What Indiana Pacers Need from Roy Hibbert Next Season

With Indiana Pacers‘ star Paul George more than likely out for the season with a broken leg, it’s time for Roy Hibbert to take his game to the next level.

Saying Hibbert struggled last season is putting it mildly.

His rebounding numbers were atrocious for a guy his size, and he could not seem to get the ball in the hoop no matter what he tried, posting his worst field-goal percentage ever. The player we saw in the 2013 playoffs was long gone.

But now, the seven-year vet has a chance to redeem—and perhaps reinvent—himself. The talent is there, and the time has come to put it all together.

We know what Hibbert can do defensively.His rim protection is the best in the Association, using his size and length to make it nearly impossible for scorers to get around him.

It’s also incumbent upon Hibbert that he shows improvement on the offensive end. Without George or Lance Stephenson—who Indiana lost in free agency—the Pacers will have to get creative in order to put points on the board.

Hibbert is a two-time All-Star, and while it’s been primarily his defense that has garnered him attention and praise, he’ll have to show he’s a complete player this year to breathe some sort of life into the Pacers’ season.

 

Improvement on the Boards

It starts with one of the more basic basketball fundamentals. Hibbert was the team’s fourth-leading rebounder in 2013-14, with Stephenson and George each grabbing more rebounds than the big man.

The 7’2″ center corralled just under 50 percent of his nightly 13.4 rebounding chances, per NBA.com’s player tracking data. Of his 6.6 rebounds per game, half of them were contested, meaning an opponent was within 3.5 feet of the ball when he collected a miss.

Now, his low number can be attributed to George, Stephenson and West’s higher outputs—Stephenson averaged seven per game, after all. However, the former two guys won’t be there to corral a high volume of those misses again.

Their replacements may not fare very well, either. C.J. Miles has never averaged three rebounds per game, and the 2-guard spot is up in the air. It’s probably safe to expect a decline in rebounding from the perimeter guys.

Hibbert could have his hands full if he has to box out and grab a majority of the rebounds. His 12.5 total rebound percentage during 2013-14 was the second-worst of his career. For comparison’s sake, Joakim Noah and Kevin Love—two of league’s best at crashing the boards—were both above 18 percent last season.

That’s not to say Hibbert has to be an elite rebounder, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t snatch at least nine every night. His size gives him a nice advantage, and it’s something that will also provide an edge in another area.

 

Low-Post Presence

Hibbert is a big fella—over seven feet and nearly 290 pounds—so he should be able to have his way with just about anyone down low.

But the former Hoya didn’t get the same looks as he did in previous years. During the 2013-14 season, Hibbert‘s attempts came eight feet away from the rim on average. That’s 1.5 feet farther than 2012-13 and two more when compared to the year before.

It wasn’t just his attempts, though, as Hibbert was receiving the ball farther away from the rim. Of the 40 touches he averaged per game, only 6.3 came within 12 feet of the basket, per NBA.com.

Indiana has to change this by putting its center in better positions. It can isolate him on the low block and let him work from there. Hibbert has a very solid hook shot, and his physique should allow him to get good position against most centers in the league.

The video shows an example of where Hibbert was when Indiana entered the ball in the post.

The Pacers will probably have to become an inside-scoring team, relying on West and Hibbert to provide a bulk of the points. Without George and Stephenson—their main perimeter threats a year ago—they really have no other choice.

However, the Pacers will need more than scoring from Hibbert. If they do switch to this style of play, they’ll also need him to become a better and more willing passer as he’s bound to see more double-teams.

This past season, he had the lowest assist percentage of his career at 6.2. Indiana isn’t exactly stacked with shooters, but the offense will greatly benefit from Hibbert becoming a better distributor.

The 27-year-old is in line to have the most responsibility he’s ever had. While it definitely starts with his offense, it will almost always end with what he does best.

 

Elite Defense

Defense is Hibbert‘s calling card, and now that he’ll have to focus on other facets of the game this upcoming season, he can’t allow his defensive efforts to falter.

The Pacers will have to lean heavily on their defense to keep them in games—more so than usual this time around. Indiana had the league’s second-best scoring defense last season, and Hibbert played a major role in it.

