Present circumstances have demanded someone in Indiana be held responsible for the squad's untimely struggles. Just a few months ago, the Pacers were runaway favorites to finish atop the Eastern Conference. Not even the reigning champion Miami Heat would catch them.
One 3-8 stretch later, it's the Pacers who are now trailing the Heat by one game with only four remaining, watching everything they worked tirelessly for, everything they once had, unravel with alarming celerity.
Most of the blame has fallen upon the outspoken and colorful Hibbert, who, like so many other Indiana players, has underperformed of late. His struggles came full circle Sunday, when, as Pacers.com's Scott Agness pointed out, he was benched in the second half of the team's 107-88 letdown against the Atlanta Hawks:
Like any disaster, there is more than one factor at play in Indiana. But since calling out his teammates immediately following a March 28 loss to the Washington Wizards, Hibbert has been thrust to the forefront Indy's downturn.
Despondent honesty, coupled with an individual breakdown, certainly leaves Hibbert susceptible and deserving of criticism being hurled his way. But is he actually the most potent agent of the Pacers' disease, or is he merely a symptom of a team-wide epidemic, being blamed out of sheer convenience and need for a scapegoat?
Roy In Ruin
Hibbert is nothing if not a catalyst of the Pacers' status plunge.
Despite earning his second career All-Star selection, he's struggled all season to distance himself from the one-dimensional label placed upon him years ago. The Hibbert from last spring's playoff berth is nowhere to be found, replaced instead by a bumbling offensive liability who has drawn comparisons to Kwame Brown:
Taken out of context, those numbers are misleading. There are plenty of other things to consider, many of which Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan previously pointed out. The fact that such a comparison can exist, though, is what's truly daunting.
There's also nothing misleading about Hibbert's performance over the last 11 games. He's averaging just 10.2 points and 3.8 rebounds on 37.9 percent shooting, numbers that are even worse than his already unimpressive season averages.
|Roy Hibbert: Form|
|PTS||FG%||REBS||BLKS||Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.|
|Last 11 Games||10.2||37.9||3.8||1.4||92.4||101.3|
Primarily valued for his defense, Hibbert has been less of a protective force. And when he cannot help the Pacers maintain their place within the defensive pecking order, he's virtually worthless.
Even his offense has suffered, which is saying something. Historically, he's an inconsistent scorer with a clumsy touch around the basket, but he's not this bad.
Airing out his team's dirty laundry has only increased personal culpability. Mentions of group therapy sessions, per Agness, aren't so much acts of transparency as they are negligence:
Remaining frustrated is one thing. Publicly displacing blame and doubting one's own team is another issue entirely.
Fans and pundits are feverishly searching for some explanation, any explanation, as to why the Pacers are playing inelegant brands of basketball. Time and time again, off and on the court, Hibbert has given them one—himself.
Strings of Symptoms
For all Hibbert has done—or rather, hasn't done—he's not the only problem in Indiana.
Issues abound for the Pacers, who find themselves in a position of weakness after getting out to a 33-7 start. Once locks to waltz into the Eastern Conference Finals, there are now serious doubts as to whether they can even make it out of the second round.
Not sharing the ball on offense and substandard Pacers defense have led to their problems. Some of that can be attributed to the long grind of an 82-game season. Combine that with the fact that the Pacers have placed a lot of pressure on themselves to gain home-court advantage and that being the favorite is new to them. It's possible the Pacers went too hard, too fast, forgetting that slow and steady sometimes wins the race. Throw in the trade deadline move which sent Danny Granger out and brought Evan Turner in, and all the makings of a breakdown are there.
In their last 11 games, the Pacers have been awful. Not only has their offense been a stagnant mess of isolations and shot-clock-sapping sets, but their defense hasn't been nearly as consistent as it needs to be.
Below is a look at where the Pacers stand over the last 11 games compared to beforehand:
|When||Off. Rtg.||Off. Rank||Def. Rtg.||Def. Rank||ASTRatio||AST Rank|
|First 67 Games||102.6||20||95.5||1||16.0||22|
|Last 11 Games||92.4||30||101.6||4||14.8||28|
Lack of ball movement and any offensive identity has destroyed this team. The Pacers were middling at best on that end of the floor to begin with. Now they're an absolute eyesore.
Is that on Hibbert? Has he even made them worse when he's on the floor?
The numbers over the last 11 games say no:
|Hibbert: One of Many Issues|
|Off. Rtg.||Def. Rtg.||ASTRatio||eFG%||TS%|
Indiana's offense isn't any better with Hibbert off the floor. If he himself were the driving force behind the team's sudden demise, the Pacers would be better off without him. But their defense is actually still better with him, and there's not enough drop-off in shooting efficiency and assists handed out per 100 possessions to conclude he's their ultimate deterrent.
Accusing Hibbert of destroying their chemistry is to overlook everything everyone else has done. Or, again, hasn't done.
None of the Pacers' five starters are shooting better than 44.3 percent from the floor (Lance Stephenson) over the last 11 games. The Pacers as a team are connecting on only 40 percent of their shots. Their offense, from top to bottom, is in complete and utter shambles, a product of increased selfishness and conflicting agendas.
The Pacers were once united in their open quest for first place. Other things are at play now, most notably, as Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher explained, the contract battle Stephenson and Evan Turner are staging.
Any time a common goal is compartmentalized by the emergence of additional storylines, teams have a problem.
Right now, the disjointed Pacers have a big problem.
Big Fish in a Little, Poisoned Pond
No one player is responsible for the Pacers' implosion.
Before looking at Hibbert's play, demeanor and condescending comments, look at Stephenson and Turner, who are playing for their next contract just as much—if not more—as they are for a title this season.
Look at Paul George, who is shooting 34.6 percent overall through the last 11 games, and 32.3 percent from deep.
Look to an underachieving bench playing so poorly, so often that Ian Mahinmi has been the Pacers' most valuable reserve during their 3-8 stretch.
Look to everyone, not just Hibbert. He is neither innocent nor completely guilty. To be honest, he's been a huge problem. From his horrible offense to a complete lack of constructive leadership, he's been atrocious.
Against the Hawks, he, per Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star, left team huddles:
Before the final buzzer could even sound, our own Ethan Skolnick says he vacated the bench:
That can't happen. It doesn't matter why he was benched, be it exhaustion, sheer apathy or some combination of both.
Hibbert is a key member of the Pacers' championship quest. He's a leader. At least, he's supposed to be. It's time he starts acting and playing like one.
But that doesn't make him the cause of all Indiana's problems. Hibbert is but one symptom of a potentially playoff-crippling, dream-crushing condition.
"I got nothing to say," Hibbert muttered after the loss to Atlanta, via Buckner.
Of course he doesn't. Words cannot adequately describe how maladjusted the Pacers are now.
All they do is shift attention to the embattled and feckless Hibbert, who, for all his flaws, has become nothing more than a glorified scapegoat for a developing disaster far bigger than any one person.