The self-assurance and poise of Indiana Pacers starting center Roy Hibbert is at an all-time low. The Atlanta Hawks have taken full advantage of the matchup problems they pose when he’s on the court, but head coach Frank Vogel is “not going to quit on him.”
The man who is reportedly “coaching for his job,” according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, said the following of his skyscraping big man after a 98-85 Game 3 loss:
Hibbert’s struggles in the series thus far are a huge reason for Indiana’s 2-1 deficit to the eighth-seeded Hawks. Nevertheless, it appears Vogel is going to stick with his normal starting five, per the Indianapolis Star’s Candace Buckner and ESPN’s Mike Wells:
Why Vogel would choose to stick with Hibbert at this point is a bit of a mystery. Matchup problems or no, his numbers compared to the 2013 playoffs have been downright abysmal, as ESPN’s John Buccigross pointed out:
He hasn’t blocked a single shot in the series against Atlanta after three games, after averaging 2.2 during the regular season, and his impact on the glass has been completely negligible (averaging 4.7 in the series).
Hibbert even acknowledged his disastrous defensive impact after the Game 1 loss by saying the Pacers would have to examine whether he was “the main culprit in terms of being the weak link on defense because they have a spread-five lineup,” adding, “I guess we’ll have to adjust,” per the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer.
The former Georgetown standout isn’t producing on the defensive end, but his offense has arguably been worse.
He hasn’t been able to get anything going in the paint, as he’s shooting an atrocious 29.4 percent near the rim. His struggles have somehow possessed him to shoot mid-range jump shots—one of which he managed to luckily bank home.
So why stick with the two-time All-Star through a funk that has essentially been evident since January? Frankly, it’s because the Pacers have no alternatives.
Hibbert established himself as a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate at the beginning of the season. He also averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds per game during the 2013 postseason—so he’s had playoff success before.
The Pacers could go with other bigs like Luis Scola or Ian Mahinmi, but that doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Another alternative is moving David West to center and going small with someone like Evan Turner or Chris Copeland, but Indy’s chemistry has been an unbelievable mess of late. That type of jarring change might ultimately do more harm than good.
Hibbert signed a four-year, $58 million contract just two years ago. Indiana matched the max offer sheet handed out by the Portland Trail Blazers because they believed in the center’s potential and didn’t want to lose him for nothing in return. Truthfully, their problems stem from far more than Hibbert alone, because they’ve been a sub-.500 team since the beginning of March.
USA Today’s Bob Kravitz, however, thinks that Vogel deserves to lose his job if he doesn’t bench his sputtering 27-year-old moving forward. “If coach Frank Vogel stays with him, if Vogel continues to start him or play him a significant number of minutes, he deserves to go down with the sinking ship,” he wrote.
The Pacers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because their championship aspirations are tied to Hibbert. Regardless of what happens in their series against ATL, they won’t win a title without their defensive anchor regaining his past confidence.
Can he be fixed? Should Vogel show him tape of his performances against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last year? (When he averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds, by the way.)
Hibbert’s slump has hit epic proportions, but Indy’s best option at this point is to hope for his resurgence. It won’t sniff the Larry O'Brien Trophy otherwise.