Should Indiana Pacers Bring Roy Hibbert off the Bench?

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Should Indiana Pacers Bring Roy Hibbert off the Bench?
AJ MAST

From the supersized frame (7'2", 290 pounds) to the massive paycheck ($14.2 million this season, via ShamSports.com) to the accolades (two All-Star selections in three seasons), Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert looks like a difference-making big man.

At times, he's played that role with Academy Award-winning precision.

Lately, though, he's been more of an extra. Not the type that blends into the background, but rather the one ruining scenes with ambitions of the spotlight but not the confidence needed for such a prominent position.

Hibbert looks lost—worlds removed from the point of no return:

Pacers coach Frank Vogel has tried everything to get his big man back on track.

Rest didn't work.

After logging nearly 32 minutes in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on April 4, he saw just over nine minutes of action two days later and sat out the following game along with the rest of Indy's starters. He played nearly 34 minutes against the Miami Heat last Friday, notching just five points and a single rebound during his run:

Force-feeding him hasn't worked, either.

Despite pinning some of Indiana's offensive struggles on the "selfish dudes" around him, via NBA.com's David Aldridge, he's still played an active role on that end of the floor. Getting touches hasn't been the issue. It's been his inability to do anything productive with those opportunities.

Since the All-Star break, Hibbert is shooting just 39.7 percent from the field. Again, this 7'2" mountain of a man has converted fewer than 40 percent of his field goals over his last 28 games.

If you're searching for clues as to why Indiana ranks 29th in offensive efficiency since the break (99.8 points per 100 possessions), look no further than the man in the middle.

Point production has never been his strongest suit (he averages 11.2 a night for his career), but it's also not the only problem area he's encountered. Once he stopped filling that column, the rest of his stat sheet came to a screeching halt.

Diminishing Returns: Roy Hibbert's Sinking Stats
Month MPG PPG FG% RPG Off Rtg Def Rtg
February 30.4 9.8 46.3 7.1 97 98
March 29.4 9.7 42.2 4.6 94 106
April 26.2 5.6 25.0 2.4 64 113

Basketball-Reference

Hibbert has played 131 minutes in the month of April and grabbed a total of 12 rebounds:

"He’s a 7-foot-2 center who has come up about 4-foot-11 of late," NBA.com's Steve Aschburner wrote.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, as they say. Even with the No. 1 seed in hand, that's precisely what the Pacers (9-13 in their last 22 games) are experiencing.

It's time for Vogel to start thinking outside the box. In other words, it's time to get the All-Star big man out of his starting lineup.

Hibbert's floor time since the break has resulted in a net loss of 3.4 points per 100 possessions. While that statistic can be impacted by the players around him, it hasn't hit fellow starters Paul George (minus-1.3), George Hill (minus-1.2), Lance Stephenson (minus-0.4) or David West (plus-1.9) nearly as hard.

Indiana's net rating over that stretch has been better when the big man sits (minus-1.9). That hasn't been the case with any of the other four starters.

USA TODAY Sports

"Somebody else, anybody else, should be starting at center," Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan wrote. "Not just for the final two regular-season games – for however long the playoffs last."

Reserve center Ian Mahinmi would be the most logical candidate to take Hibbert's spot.

The 27-year-old is a 6'11", 230-pound ball of energy, some of it good (career 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes), some not so much (6.0 fouls per 36 minutes this season). He's raw offensively, but he stays in his lane (48.1 field-goal percentage).

At the very least, his motor will never be a problem:

And it's energy that seems to be driving Hibbert's struggles. He doesn't look gassed so much as he does disgruntled. He still doesn't sound satisfied with his role in this offense.

"Being a big guy is hard," he said, via Scott Agness of Pacers.com. "You don’t bring the ball up, you have to either get the ball off the rebound, offensive boards or somebody has to pass it to you."

There are a number of post players who might share that sentiment, but not all of them allow it to impact their effectiveness in other aspects of the game. If Hibbert doesn't think that's what is happening, the numbers would disagree.

Vogel could get creative here, too. He doesn't simply need to plug-and-play the player that most resembles Hibbert.

Luis Scola could slide in alongside West to give Indiana more scoring punch up front. Lavoy Allen even has more of an offensive game than Mahinmi and more of a defensive slant than Scola.

But if the Pacers really want to spice things up, maybe they could unleash a potentially explosive small-ball attack with West moving over to the 5 and Chris Copeland getting the nod as a stretch 4. With Indiana running more of a perimeter-focused offense around George and Stephenson, having a shooter like Copeland (41.2 three-point percentage) would give the wings more room to operate.

There would be some defensive drawbacks in making such a moveHibbert remains an intimidating presence when he's engaged—but having the best defense in the league can't save an anemic offense.

What starting frontcourt combo should Frank Vogel use for the playoffs?

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Something needs to change. Something more dramatic than the fruitless moves Vogel has made to this point.

Maybe a demotion to the second team would be the wake-up call Hibbert desperately needs. Maybe it would shatter his confidence beyond repair.

The Pacers probably can't win a title without him, but they won't raise any banners with this version, either. Nothing about his recent play suggests that the start of postseason play will be the jump-start he needs to get back on track.

At his All-Star form, Hibbert could help carry the Pacers down the path to the podium. Making a move like this isn't going away from that player—it's tossing him a life preserver and desperately trying to bring him back.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of April 14, 2014.

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