(April 17, 2014) – There is really no way of putting it lightly, and it is one of the story lines that helped contribute to a lackluster run down the final stretch for the Indiana Pacers. As a whole, from the moment he called out his teammates, to the moping on the bench against the Atlanta Hawks a couple weeks back, to the 0-9 and zero-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, Roy Hibbert’s play on the court hasn’t exactly been up to par on the court. And if the eye test doesn’t exactly 100 percent convince you of this, the basic stats from the month of April just might: 5.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks with an average of 24.7 minutes per game.
With that said, the NBA Playoffs are better known as the second season, a chance to put everything behind good and bad from the regular season for good. And if there’s one player on the Pacers that can’t wait to do that, it seems to be No. 55 himself.
“I’m ready to roll,” said Hibbert when asked if he’s ready for the playoffs. “I’m tired of you guys asking that. So yeah, I’m ready to go.”
Short and sweet with the media, similar to postseasons in the past, Hibbert made it known that in his six seasons in the Association, he’s been through the process of the postseason three times before. And with that, Hibbert and his teammates know that for the team to have overall success and a deep run through the tournament, he will probably need to transform back into the player that stepped up and averaged 16.8 points and 9.9 rebounds during the 2013 postseason. Or at the least, mimic that version of Hibbert that seems to be able to step up his game and alter the outcomes of games by just his pure size and strength around the basket.
“Not really,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel when asked if he was worried about Hibbert. “I’m concerned about him protecting the rim. That’s my number-one priority with him, and when he does that, he serves our number-one purpose with the team. To get something on the offensive end is a bonus, but we certainly need as much production as we can.”
But when tip-off in game one of the opening round takes place against the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, Hibbert may find himself outside of his comfort zone around the hoop more often than not. In their two victories during the 2013-14 season over the Pacers, the Hawks have used center Pero Antic to spread the floor and bring Hibbert away from the basket. This allows the Hawks to use their speed, with the likes of Jeff Teague at point guard, to have better looks at the basket inside the lane. And when Hibbert has stayed down low to defend the lane, Antic (who has averaged just seven points on the season) has knocked down open threes and averaged 17 points per game against Indiana.
“Obviously I’m used to guarding bigs in the paint,” said Hibbert. “So obviously with three-point shooters, we have to guard them. You can’t roam as much, so it’s a different feel.”
Antic’s ability to make the Pacers pay for giving him open looks may come at a small sample size of just two games, but undoubtedly Antic is going to try to make the Pacers pay if this happens throughout the series. According to 82games.com, 79 percent of Antic’s field goal attempts come from jumpers, with only 21 percent of his total field goal attempts coming from within the lane. So like it or not, Hibbert is going to be tested in this series, and against the Hawks he hasn’t had his best performances when this takes place. On the season against Atlanta, Hibbert is averaging 5 points, 1.3 blocks, and 3.8 rebounds on the season.
Hibbert made note that the Pacers have allowed him to practice guarding bigs that spread the floor by using Chris Copeland and Rasual Butler as clones of Antic during practice this week, and he feels that he will be ready for the challenge come Saturday.