Rightfully celebrated for his 28-point, nine-rebound performance in Game 2 against the Washington Wizards, the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert is back!
Or is he?
While the Pacers welcomed his offensive explosion, his primary job, and the reason he was an all-star despite mediocre “fantasy” stats (11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game even before his second-half slide), is defense.
Specifically, he excelled at rim protection.
A commenter on Reddit noticed that Hibbert, despite his well-publicized struggles, has still been holding opponents to the lowest shooting percentage on shots at the rim of any player in these playoffs. This isn’t especially surprising: Over the course of the season, his rim protection prevented an estimated 7.2 points per game — a mark roughly 3.8 points more than a hypothetical “league-average big man” would have saved in similar minutes. By comparison, NBA defensive player of the year Joakim Noah saved 4.9 points per game, or around one more point saved at the rim than would have the same “league-average big.” In fact, Hibbert led the league in points saved per game through rim protection by a considerable margin, with Robin Lopez and Andrew Bogut being the only other qualifying big men to be more than two points better than league average at 2.2 and 2.0 respectively.
So Hibbert has been doing well on defensive by holding opponents to 32.5 percent shooting at the rim in the playoffs — league average for the season was just less than 50 percent and is 49.1 percent through Thursday’s playoff games. Except he is challenging far fewer shots at the rim, even accounting for his reduced playing time.
During the regular season, he led all big men by contesting 60 perecent of shots taken within five feet of the rim while he was on the floor. Over the first nine games of his playoffs, this has fallen dramatically to 39 percent. Some of this decline is undoubtedly a result of the funky matchup with Atlanta where he was dragged away from the rim by the shooting ability of Paul Millsap and Pero Antic, but only some. If we look at rim protection for just these playoffs, Hibbert does not appear in the top 10 performers on a per-game basis:
However, Hibbert is second to only Duncan among players averaging more than 20 minutes per game on a per-minute basis. (The top per-minute performed this postseason is Miami’s Andersen, who would be saving almost 11 points per game if he was able to play at the same effectiveness for 36 minutes a night.) And as the chart shows, when his offensive and rebounding production allowed Hibbert to play closer to his normal minutes on Wednesday night, he returned to providing exceptional value as an anchor for Indiana’s defense.
Of course, rim protection is only a portion of a big man’s defensive contribution. Kevin Hetrick of GotBuckets.Com estimated that these rim-protection values account for approximately 40 percent of the variation in “Defensive Ridge-Adjusted Plus/Minus” or DRAPM, a cousin of ESPN’s “Real Plus Minus” statistic, far more explanatory power than is provided by counting statistics such as blocked shots. (RAPM-style metrics measure a player’s overall effect on a team’s offensive and defensive output by applying statistical modeling techniques to in depth play-by-play and lineup data to control for the quality of the teammates and opponents the players on the floor with him.)
And there are other indications that Hibbert’s defense has been less effective than in the regular season. In addition to the basic eye test which saw him look completely out of sorts against Atlanta, lineup data shows him to have been less effective. According to NBAWOWY.com, Indiana’s defense has been 2 points per 100 possessions worse with HIbbert off the court in the playoffs, whereas this dropoff was 11 points/100 during the regular season.
Heading into Game 3, Indiana fans can only hope that Hibbert’s apparent re-engagement on offense in Game 2 fuels his return to dominance on the defensive end as well.
Note: The “Points Saved” methodology is a metric of my own creation utilizing data from from NBA.com’s SportVU player tracking system combined with some more traditional stats For more information on the metric, read the detailed explanation here.
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.