Can Roy Hibbert rebound?
It was a question asked in the literal sense following multiple zero-point/zero-rebound performance in the 2014 playoffs. Now, it will be asked from now until the 2014-15 season kicks in.
Hibbert has gone through bouts of inconsistency before and has always managed to come out of it. The questions came up before the 2013 playoffs, his first post-season following the agreement to his max contract. However, by the end of it, Hibbert was suddenly in the middle of all of the Pacers’ success.
He had his struggles against Atlanta in the first round (sound familiar?), played better against New York and had arguably the defining play, denying Carmelo Anthony at the rim. Then, in the Conference Finals, he dominated Miami, so much so that the Heat attempted to answer with the oft-injured big man Greg Oden.
Kicking off the 2013-14 campaign, Hibbert had his sights set on the Defensive Player of The Year Award, and for a while, it seemed like it was his to lose, even making his second All-Star team.
Then, came the infamous second-half slide where a 25-5 start for the Pacers spiraled to the point where losing the coveted No. 1 seed was in real danger, with plenty of blame to go around for all the “selfish dudes” in the locker room as Hibbert put it in late March, and Joakim Noah made a late push to garner enough votes for the DPOY.
By the time the post-season was in full swing, Hibbert had become a punchline, posting those double goose eggs, but managed to respond more or less and contribute. In Game 7 of the first round against Atlanta, following those two consecutive 0-0’s, he helped the Pacers close out the Hawks by finally scoring in double-digits, to go along with seven rebounds and five blocks.
And just when you thought Hibbert might have found his groove again, the dreaded third 0-0 game came in the series opener, a loss, at home against Washington. Hibbert’s response in Game 2? 28 points on 10-13 shooting, nine rebounds and two blocks, followed by a 14/6/3 performance in Game Three, and a 17/9/2 showing in Game Four.
As for Game Five, let’s throw that out the window. When a team gets outrebounded by nearly 40 at home in the playoffs, that’s not on any one guy. Hibbert then chipped in 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in the deciding game on the road in D.C.
While Pacer fans may remember these inconsistencies all too well, it serves as a reminder to show how stellar Roy Hibbert can be and how he has recovered from disastrous performances before. Hibbert even admitted that he let his lack of offensive touches affect the other end of the court.
Not the first time we’ve heard such a statement, but for someone who also prides himself so much on defense, this is simply something that points to the coaching staff. Larry Bird was quoted in the Indianapolis Star that he’d like to see Frank Vogel “start going after guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do.”
But, Vogel appeared to have trouble blurring the line between encouragement and tough love, while still doing what’s best for the team. And doing what’s best for the team frequently meant sitting him in those mismatched against the stretch bigs, such as Atlanta’s Pero Antic.
Point is, I’m personally not worried about Hibbert responding next season. It’s if the coaching staff can individualize their approach off the court. Force-feeding Hibbert the ball to start a game will just make things worse if they don’t work out.
Again, that’s on Vogel and his staff. Vogel is going into his fifth season as coach and if he still can’t tailor his direction for certain players, that’s a problem that will need to be addressed.
A lot of the onus is on Hibbert to engage himself, but if things go wrong, he needs to have that support from Vogel and company to pick him back up. What exactly it was that brought #55 out of his slumps in the playoffs, only he knows. (He credits a fishing trip with teammates Paul George and George Hill for part of it.)
Now, Hibbert will have another three months to prepare to answer his critics again. And when he shows up with those big performances he’s clearly capable of, Pacer fans will want to say, “he’s baaaaaaaaaaack” in their best Poltergeist daughter voice and hope that it sticks.
Roy embraced the Indianapolis community and Pacers fans long before anyone else since the team’s resurgence, but even those diehard fans won’t settle for consistently lacking production.
The fans and the team will need more from everyone, Hibbert included, now that Lance Stephenson has taken his talents to Charlotte. If Hibbert and crew don’t step up, it’ll be another early exit and he can expect the punchlines and memes to continue. Hibbert can rebound. He’s proved it. He’s just got to reel it in.