The former Georgetown star was the league’s top rim protector among starting centers last season, holding opponents to a 41.1 field-goal percentage on shots near the hoop, per NBA.com. He was also fourth in total blocks with 182.

Indy’s perimeter defense has also taken a hit due to its offseason losses, so a strong interior presence will be essential as it looks to maintain its spot among the top five defenses. West and Hibbert posted defensive ratings under 100 last season, so it’s not exactly the worst anchor to a defense.

On the surface, it looks like a lot is being asked of Hibbert, but it’s not out of this realm to think he can accomplish all of the above.

After all, Hibbert complained about not getting enough touches this past season, calling his teammates selfish, per NBA.com’s David Aldridge. It’s somewhat justified, too—although publicly stating it might not be the best idea.

Hibbert‘s usage rate was the lowest among the starters last season, and it was the first time during his career it ever dipped under 20 percent. While this may not be the exact situation he imagined, the circumstances are such, and he’ll have a chance to prove he can be a featured player.

Indiana might not make the playoffs this season, which is a giant leap back after appearing in consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. But Hibbert could be a big reason why their regression isn’t as drastic.

During the 2013 postseason, Hibbert had the best per-game averages of his career, posting 17 points and 10 rebounds. That’s pretty much what the Pacers need Hibbert to do so the upcoming season isn’t a complete waste.

Indiana’s season looks bleak, but a couple of steps forward in Hibbert‘s development could provide a very bright spot as the Pacers look forward to George’s return for 2015-16.

 

Note: Stats gathered from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.

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Juwan Morgan to Indiana: Hoosiers Land 4-Star PF Prospect

The Indiana Hoosiers basketball program is trying to re-establish itself as a national power, and it took a major step in the right direction Wednesday.     

Zach Osterman of Indy Star reported that Juwan Morgan is heading to Bloomington as part of Indiana’s 2015 class after picking the Hoosiers over Vanderbilt in a ceremony in his hometown in Missouri.

Morgan’s AAU coach Rodney Perry commented on Morgan’s decision, via Osterman:

“He really liked (IU) coach (Tom) Crean, but the other thing that stood out was the players he could potentially play with, as well as the facilities. He wants to major in broadcasting, and they have a new broadcasting facility that they’re building right now too.”

The chance to play right away at a historically elite program like Indiana certainly helped lure Morgan to Bloomington as well.

Osterman threw in an interesting note at the end of the report for those worrying about what this latest commitment means for scholarship numbers: “Indiana does not have any scholarships open currently for next season. But Crean and his staff have always been willing to oversign to stay ahead of potential program attrition.”

Morgan is listed by 247Sports’ composite rankings as the No. 87 national prospect, No. 18 power forward and No. 2 player in Missouri for the class of 2015. Among the other schools that recruited him were Vanderbilt, Creighton, Missouri, Iowa, Washington and Stanford.

It is no wonder that so many programs were after his services.

Listed at 6’8″ and 220 pounds, he has an ideal frame with the potential to add even more strength.

The power forward is comfortable inside the paint and can unleash an array of post moves on opponents with the ball in his hands. What’s more, his shooting range extends to mid-range (and occasionally behind the three-point line), and he is a solid shot-blocker who will protect the rim for Indiana.

He is also capable of getting out in transition because of his athleticism.

Morgan will likely contribute right away as the Hoosiers battle in the Big Ten in the 2014-15 season.

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Will Indiana Pacers’ Offseason Losses Help or Hurt Roy Hibbert’s Production?

Before the Indiana Pacers were worried about Lance Stephenson’s departure or Paul George‘s broken leg, they had major concerns surrounding mercurial center Roy Hibbert.

While the perimeter casualties will likely define Indiana’s 2014-15 season, getting the big man back on track should be the Pacers’ main priority.

His bipolar 2013-14 campaign included both a trip to the All-Star Game and a stint as the biggest punchline in basketball. At different times dominant and dreadful, Indy’s interior anchor struggled wearing any label consistently.

