Roy Hibbert's Decline Is the Indiana Pacers' Biggest Problem

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Roy Hibbert's Decline Is the Indiana Pacers' Biggest Problem
AJ MAST

Roy Hibbert has yet to come across a comment he wouldn't make about the problems his Indiana Pacers are encountering. Except, of course, for the actual source of the team's struggles—the big man himself.

The two-time All-Star predictably wants none of that heat.

Instead of elaborating on the reasons behind his wild statistical swings (10 games with 20-plus points, 14 with five or fewer), he'd rather leave tire tracks on the backs of his teammates.

Why are the Pacers trapped in an offensive skid that's seen them fail to shoot better than 38 percent in any of their last six games and only once crack the 80-point mark during that stretch? Don't blame the big man, Hibbert said, via NBA.com's David Aldridge:

Some selfish dudes in here. Some selfish dudes. I'm tired of talking about it. We've been talking about it for a month.

...I'm really trying hard not to spaz out right now, but I don't know. We've been talking about it for a month. I'm not handling the rock. I don't know. I've made suggestions before and we do it for, like, one game, and then we revert back to what we are. I don't know. I'm not the one to answer that question. It directly affects me and the bigs. We're just out there and it makes us look bad.

The Pacers have a massive front line and a size advantage that's worth exploiting. What Hibbert isn't mentioning, though, is the fact that Indiana has tried to get its All-Star going on the offensive end.

There's nothing in his comments about how his usage percentage (19.3) is almost identical to Lance Stephenson's (19.6) and just a stone's throw shy of David West's (21.9). Or how he's getting the fourth-most shots on the team (9.4 per game). Or that Hibbert's player efficiency rating (14.3) falls short of the league average mark of 15.0, while the three players taking more shots grade out above par (Stephenson, 15.1, West, 17.1, and Paul George, 20.1).

Are the Pacers really wasting Hibbert's talents, or might there just be better offensive mouths to feed than a 7'2" post player with a 45.4 field-goal percentage?

Hibbert would lead us to believe it's the latter.

That he's the offensive machine Pacers fans see when the Miami Heat are on the schedule (17.0 points in three games against the two-time defending champs), and not the one whose season stat line bears a striking resemblance to—wait for it—former draft flop Kwame Brown. That his .514 true-shooting percentage (40th among NBA centers, between the Orlando Magic's Kyle O'Quinn and Robert Sacre of the Los Angeles Lakers, via Basketball-Reference.com) isn't as bad as it sounds.

That it's OK for him to drop the selfish label on others, even while he's hoisting contested mid-range jumpers early in the shot clock (h/t Jared Wade of 8points9seconds.com).

Hibbert points fingers like he's simply run out of other hobbies. I suppose that's more enjoyable than a harrowing moment of self-reflection:

With his size and skill, nothing short of a Windex scarcity could explain his dramatic decline as a glass cleaner. Hobbled Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez gets skewered for his rebounding woes (career 7.3 per game), and that's while he's putting up 18 points on 51.1 percent shooting.

Hibbert has never been that kind of scorer, and no one's asking him to be one now. But for a team that crashed the NBA's elite ranks on the strengths of its defensive tenacity and tight-knit chemistry, the center seems to be tearing apart what made (yes, past tense) this team special.

That defense has gone from being historically great to simply good (101.5 points allowed per 100 possessions since March 1, sixth in the NBA). Coupled with the league's second-worst offense over that stretch (96.5 points per 100 possessions), good is clearly not good enough.

The Pacers suffered just five losses in their first 30 games. They've dropped another five in just their last six outings.

"We've been in a downward spiral," Hibbert said, via ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. "And we've been splintering a little bit."

Jim Cowsert

Splintering a bit, huh? Who would have ever thought those aforementioned "selfish dudes" wouldn't be thrilled at being publicly labeled as such?

"Maybe Hibbert should work on shooting more than 42.6 percent or averaging more than 4.5 rebounds per game for the whole month of March before he starts publicly calling out his teammates," Wade wrote (via ESPN.com).

Something cost the Pacers their spark. An us-against-the-world mentality shattered to the point that the only bond between these players seems to be their uniforms.

Whatever coach Frank Vogel is doing to right the ship clearly isn't working. But this is a point at which players have to come together, not grow apart.

Hibbert throwing verbal jabs through the media solves nothing, particularly when they hit with more force than anything he's brought to the hardwood of late. It's too early to wave the white flags, but caution sirens should be sounding throughout the Circle City.

Pacers team president Larry Bird tried to stop this fracture before it started. Little did he know he was only foreshadowing the demise of his shrinking Eastern Conference giant.

"One thing I'd be nervous about is pointing fingers,'' Bird said near the start of this skid in early March, via Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star. "'Well, so-and-so isn't doing this or that.' I haven't seen that, yet, but that's a sure sign you've got a problem."

The key word was "yet." We're seeing it now.

 

Hibbert's right in part of his team assessment—there are problems that need to be fixed.

Indiana can't survive with a punch-less offense. The ball can't continue to stick on the wings as it has been. The Pacers don't have the individual creators to make up for a 15.8 assist ratio that trails all but two teams in the NBA.

But Hibbert can't let those offensive struggles affect the other aspects of his game.

He's calling for changes to be made, yet simply getting back to his roots as an interior defensive force could do wonders for this team. With a defensive rating (105) 10 points higher than his pre-All-Star-break mark (95), that obviously isn't happening at the moment.

Although, you'd never hear Hibbert admit to that. Not when he sees so many potential playing partners for the blame game.

If the big man doesn't, well, man up, Indiana's championship ride will be over before it ever even started.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

 

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