He's been so far removed from the action and the type of play that made him an All-Star this season (yes, I know it's hard to believe at this point, but he was actually on the Eastern Conference squad) that he's actively detracted from Indiana's winning efforts.
The team has been left scrambling when it's clear he can't contribute. And before that happens, Indiana is force-feeding him the ball and desperately trying to get him involved before it's too late.
It's not working.
The Pacers are simply running out of options with their 7-footer.
And the Struggles Continue
With the Atlanta Hawks firmly behind him, Hibbert had an opportunity to start over.
Sure, the series against the Wizards was technically part of the same postseason, but at least the faces were fresh and the 0-0 scoreboard allowed fresh hope to spring forth. Too bad it didn't last very long.
Game 1 against Washington was yet another disaster, as Hibbert finished his 18 minutes on the court with zero points (on 0-of-2 shooting), zero rebounds, one assist and two blocks. Amazingly enough, that performance actually caused his player efficiency rating to elevate to a disastrous 2.8, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
And courtesy of many other sources, the jokes weren't going to stop pouring in.
Tracy McGrady, he of so much playoff success, had a laugh at Hibbert's expense:
Faux John Madden created a hilarious Xbox controller for the big man, one that had the rebounding, box-out and block-shot buttons disabled, leaving virtual Hibbert able to miss shots, cheer teammates from the bench, check out his empty box score or move to the bench.
Gilbert Arenas poked fun at the Georgetown product (NSFW language), posting pictures that he would later delete on Instagram. Fortunately, Twitter screenshots have preserved the original messages:
That's a lot for any one player to take, but Hibbert is doing this to himself. After all, he took less than a single season to morph from a legitimate All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate into a complete laughingstock.
Even though he spent only 18 minutes on the court during Game 1 action, the Pacers were outscored by 17 points when he played. He was just embarrassing, unable to make an impact on either end of the floor despite his 7'2" frame and the skills we all know lay dormant within it.
But unfortunately for the Pacers, this just continues the trend:
|Pre All-Star Break||11.8||7.7||2.5||46.4|
|Post All-Star Break||8.9||4.7||1.8||39.0|
|Game 1 of Second Round||0||0||2||0.0|
If you think this feels like an irreversible pattern, I don't blame you.
Even Hibbert's Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks—13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks—rang a bit hollow. He still missed a number of bunnies, racked up easy rebounds after throwing the ball into the rim from directly under it and benefited from the inordinate number of missed shots by the opponent. Oh, and he did all that in 31 minutes.
There just haven't been signs of life, and after another outing filled with futility, it's abundantly clear that the Pacers are running out of options.
Benching is Always a Possibility
Heading into a must-win Game 6, I advocated that the Pacers just go ahead and bench their 7-footer, opting for other options who might be able to make positive contributions.
However, the crux of that argument depended on the Hawks themselves. Their novelty lineup necessitated a more mobile defense, not one with a rim-protecting statue waiting in the paint while the opponent lofted up three-pointer after three-pointer:
Hell, the Pacers' best strategy might be forgetting about playing a true center or a big power forward like Scola, instead shifting David West to the 5 and inserting a smaller player into the lineup.
Unless the team can corral the Hawks' aerial assault, all hope will quickly be swept away from them.
As Dan Favale wrote for Bleacher Report, "He was $58 million of helpless, assuming the role of inflexible bystander not suited for a series demanding versatility and the ability to adapt."
But it's time to adjust that statement.
I agree with the first clause, as Hibbert is most certainly looking helpless while being paid a max contract. He's also not suited for a series demanding versatility. But then again, is he suited for any series?
Does the matchup even matter at this point?
The Wizards don't boast floor-spacing big men like the Hawks do. Sure, Nene and Marcin Gortat can step out into mid-range zones and hit the occasional jumper or put the ball on the floor, but they aren't going to spot up behind the three-point arc.
As bad as Pero Antic was for Atlanta, he at least drew the Indiana defense out of the paint. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Washington bigs have combined to hit six triples...throughout their entire careers...including their previous forays into the postseason.
Hibbert certainly shouldn't play against a versatile team at this point, but the Pacers also need to seriously consider benching him against anyone else for the time being. It's gotten that bad, as the big man can't even grab a rebound to save his life.
However, Frank Vogel has been incredibly hesitant to pull the plug on his 7'2" experiment. So it might be time to think of a few other alternatives.
First is the voluntary benching.
What if Hibbert came into Vogel's office and told his coach that it wasn't in the team's best interest for him to play? That would be akin to admitting defeat, but it would also be a selfless move, designed to be advantageous for the Pacers as a whole.
The big man could flat-out refuse to play, not in a manner that would leave him violating his contract but just in a way that would be beneficial to Indiana's title hopes and dreams. Because at this point, they really are just dreams.
After wracking my brain, I can't think of this happening at any point in NBA history.
Players have taken themselves out voluntarily for injury-related reasons, but because their play didn't merit time on the court? That's unheard of, especially during the playoffs and when talking about a guy who actually suited up in the All-Star contest the very same season.
But strange circumstances call for strange solutions.
Another option is seeing a sports psychologist, which is something Hibbert has done in the past. Per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
To improve mentally, he continues to see a sports psychologist for help in his quest to being an elite NBA center. He has been seeing Indiana-based sports psychologist Chris Carr since 2008, his rookie season. Hibbert tries to see Carr weekly and sometimes after home games. He has learned meditating exercises that he uses pre-game to get ready.
That came back in 2012.
The big man has always been an up-and-down player, one who can quite clearly get in his own head. When he's playing confidently, he's a world-beater. But when he's down on himself, his woes are exacerbated and prolonged until he gets an extremely favorable matchup.
There's no favorable matchup looming in the near future, though, much less an extremely favorable one.
Fortunately, Hibbert has maintained his relationship with Carr. Though the details of his personal arrangement with the sports psychologist aren't available, Carr is still officially listed as consultant for the Pacers.
It's awful, we've been in a downward spiral and we've been splintering a little bit. We've had plenty of players-only meetings and plenty of sit-downs as a team with coaches and we've had some upper management in here, so I don't know. Maybe we should all go to group therapy or something, sit down with Dr. (Chris) Carr and figure out some of our grievances.
Maybe Hibbert has already taken this course of action, but if he hasn't, it's of paramount importance that he changes that immediately. Any steps to recovery should be taken, and the big man's mental state is clearly quite frazzled from his inefficient and ineffective play over the last few weeks.
If he's spent any time on the Interwebs recently, it might be damaged beyond repair.
The final option is one that sits on the opposite side of the spectrum, as it involves having Hibbert's teammates absolutely lay into him.
And after Game 1, it appears as though certain members of the team began to take this course of action:
But that's not enough.
The Pacers need to become a uniform force, appealing to Hibbert by whatever method is going to crack through that thick skull of his. Whether it involves desperate pleas, angry raised voices, unfiltered screaming or calm, cool and collected reasoning, the entire team needs to get on board with the plan.
David West is the leader of this team—the heart and soul of it even—but he and Rasual Butler can't be the only ones participating in this discussion. Paul George, George Hill and Lance Stephenson must get involved. Luis Scola needs to as well.
Without getting Hibbert on board and playing like his old self, the Pacers don't have a snowball's chance in hell at beating the Wizards, much less winning a championship. John Wall will be able to dice up the vaunted defense without a man in the middle to greet him at the rim, and the rest of the surging Washington offense will be able to run roughshod over a weakened unit.
Whatever's been done thus far just isn't enough. And the Pacers are running out of time to change that.