Rediscovering what made him a vital piece of the Pacers’ puzzle—the mastered art of verticality, supplemental scoring and glass work—was supposed to be key to the reigning Eastern Conference finalists retaining their NBA elite status. With Stephenson off to the Charlotte Hornets and George potentially lost for 2014-15, that option is no longer on the table.

This isn’t a matter of if the Pacers will take a step back, but rather how many.

For Hibbert, though, these losses could combine to form some type of an individual win. Simultaneous moves up the offensive pecking order and out of the NBA spotlight might be the perfect remedy to whatever ailed him last season.

The big man hit a major rough patch near the midpoint of the campaign, and he never really made it back on track.

Upon first glance, Indy’s offseason losses might seem like major threats to Hibbert’s stat sheet.

Without George and Stephenson, the Pacers are out 35.5 points, 14 rebounds and 8.1 assists a night. Indy’s already pedestrian scoring attack (22nd in efficiency) and passing game (26th in assist percentage) lost its top two contributors.

That could mean stopping Hibbert will climb the priority list for opposing defenses.

However, a featured role—or at least a supporting one behind David West—might be exactly what Hibbert needs.

Lost in the story of his dramatic decline was just how far he had fallen out of the Pacers’ offensive game plan. His 9.3 field-goal attempts per game were the fewest since his rookie season, and when stretched out on a per-36-minutes scale, they were the lowest of his career (11.3).

Before his infamous “selfish dudes” swipe at unnamed teammates, he spoke of the importance of someone reducing their own role for the betterment of the team.

“I can’t be selfish,” he said earlier in the season, via Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth. “Somebody has to sacrifice. I have to sacrifice for this team. Would anybody like to get 15 shots a game? Yeah. You’re a human being and you have feelings, but you have to play through it and do what’s best for the team.”

The sentiment might have come from the right place, but the effects of that sacrifice seemed to linger. As his offensive involvement dipped, so did his impact in other areas.

The 7’2″, 290-pound mountain of a man finished two regular season games and two playoff contests without a single rebound in his stat line. Altogether, his 12.5 rebounding percentage was the second-worst mark of his career.

Even worse, his confidence seemed to nosedive faster than his production:

But perhaps he was plagued by the knowledge he could do not only do better but also so much more.

As Indy’s offense collectively sputtered, it couldn’t have been easy to keep giving up shots to guys who weren’t converting theirs. Hibbert isn’t an electric scorer by any stretch, but his previous four seasons saw him put up 12.2 points on 47.3 percent shooting. He had proved himself reliable enough to not have fallen out of the offensive picture as rapidly as he did.

“He can score and if you get him the ball, he will score,” Pacers consultant Donnie Walsh told SiriusXM NBA Radio’s Brian Geltzeiler and Noah Coslov (via Vigilant Sports’ Scott Agness).

Finding scoring chances should no longer be a struggle.

Even if West takes over the role of No. 1 option, it’s hard to picture anyone else standing in Hibbert’s way. George Hill showed even less assertiveness than Hibbert last season (8.1 field-goal attempts per game). The players most likely to fill the minutes vacated by George and Stephenson—Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez, Solomon Hill—have neither the talent nor the track record to take the ball out of Hibbert’s hands.

“Hibbert will more readily develop a rhythm almost by default,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb. “Without George and Stephenson running the offense, head coach Frank Vogel will be forced into operating from the post more frequently.”

Not only are more touches likely to come Hibbert’s way, he should also be better equipped to take advantage of them.

At the behest of Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird, Hibbert spent part of his summer learning from Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Considering that Hibbert’s most preferred and productive shot type was the hook last season (39 percent of his total field goals, converted at a 57-percent clip), it’s hard to imagine a better teacher than the sky-hook savant.

Abdul-Jabbar, the most prolific scorer in NBA history, was also an expert distributor. He averaged 4.5 assists per game over his first 11 seasons in the league, and Hibbert could do a lot with a better passing touch considering the double teams that may be coming at him in 2014-15.

In terms of chemistry and comfort, Hibbert should find himself in a much better place moving forward.

Once a seemingly tight-knit group, Indy’s locker room seemed to dissolve over the course of last season. The Pacers’ Andrew Bynum experiment may have helped kick-start Hibbert’s tailspin. And Indiana’s bigs weren’t the only ones having problems.

