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:
"I have confidence in Roy Hibbert. He hasn't played well in this series to this point. But I do have great confidence in Roy." - Vogel— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) April 25, 2014
Vogel on Hibbert: "We’re not going to quit on him. We’ll keep working with him. We’ll keep trying to figure it out."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) April 25, 2014
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:
Vogel said "probably" he'd start Roy Hibbert in Game 4— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 25, 2014
Vogel goes from "we'll see" to "probably" when asked of Hibbert continues to start— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNFL) April 25, 2014
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:
Roy Hibbert Postseason 2012-13 2013-14 PPG 17.0 6.0 RPG 9.9 4.7 BPG 1.9 0.0 FG% 51.1 28.0— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) April 25, 2014
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).
Props to a 7’2”, 290-pound Roy Hibbert grabbing 0 rebounds for the #Pacers in that first half.— Dan Favale (@danfavale) April 25, 2014
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.
Does Hibbert actually think he'll break out of his slump by shooting 22-footers?— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) April 25, 2014
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.
Should Coach Vogel bench Roy Hibbert moving forward?
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.