The Pacers are in free fall with the most recent loss to the Atlanta Hawks — statistically one of the worst playoff teams of recent memory — a new, new rock bottom for them. As with any sinking ship, fingers are being pointed everywhere. Is Frank Vogel’s job safe? Are Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner brawling in the locker room? Is Paul George selfish?
Most of the ire has been directed at at Roy Hibbert, the presumptive Defensive Player of the Year who made “verticality” a watchword for much of the regular season fell off so badly that Joakim Noah won the award in a landslide.
A look at Hibbert’s numbers before and after the all-star break sheds some light:
|Pre All-Star||Post All-Star|
However, in my opinion, this is not the case of a player getting fat and happy with his first all-star selection – Hibbert’s body is likely worn out. That same “verticality” principle that has allowed him to be the most feared rim protector in the league all season means he has taken an unbelievable and perhaps unprecedented number of hits. In some ways, he’s like a pocket-bound quarterback who’s offensive line has allowed him to take too many shots and simply can no longer perform.
For Hibbert, it all culminated in the March 26 showdown with Miami. Indiana came away victorious, but Hibbert was on the receiving end of a hard (intentional or not) elbow from LeBron James:
I’m not a doctor, and am not going to diagnose Hibbert with post-concussion symptoms over video, but let’s break his season splits per game down a little differently:
|Pre-AllStar||ASB – 3/26||Post-3/26|
His statistical production dropped off a little after the all-star break, with the decline in rebounding being a concern. (Overblown in many quarters, as the Pacers were still sixth overall in terms of team defensive rebounding over that stretch.)
After “The Hit” Hibbert’s numbers look like someone who frankly shouldn’t have been on the court. Whether from an acute injury or his body simply being worn down over the long season and all the collisions, he simply wasn’t able to contribute at an NBA level for at least the last three weeks of the regular season. This trend is now continuing into the playoffs where he’s scoring six points on 28 percent shooting and is without a single blocked shot against the undersized, run-and-gun Hawks.
So while it’s fair to ask whether Hibbert’s presence actively hurting the Pacers in this series, it might be equally fair to wonder why he was allowed to be on the court at all in the largely meaningless penultimate days of the regular season.
Seth Partnow lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife, daughter and dog. He blogs about the NBA and related topics at WhereOffenseHappens.com. His work can also be found at Hickory-High.com and ESPN’s ClipperBlog.com, where he is a regular contributor. Seth can be reached on twitter @WhrOffnsHppns.