Bynum is gone now, and so are Stephenson’s antics. Throw in the lack of expectations surrounding this team, and Hibbert could be as comfortable as he’s been in a while.

He’ll ultimately decide how much his numbers can improve going forward, but the Pacers will provide him ample opportunity to get back on track. Indiana needs him at his best, either to keep him as a cornerstone for the future or to build his value high enough to flip him on the open market.

With two years and $30.4 million left on his contract (second season is a player option), via ShamSports.com, the Pacers can’t afford to have the Hibbert they don’t want and no one else does, either. The 2014-15 season is about finding their difference-making defensive centerpiece and offensive secret weapon.

Indiana’s summer took some unexpected turns, but it will still pick up next season where it left off after the last onewaiting for the real Roy Hibbert to return. This time around, there’s a chance it could find something even better.

 

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

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Indiana adds Louisville, Georgetown to schedule

Hoosiers making 2 trips to Madison Square Garden as part of non-conference schedule

      
 

 

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2014-15 Indiana Men’s Basketball Schedule

2014-15 Indiana Men’s Basketball Schedule

      
 

 

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Indiana adds recruit to newest freshmen class

Hoosiers announce Emmitt Holt is newest addition to freshman recruiting class

      
 

 

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Indiana, Purdue open league play on New Year’s Eve

Hoosiers, Boilermakers will open Big Ten conference play on New Year’s Eve

      
 

 

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Indiana Men’s Basketball 2014-15 Big Ten Schedule

Indiana Men’s Basketball 2014-15 Big Ten Schedule

      
 

 

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Early Predictions for Indiana Pacers Starting Lineup Next Season

Predicting the Indiana Pacers staring lineup for the 2014-15 NBA season is an emotional task for any Pacers fan. 

There will be no Paul George

George “suffered an open fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg” during an Aug. 1 Team USA scrimmage game in Las Vegas, per the Indianapolis Star’s Candace Buckner. Buckner adds “it’d take at least six months for George to get back on his feet and longer to return to the court.” 

Ouch. 

In spite of the downgrade, the Pacers starting lineup for next season will prove to be competitive to the very end. Take it from team president Larry Bird, per Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth:

We think we’re going to put a competitive team out there. We think we’re going to play hard and develop our young guys. Everyone’s going to get an opportunity to show us what they can do. I think we’ll be an exciting team. We have a lot of things to look forward to. My goal is to win as many games as we possibly can and get in the playoffs.

No Paul George. No franchise player around.

Doesn’t matter. This group of Indiana Pacers will rally behind their fallen comrade and give their fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic, no matter what the odds are.

Begin Slideshow

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Adjustments Indiana Pacers Will Have to Make Without Paul George

The departure of Lance Stephenson in free agency already left a big hole in the Indiana Pacers‘ starting lineup, but the loss of Paul George to a gruesome leg injury during a Team USA scrimmage will prove even more devastating. 

While Stephenson certainly provided some offensive punch with his unorthodox style as a ball-handler and distributor, George was the offensive fail-safe. Any time a possession broke down, it was George’s responsibility to create a scoring opportunity for himself or a teammate. In close games, the ball was in his hands. 

Yet even with George and Stephenson, Indiana hovered near the bottom in offensive rating—22nd in the league for the season overall, according to NBA.com, and 29th after the All-Star break.  Heading into the 2014-2015 season with an even more limited offensive team, it was clear the Pacers offense would struggle once again. 

So George’s absence on the offensive end will likely only bump Indiana down from a below-average offense to a bottom-of-the-barrel unit. It’s as a defender—one who matched up well with LeBron James and could operate on an island without help—that George will be missed. 

No NBA team is full of great defenders from top to bottom. Most players come with certain skill sets and lack others, and it’s up to an NBA general manager to piece together these parts without leaving too many gaping holes.

Because defense is a significantly less skill-based asset than offense, teams will focus on the offensive end and trust a coach to instill the type of work ethic and discipline that factor into playing great defense. 

What’s more is that individual defensive deficiencies can be masked by a team’s ability to move in tandem, coupled with two stellar defensive players—ideally an elite rim protector and a lengthy wing player capable of guarding multiple positions. 

