If you were to open a hypothetical box labeled “disappointing things about the 2012-13 NBA season” and you shifted past the massive stack of Minnesota Timberwolves injury reports, Austin Rivers’ lowly PER, and a myriad of all things Lakers, you would find one Roy Hibbert. The 26-year old center is fresh off signing a max contract and has rewarded the Indiana Pacers with somewhat underwhelming play. Indiana’s aversion to efficient offense is what stands between them and legitimate contention (that and a guy named LeBron James) and Hibbert has played a large part in their offensive depravity.
It should be said that despite his offensive woes, Hibbert is a vital part of Indiana’s top ranked defense. His insane length combined with the ability to roam the court while still being able to defend the rim through long, reactive strides is a keystone of the Pacers’ defense. But for someone due to make nearly 45 million dollars over the next three years, his offensive output has been not nearly good enough to justify such a salary. And yet there is hope, as in the last 20 games Hibbert has started to put up the kind of numbers he did last year when Indiana was ready and willing to match any offer for him.
This year Hibbert is currently averaging 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 28.7 minutes, and is shooting 43.6 percent. His defensive rebounding rate has fallen off from last year and his scoring is down as well, although he is playing less minutes. Most importantly, though, his shooting is down a full six percent and he is drawing a free throw less a game.
While hardly polished, Hibbert’s offensive game last year was good enough to earn him a borderline star level PER of 19.35. The majority of his game comes out of the post where he uses an ambidextrous and near unblockable hook shot, whose arc and consistency was almost second to none. For the beginning of this season, however, this shot was finding the back iron more often than the net and the residual effects on the entirety of Hibbert’s offensive game were devastating.
Whether it was a nagging wrist injury or just a prolonged slump, Hibbert had been unable to find consistency with that hook shot and when it left him, so did his offensive efficiency. Last year he was shooting a cool 58.4 percent on hook shots and an even better 64.8 percent on jump hooks, per NBA.com. In his first 52 games this season, Hibbert’s shooting dropped to 50.6 percent on hook shots and 62.8 percent on jump hooks, the latter of which he stopped shooting as much, falling to less than one attempt per game.
This being his patented move, his effectiveness out of the post (which makes up about 50 percent of his offensive game) fell off significantly and his points per possession out of post ups dropped from 0.88 to 0.77 per SynergySports.
However, that hook shot has started rounding into form in the last 20 games. He has been shooting nearly 63 percent on hook shots since February 13th and is a ridiculous 21 for 23 on jump hooks in that span. This improvement has helped pump up his points per possession to nearly 0.83 on post ups and his overall shooting to 49.6 percent. Hibbert is averaging 14.8 points per game in the last 20 and when he has been on the court the Pacers are scoring 8 points more per 100 possessions, for an offensive rating that would put them third in the league.
This added range on offense has helped him both draw more free throws per game and convert layups at a much higher rate. Across the board, Hibbert’s shooting numbers have matched or improved what he did last year in this 20 game stretch. Now, an improvement that drastic on offense may not be sustainable for the team as a whole but Hibbert’s growth just may be. The tape shows that the way Hibbert is currently playing has not changed that much from earlier this season. His footwork remains top notch and his shot distribution looks about the same. The difference is that his hook shot is back to falling constantly. Now that Hibbert is once again a threat from 10 feet out, his offensive game can open up, and by extension, the Pacers’ suffocating lack of spacing can get some much needed breathing room.
It remains to be seen where this young center’s career is headed and whether or not he will not make the Pacers look back on that contract with regret. With these last 20 games, however, he has shown the consistency and growth that was painfully missing in the beginning of the season and given hope that he will continue to improve. All that said, it’s looking more and more likely that Andrew Bogut and Marcin Gortat lost a 7-foot friend in this season’s NBA disappointment box.