Roy Hibbert Isn't Dwight Howard, but He Is an Elite Center

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Roy Hibbert Isn't Dwight Howard, but He Is an Elite Center
Harry How/Getty Images

Stan Van Gundy is right: Roy Hibbert is no Dwight Howard.

Hibbert is not a freakish athlete, far from a walking highlight reel. 

And it's not just the eye test working against him. Statistics say he's a mediocre center with an oversized contract. 

He made more than $13 million this season and could rake in close to $45 million over the next three years if he exercises a player option for 2015-16.

Look at his regular-season stats and you start dreaming of the ways you'll be spending the reward money from that grand larceny warrant that has to exist: 11.9 points (44.8 field-goal percentage), 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Indiana's highest-paid player was its fourth-best scorer and fifth-best shooter from the field.

But those aren't the numbers that matter. Those aren't the ones that have the 7'2" center looking like a bargain.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Hibbert has been an entirely different player in the postseason, partly due to the fact that his coach, Frank Vogel, has drastically increased his exposure.

Hibbert is logging 39.5 minutes a night against Miami, a steep increase from the 28.7 he saw during the regular season. He's upped his field-goal attempts from 10.9 per game to 15.0 and made the most of his looks, connecting on 54.7 percent from the field.

When he's efficiently active and engaged, Miami's lack of big bodies underneath has been glaring. If Indiana keeps his serving size up, Hibbert has feasted on his Heat counterparts and brought two victories to his club.

Online Graphing

But even those aren't the most important statistics when it comes to Hibbert. Offensive production only tells so much of the Pacers' story, after all.

Other teams have challenged their throne, but it's almost impossible not to call the Pacers the best defense in the NBA. During the regular season, they allowed the second-fewest points in the league (90.7 per game) and held opponents to the lowest field-goal percentage (42.0).

Miami can tell you all about Indiana's suffocating defensive grasp. The Pacers turned the league's most efficient offense (49.6 regular-season field-goal percentage, 48.6 in the postseason) into volume scorers in Indiana's 99-92 Game 4 win, holding the Heat to a woeful 38.9 success rate from the floor.

That kind of team success doesn't come from a single player, but Hibbert's value to the Pacers can't be understated. When he's been on the floor this postseason, Indiana has poured in 108.7 points per 100 possessions while holding opponents to just 95.0. When he's been sidelined, Indiana's offensive rating has dipped to 102.5 while its opponents' has skyrocketed to 108.3, via Basketball-Reference.com.

Miami might have the Eastern Conference Finals lead, but Indiana's done everything it's needed to do defensively in this series. The Heat can't get anything going near the basket (43.6 points in the paint per game), so they're forced to settle for either threes that aren't falling (34.7 percent) or inefficient looks from midrange.

It's not that Miami is lacking for capable slashers; it's just that the paint doesn't look so inviting when a 7'2" behemoth who deadlifts 540 pounds, via Lang Whitaker of NBA.com, is lurking at its center. Hibbert is only averaging 1.2 blocks in this series, but that number can't account for all of the shots that he's changed at the rim or the ones he's deterred from even being attempted.

On the other end of the floor, the big man has bought the Pacers countless second and third chances. He's corralled nearly 20 percent of Indiana's misses when he's on the floor, via NBA.com, and turned them into 13.0 second-chance points per game.

Hibbert's detractors say that his numbers are inflated by the matchup, that he's far more like the 12/8 guy we saw in the regular season than the 22/11 version we've seen this series.

But Hibbert haters don't know what to make of the number six. Those would be the total number of Heat losses since Feb. 1, three of which have been handed down by Hibbert's Pacers.

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Why does Miami's lack of size seem so much more damaging against Indiana than it does against the rest of the league?

And who cares if Hibbert's numbers are inflated by the competition in the first place? Wouldn't most teams want an unstoppable force on their side when squaring off with the defending champs?

While the casual fans are still trying to make sense of his true talents, and while Van Gundy (and others) has been harping on those pedestrian regular-season stats, the Pacers (correctly) tabbed Hibbert as an elite center long ago.

Whether you agree with the financial commitment or not, you can't deny the facts. Only three teams are still standing at this point of the season, and Hibbert's Pacers are a part of that exclusive trio.

 

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