This wing player is especially crucial because his versatility can mask the flaws of other players through cross-matching: Poor defenders can guard lesser threats, while versatile and more skilled defenders will pick up the opponent’s most dangerous player, regardless of position.

For Indiana, George was that player whose assignments varied on a nightly basis. One night he would be guarding James, the most physical and talented player in the entire league whose pure power is a nightmare to handle.

The next night he might find himself on James Harden, a quicker, smaller guard with unlimited range. Because of George’s athleticism and defensive acumen, he could adjust his guarding style to handle whatever type of offensive threat he was facing on a particular night. 

Luckily for George, the emergence of Stephenson as a defensive force meant he didn’t have to guard the opponent’s best wing on every possession of every game. They often switched off to give the other breaks, as both had large responsibilities on offense as well.

But Stephenson’s decision to sign with Charlotte Hornets and Indiana’s decision to replace him with a mediocre defender in C.J. Miles placed the defensive-perimeter burden squarely on George. And even if Miles doesn’t start, other starter possibilities in Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson don’t provide much in terms of defensive prowess.

But now there’s no Stephenson and no George, which means Indiana can no longer be comfortable isolating any of its perimeter defenders—so there will be no one-on-one defense without help creeping over from the weak side. Notice how Roy Hibbert, an elite rim protector in his own right, doesn’t even have to slide over because George has everything covered on his own on this play against Harden.

Hibbert has succeeded in the past in part because he could stalk from the weak side without overcommitting. If an offensive player generated nothing in one-on-one against George, he couldn’t just whip the ball over to the other side of the floor and catch the defense leaning too far toward the ball side: The entire defense, backed by Hibbert, was waiting over there already.

George’s absence means Hibbert will have to take a more proactive role as a help defender, which means his lateral mobility will be tested. Notice the difference between the play above and the one below, in which Hibbert gambles a bit more by straying farther from his man. 

Above, Hibbert is just hanging out and waiting: He rightly trusts George to shut down Harden and will only sprint over to the strong side of the rim in an emergency. Here, however, Luis Scola is guarding Anthony Davis at the free-throw line.

Scola is not exactly going to lock anyone up, so Hibbert compensates by sliding over all the way to the middle of the paint, essentially ignoring his man. Because he’s in the right position and Davis doesn’t consider passing the basketball, Hibbert easily swats the shot away.

The problem presents itself when the ball gets swung to the weak side. Remember that with George, Hibbert was already patrolling the weak side in anticipation of a ball swing. Without him, he can’t be as daring and has to be in full-throttle rim-protection mode at all times. In a similar play to the one we just watched, Hibbert is cheating the three-second call as best he can. 

When he sees Stephen Curry beat George Hill off the dribble, he only has to slide over a few feet to the block because he’s anticipating the help. But once he greets Curry with a double, Curry is able to sneak a pass by Hibbert to Andre Iguodala on the perimeter.

Iguodala subsequently blows by his man and draws Hibbert‘s help. This leads to another pass, this time to David Lee under the rim. Hibbert has been rotating so much at this point that he loses track of his whereabouts. Amidst the chaos of that initial Curry kick-out pass, Hibbert overhelps on the Iguodala drive—David West already has it covered.

Yet Hibbert abandons Lee, who is ready to receive the ball from Iguodala and lay it in. Hibbert, who is now well out of position, can’t use his patented vertical-armed jump to protect the rim. He flails a bit and commits the foul. 

All of this starts because of Hibbert‘s extra concern for the Curry-Hill matchup, and it’s plays like these which could spell trouble for Indiana. Though Hibbert is great at defending the rim, it was George’s presence that limited his need to do so. Fewer collisions at the rim naturally meant fewer fouls, and it’s why Hibbert seemed so good at defending without fouling.

Next season, he’ll be facing a greater onslaught around the basket thanks to George’s absence. The opponent’s best wing player will not be shut down automatically, and Hibbert will have to pay special attention to him. 

It’s possible that with increased responsibility, Hibbert will step up his defensive game even more. But if he doesn’t, Indiana will have to make some serious defensive adjustments to fill George’s crucial role. 

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