Indiana Pacers Have No Choice but to Bench Roy Hibbert for Must-Win Game 6

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

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There's a simple solution to the Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert problem. 

Bench him. 


Glue his 7'2" frame to the pine and don't allow him to remove the warmups he wears before the opening tip until the Pacers are back in the locker room. If he wants to stand up and cheer, that's perfectly fine, but he shouldn't be able to cheer any of his own contributions. 

After all, he'll have about the same chance of grabbing a rebound as he's had throughout this shocking opening-round series in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It'll be far less embarrassing for him to record goose eggs in both the rebounding and scoring columns when he doesn't play, especially when compared to the ones he produced during his futile Game 5 efforts. 

Indiana must admit that it has a problem. Well, that noun really shouldn't be singular, but we're focusing only on the one that stems from playing a certain 7-footer from Georgetown. 

Now is not the time for pride, not with a must-win Game 6 looming in the not-so-distant future, one that would be followed up by a Game 7 within the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse...which haven't even been that friendly. 

Pride is how teams lose series when things start to spiral out of control. Frank Vogel must be willing to do away with that hubristic tendency to stick with the same lineup he's used throughout the year, thereby sending a strong message to the Atlanta Hawks

It's a message that would say, quite simply, "We're not messing around." 

Hibbert Hasn't Been Effective

Apr 22, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) posts up against Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic (6) in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA T


Through the first five games of the postseason, the big man is averaging only 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per outing, and he's shooting just 31.3 percent from the field. Those are embarrassingly bad numbers, and they're made even worse when you dig deeper. 

Hibbert is the not-so-proud owner of a 0.8 player efficiency rating, per Basketball-Reference, and the Pacers have been quite a bit more ineffective when he's on the court.

When the big man is collecting splinters in his derriere, Indiana has scored 106.9 points per 100 possessions and given up 103.6 over the same span. But when he plays, the former number plummets to 98.6, while the latter rises to 105.7. 

Yes, you're reading those numbers correctly. 

Without Hibbert, the Pacers are outscoring the Hawks—the same team boasting a 3-2 series lead—by 3.3 points per 100 possessions. But with the big man in the lineup, they're being outscored by 7.6. 

Hbbert has just been worse than the other frontcourt members lining up at the 5 throughout this first-round series, as you can see below: 

Roy Hibbert's Statistical Woes
Roy Hibbert4.83.431.30.8
Ian Mahinmi2.
Luis Scola9.03.447.517.5

Ian Mahinmi hasn't posted standout numbers. Far from it. But he's still been a more valuable asset because the Pacers don't feel the need to force touches and try to get him back in a rhythm. He's just an extra body, one who will only try to score in a select few situations. 

As for Luis Scola, he's been one of the few bright spots in the Indiana lineup, despite the fact that their jerseys all have colors on them that mimic the sun. 

Apr 26, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Luis Scola (4) reacts after defeating the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in game four of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Pacers defeated the Hawks 91-88. Mandatory

The Argentine big man has been an offensive spark plug off the bench, playing with fire and confidence. He can knock down mid-range jumpers, bail out a stagnant offense by creating his own looks in the post and heat up to the point that he can create a bit of a one-man run. 

Indiana has just been more effective on offense with these bigs on the court. And as for defense, things don't exactly look up, even if Hibbert spent much of the regular season in the pole position for Defensive Player of the Year, an award he ultimately lost to Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls

The Hawks are a Matchup Nightmare for the Hibbert-Led Defense

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 24:  Roy Hibbert #55 of the Indiana Pacers fights for position against Pero Antic #6 of the Atlanta Hawks during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on April 24, 2014 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER:
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

If the second half of the 2013-14 campaign did anything for the Pacers, it was expose Hibbert as an overrated defensive player. 

Teams figured out that he couldn't make much of an impact away from the rim, even if he did a fantastic job protecting the basket when opposing players ventured into the paint. As some of the perimeter defenders wore down and forced Hibbert into playing more help defense, he struggled. As opponents used an increasing number of stretch bigs and drew him away from his defensive sweet spot, he struggled even more. 

The Hawks, though, have taken things to an extreme. 

