Even before the game, the questions had arisen.
What happened to Roy Hibbert’s role in the offense? Is the lack of production a result of his struggle, or a lack of opportunity?
Then he went out and scored 24 points in a 101-96 victory over the ridiculously streaky Bucks Friday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He also had 12 rebounds, marking his third 20-10 game of the season.
The last came on Nov. 23.
When Frank Vogel stepped in as head coach, the first move he made was to implement the “smashmouth” offense built around post players Hibbert and David West. That was to be the Pacers’ offensive foundation.
That foundation has shifted.
With the emergence of Paul George and Lance Stephenson as the primary creators – the de facto point guards – the offense has been turned inside-out. Though that has meant an overall decline in Hibbert’s production, the offense as a whole has improved. The averages of 99.2 points and .454 shooting are the highest of any of Vogel’s full seasons.
And then there is the not-so-small matter of the 44-13 record.
“We have so many weapons, it’s just they don’t really need me as much, so offense really hasn’t been something the team needs from me,” Hibbert said. “Our offense is really predicated on fast pace and shooting a little more than it has in the past and we’re winning with this formula. So some games I’ll have big dominant games in the paint but I’m just going to try to be as solid as possible on both ends.”
It would be unwise to assume this game was a precursor. Hibbert had 20-point games to open and close February. In the 10 games in between, he averaged 7.3 and shot .418.
For the season, he is averaging 11.6 points and 9.6 shots, both the lowest since his rookie season of 2008-09. But he also is third in the league in blocked shots at 2.49, is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and earned his second All-Star selection.
Which is to say: do not necessarily assume a night with four points and six rebounds to be a bad game for Hibbert.
You know why? Because he doesn’t. Not anymore.
He no longer equates touches with respect. Over the recent All-Star weekend, for example, Hibbert said he had several conversations with various guards (who shall remain nameless) who said they have all-but stopped trying to finish at the rim against The Big Vertical, preferring to try floaters or pull-up jumpers.
There’s no column for that in the box score, but there is in the standings.
“We’ve got a team that has such balanced that our offensive attack can be different each night based on where the other team is weak defensively,” Vogel said. “Some nights that may mean pounding it inside to David (West) and Roy. Sometimes that may mean get Lance and Evan (Turner) and Paul in the pick-and-roll game, or George Hill in the pick-and-roll game.
“It’s really just one of those things it’s going to be different every night. That’s why you see a situation where George Hill got 37 one night and zero a week later, because we’re playing through David West that night. It’s going to be just one of those things.”
Less than a week ago, Hibbert shot 1-for-9 and scored just four points in Milwaukee, but the Pacers beat the Bucks 110-100 as West scored 30 in an utterly dominating performance.
Last night, with the Bucks doubling West, Hibbert shot 10-for-16 and the Pacers won a very different game.
The constants, offensively, are going to be George and Stephenson. Everything else is a variable.