Indiana Pacers and Roy Hibbert Appear Headed for an Ugly Offseason

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2015

Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, left, talks to center Roy Hibbert during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Chicago on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers are speeding toward a long, ugly offseason besieged by awkward questions, fractured egos and deteriorating relations.

This is all assuming they start and finish the NBA's prime vacationing months together.

On the heels of a failed playoff bid, Pacers coach Frank Vogel and president Larry Bird stood before the media, reflecting on a season swallowed by Paul George's leg injury, looking ahead to a starkly different future—one that may or may not include Hibbert.

We begin with Bird's call for a faster style of play:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

One of Bird's keys for next year is playing "a little faster tempo... We’ve gotta score more points and to do that, you’ve gotta run."

A new system means a new rotation, which Vogel admits doesn't bode well for Hibbert, per Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star:

Candace Buckner @CandaceDBuckner

Does new scheme mean Roy Hibbert will be benched, Vogel said: "Possibly." "Roy's role will be diminished." There it is again.

Forever shooting from the hip, Bird put the situation in more straightforward terms, as Scout.com's Phillip B. Wilson relays:

Phillip B Wilson @pwilson24

Always appreciate candor of #Pacers president Larry Bird. He said Roy Hibbert didn’t play well, will have lesser role if back next year.

To be absolutely certain, the dogs days of summer have not descended upon Indiana this year. Bird is just breathing fire again.

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To be even more certain, the Pacers haven't completely given up on Hibbert. Well, Vogel hasn't at least:

Candace Buckner @CandaceDBuckner

Vogel's assessment on Roy Hibbert's season: "He's got to work on his craft, like all of us do. And he'll do that."

Good for Vogel for taking the glass-half-full approach. Even if the Pacers are over Hibbert, he's not a core piece they can just discard. The big man has a player option worth more than $15.5 million for next season, and it's one he is expected to exercise.

Not only would Hibbert be hard-pressed to nab that much coin on the open market, but playing out the life of his contract allows him to explore free agency in 2016, at which point he'll be able to capitalize on the Association's salary-cap eruption.

Opting in, then, gives him the chance to make superstar money while also attempting to elevate his market value. Passing on that chance would be the real surprise.

The Pacers know this too, as Vogel makes clear:

Candace Buckner @CandaceDBuckner

"I'd expect him to opt in, he's got a good deal… it'll be speculative for me to make a guess like that." Vogel on Roy Hibbert.

Being prepared for Hibbert's return doesn't help compress any of the mounting awkwardness. Although the Pacers are acting like Hibbert will be back, they're not welcoming him with open arms. Bird himself almost seems like he's daring (begging?) him to opt out.

That no doubt puts Hibbert in a difficult situation. At the same time, it's one he has helped create.

During a season in which the Pacers didn't have George—or Lance Stephenson—the 7'2" behemoth failed to step up. His usage rate increased ever so slightly compared to 2013-14, but he barely cracked 25 minutes per game, putting forth what was a lateral performance at best.

Already hurting on the offensive end, the Pacers were even worse with Hibbert on the floor. Though he shoots free throws well for a player his size (82.4 percent), he doesn't do much else.

His 44.6 percent clip from the floor is ghastly knowing he isn't launching jumpers most of the time. More than 61.4 percent of his shot attempts came inside nine feet of the basket, so his overall efficiency should have been higher.

At a time when the Pacers needed Hibbert to shine, he did not impress.
At a time when the Pacers needed Hibbert to shine, he did not impress.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

If the Pacers are really going to push the pace next season, he's not someone they can count on even a little bit. They used just 94.14 possessions per 48 minutes with him in the game, the equivalent of running with bottom-five speed.

Relying on slow half-court sets is generally frowned upon in today's pace-and-space NBA, but plodding systems can be effective or semi-successful so long as the primary center wields a strong back-to-the-basket game.

Which Hibbert does not.

Nearly half of his shot opportunities came from post-ups, of which he hit just 43 percent and averaged an unimpressive 0.86 points per possession. An elite big man like Marc Gasol, by comparison, shot 48.6 percent and collected 0.95 points per possession.

As was the case last season, Hibbert looks out of place with the ball in his hands. While he's not turnover-prone, he's clumsy with the rock. He isn't especially aware of his positioning and doesn't take adequate stock of the defense, preferring to operate with his head down:

Similar problems present themselves within pick-and-rolls, a play staple for any competent NBA big man. But Hibbert averaged just 0.81 points per possession as the roll man, putting him in the bottom 20 percent of pick-and-roll efficiency.

There's no mystery as to why, either. Hibbert's screens aren't always well placed, making it difficult for the ball-handler to generate space from the defenders. If and when space is created, Hibbert doesn't explode or nimbly slide off the screen. He ambles into the lane, almost like he's wearing cinder blocks for shoes.

Once he's hit with a pass, he's easily deterred. He doesn't adjust well to contact or even the mere presence of defenders at the rim, often opting to shoot too early or just fire away erroneously:

When you're that much of an offensive liability—on a team that struggles to score no less—you better bring it on the defensive end. But the Pacers didn't bleed points without Hibbert this season, relinquishing just one more than their season average per 100 possessions when he rode pine.

Even his superior rim protection is a bit misleading.

Among the 122 players who contested at least four point-blank attempts per game, Hibbert ranked fourth in opponent field-goal percentage. That's no joke. But neither is the Pacers' defensive setup.

They have the personnel necessary to funnel opposing scorers toward the rim while Hibbert acts as a freelance policeman. Ahem:

Draw him outside his comfort zone, and there's a different ending. Hibbert ranks in the bottom half of isolation defense and just barely cracks the 40th percentile for post-up prevention.

Lackluster glass-crashing curbs his value even further. He ranked 47th in rebounding percentage during the regular season. That's simply unacceptable for a 7'2" tower. 

Hence the pointed criticism from Bird and the subtle disappointment from Vogel. Hibbert hasn't lived up to his salary or alleged status over the last two seasons. And while the outside world is quick to criticize, the latest verbal sideswipes are originating in-house, placing both the Pacers and Hibbert at a crossroads.

As Ben Gibson puts it for 8 Points 9 Seconds:

It is clear both Bird and Vogel aren’t afraid to publicly let Hibbert know things have to change. It could all be a vocal kick in the a-- to get him back to the All-Star level he once was at or it could be a kick out the door.

The ball is now in Hibbert’s court.

He has always been soft-skinned to criticism and he has no doubt already heard the loud-and-clear message that those running the Pacers just sent him.

Conventional wisdom, again, has Hibbert remaining in Indiana. Too much money is on the line for him to simply opt out and go contract-cruising.

Then again, the offseason isn't yet officially underway. A lot could happen between now and next season. The Pacers aren't precluded from shopping Hibbert if and when he opts in. They've already made it clear he'll ride the bench if need be. Hibbert himself could decide to enter free agency.

Hibbert and the Pacers' brass have some chatting to do.
Hibbert and the Pacers' brass have some chatting to do.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

In the more than likely event he doesn't, things will get weird.

They're already weird.

Once deemed an indispensable necessity, Hibbert now finds himself entering a suddenly unsettling offseason, trapped in a state of uncertainty, facing the prospect of returning to a Pacers team that, right now, doesn't seem to actually want him. 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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