In a lot of ways, Atlanta is using a novelty lineup. It's one where virtually everyone on the court can space the floor by knocking down a three-point jumper, at least until the backups come in and are content filling their limited offensive roles. The Hawks are going to shoot as many triples as they can, and that's a strategy that the Pacers simply aren't prepared to defend when Hibbert is on the court. 

Just take a look at how many shots from downtown the Hawks have attempted and buried throughout this surprising series: 

Three-Point Marksmanship
Game3-Point Makes3-Point Attempts3-Point Percentage
Game 1113036.7
Game 2102934.5
Game 3123435.3
Game 4113135.5
Game 5152755.6
Playoff Average11.830.239.1
Season Average9.425.836.3

Not only are the Hawks shooting better than they did during the regular season from beyond the arc (no doubt boosted by the Game 5 display), but they're attempting far more looks than ever before. This is clearly a strategy designed by Mike Budenholzer, who has recognized the Hibbert-created weakness and acted accordingly. 

"We had a couple breakdowns in coverages, but we didn't have nine of them," Frank Vogel said after the Game 5 disaster, via NBA.com's Mark Montieth. "You gotta give them credit. Some of them were guarded threes."

Some may have been contested, but some clearly weren't. And that's due both to the ineffectiveness of Indiana's lineups and the novelty aspect of Atlanta's. 

Think about who the Hawks start. 

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 24:  DeMarre Carroll #5 and Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks react after a basket in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Philips Arena on April 24, 2014 in Atlan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There's Jeff Teague, a water bug of a point guard who can hit some shots from the outside. DeMarre Carroll is a dangerous spot-up threat, and Kyle Korver is arguably the best three-point threat in the playoffs outside of Stephen Curry. Paul Millsap expanded his range throughout the season and is more than capable of hitting perimeter looks. And then there's Pero Antic, who thrives when he's allowed to step out of the paint and knock down jumpers. 

When all five starters can hit jumpers, all five defenders have to be capable of straying further away from the rim. 

Mahinmi isn't at his best when doing so, but he's at least more mobile than Hibbert, who looks like he's ready for an AARP card as he hobbles up and down the court. Scola isn't a defensive standout, but at least he looks capable of movement when he's guarding a player like Antic. 

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. 

Not That Much of a Change

Mar 30, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) reacts in the third quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Changing the starting lineup is typically a big deal, especially at this point in the season. 

The Pacers have been one of the teams most hesitant to do so throughout the 2013-14 campaign, using only five different starting fives throughout the year, most of which were necessitated by minor injuries. But things have changed now that Hibbert has become a fringe rotation member who just happens to be at center court when the game begins. 

"But then what's the meaning of a 'starting group' when it only plays together for a few minutes," Montieth questioned in response to a mandate from West that the starters couldn't change after Game 5. "Hibbert played 8:57 in the first half and the first 3:16 of the third quarter, and then took a seat on the bench. He hasn't played in the fourth quarter since Game 1. Having him start Game 6 on the bench wouldn't exactly qualify as a sea change. More like a ripple."

Hibbert played nearly 30 minutes in Game 1. 

Since then, he's suited up for 24 minutes in Game 2, 18 in Game 3, 24 in Game 4 and just 12 in the most recent game of the series. That's an average of just 22 minutes per game, which is actually less time than C.J. Watson has received against the Hawks. 

How is eliminating him from the rotation problematic again? You're not shaking everything up, as the starters aren't even spending that much time on the court together before Vogel realizes that in-game changes are necessary. 

The group of players comprised of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, West and Hibbert has spent only 71 minutes on the court together during the postseason. While it's the most-used lineup, it's the only one of the top 10 that Hibbert has appeared in and hasn't even posted that high a number of minutes. The Atlanta starters, by comparison, have already played 15 minutes more, according to Basketball-Reference

Facing a 3-2 deficit with a game looming in Philips Arena is a reason to employ desperate measures, especially since No. 1 seeds aren't supposed to lose to No. 8 seeds who snuck into the playoffs with a losing record. 

But benching Hibbert isn't even a desperate measure at this point.

It's just a smart decision. 


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