some serious noise in the NBA playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers' success in the playoffs rests largely on Roy Hibbert's play down low.
Roy Hibbert ranks fourth in the NBA in blocked shots, averaging 2.6 per game.
In addition to swatting away two to three shots every game, Big Roy also owns the distinction of being a bona fide rim protector who can alter 20 or so shots when his defensive game is on.
An example of this was after the Indiana Pacers' convincing 100-91 road victory against the Houston Rockets on March 27 in which Hibbert tallied 28 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Coach Frank Vogel had this to say:
Roy Hibbert's rim protection was off the charts. He was only listed for three blocks, but he changed about 20 other plays that came to the rim. They weren't even shooting it once they got there and were just thinking pass.
On this note, even though NBA Senior Writer Steve Aschburner's February 6 prediction of the Pacers becoming the East's second seed didn't materialize (they locked up the third seed with the Brooklyn Nets' loss to the Toronto Raptors on April 14), he still attributes part of Indiana's success to Hibbert's role as rim protector.
Hibbert's blocked shots average has increased from 1.1 in his rookie year in 2008-09 to the current 2.6 blocks per game. Although altered shots are not officially part of the NBA statistical database, you can imagine the number piling up as Big Roy continues to step up on the defensive end.
Another interesting fact: in terms of NBA playoff statistics, Hibbert averaged 1.8 blocks per game in the Pacers' first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls in 2010-11. This went all the way up to 3.1 blocks per game in the 2011-12 playoffs, with Indiana making it to the second round only to be thwarted by LeBron and company.
Clearly, if the Pacers are to progress in the postseason, Hibbert must not only block shots on the defensive end. He must also play the role of rim protector to the hilt, altering and disrupting whatever shot comes his way.
Paul George can bring it on the offensive end, although it's his excellent defense which makes him a great all-around player.
Fans around the NBA have taken notice of Paul George and his high-wire act in the 2012-13 NBA season.
He is averaging 17.4 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 4.1 assists per game through April 15.
However, George isn't a one-dimensional player. He is also a stud on defense.
In fact, he leads the team with a 1.81 steals per game average. It's not just about him getting lucky—being at the right place at the right time when a bad pass comes his way.
Need help covering someone down low? Expect George to swoop in and try to swat that opposing shot away.
Combine his athletic prowess with his gangly arms and excellent anticipation skills and you get a player who is perhaps the most versatile the Indiana Pacers have had in recent memory.
Consider the following:
- George helped limit Carmelo Anthony to 15 points on 7-of-21 shooting in the Pacers' 125-91 blowout victory over the New York Knicks on February 20.
- He had three steals and two blocks to cap off a 34-point and 9-rebound performance while limiting Bulls counterpart Luol Deng to 33 percent shooting in Indiana's 80-76 road victory at the United Center on December 4.
- Rudy Gay, when he was still with the Memphis Grizzlies, had to endure a combined 10-of-39 shooting for a paltry 26 percent shooting clip matched up against George in the two games Memphis lost to Indiana this season.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as to how Paul George can stymie his man defensively.
Of course, he still has work to do. For instance, LeBron James has never shot below 50 percent against the Pacers this season, averaging 21 points per game in three outings against Indiana. In last year's playoffs he averaged 30 points per game in their second round conquest of the Pacers.
For Paul George to take his game to the next level and for the Pacers to make some headway, he has to tighten the screws defensively in this year's postseason.
Third-year man Lance Stephenson is a bundle of energy on the court for the Indiana Pacers.
Inserting Lance Stephenson into the starting lineup was a huge gamble for the Indiana Pacers.
Without leading scorer Danny Granger for all but five games of the 2012-13 regular season, the team needed somebody to step up and provide a much-needed spark.
His insertion into the starting unit was a gamble because Stephenson was largely an unproven commodity coming into this season, averaging only a measly 2.6 points per game prior to 2012-13.
No knock on Granger, who is the epitome of loyalty and the franchise's cornerstone for the past several years, but his injury opened the door for Stephenson to shine.
His numbers aren't jaw-dropping: 8.8 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game on 46 percent shooting. However, it's his energy and enthusiasm for the game that are the hidden keys the Indiana Pacers will rely on come playoff time.
Pacers playing sluggishly on the offensive end? Look for Lance to start a fast break from the other end to get his team going.
A teammate makes a big play? Count on Lance to chest bump every Pacer in sight to perk everybody up.
Indiana is making a big rally in the end game and Lance is on the bench? Pretty sure he's either waving his towel or waving his arms up to pump up the home crowd.
At 22 years of age and still very much an inexperienced player, Stephenson has the tendency to make questionable decisions. One proof of this was when he was yanked by coach Frank Vogel in the waning moments of their 114-82 home drubbing of Detroit on February 22 when Stephenson made a behind-the-back pass which was stolen.
If Stephenson keeps his head in the game, look for his energy to be a precious hidden advantage for these Indiana Pacers.
Although Roy Hibbert and the Pacers are 49-31 and are shoo-ins for the third seed in the East, not everything has been rosy this season.
As mentioned previously, the Indiana Pacers are limping towards the postseason, having lost two straight and four-of-five overall.
Other noteworthy bumps on the road this season:
a. Roy Hibbert's early season slump
c. Issue of low home-fan and high opposing-fan attendance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, most notably Chicago Bulls fans as explained in this Twitter rant from Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard.
f. A thin bench which ranks 29th in terms of productivity.
It's no secret that whenever adversity hits you have two choices: you either let it make you or break you.
If the Indiana Pacers want to make inroads in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, they have to make a conscious effort to go for the former.
Adversity can either be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on how you see it.
Let's hope the Pacers consider it an advantage that they can use to turn things around and shock the naysayers come playoff time.