Amid the Pacers’ struggles late in the season, every single hiccup that they’ve had has been compartmentalized and made into a huge problem. Most of the problems are made larger than they should be.
The mental aspect of their game has been questioned now more than ever. Reporters and pundits everywhere have been saying that the Pacers’ players are still upset because of Danny Granger’s trade to the Philadelphia 76ers. Granger was obviously an integral part of that locker room and was really one of the players that helped put the Pacers back on the map after the Malace in the Palace. Chemistry, both literally and figuratively, will change in a split second when new things are added to the concoction.
Chemistry can never be underestimated in all realm of sport. It’s an aspect that permeates the locker room on each and every level in each and every sport. That pervasive element of togetherness is what can give a more experienced team an edge over a talented one. That element is what has kept the Spurs’ core rolling over the last decade and then some. That’s what destroyed the combination of Kobe Bryant and Shaquielle O’Neal. That’s how the Detroit Pistions were able to win titles in the mid-2000s. Things just clicked for them–and that does matter.
But it doesn’t matter to the point that we’re talking about with the Indiana Pacers right now. We saw a similar situation with the Boston Celtics in 2011 after the Kendrick Perkins trade. It seemed like the Celtics were using that as a crutch more than anything else–and in the world of professional sports, that is unacceptable. The same goes for this scenario with Danny Granger being shipped off. You can’t allow that to dash your title hopes.
In this case, it’s a bit worse because Granger wasn’t even logging heavy minutes for the Pacers. He was recovering from an injury and is in a far better situation now than he was immediately after the trade. If the Pacers were leaning on him for emotional support, they should be long over that by now. Granger wasn’t going to be an immediate contributor to them winning a title and that was clear. Why not bring in someone who the organization believes can help in the short term?
Granger’s absence is being used to cover up the real problem that the Pacers have. I discussed this a bit in a piece last week when discussing their offensive woes and their slight drop on the defensive end. They’re a team that has never been one of the top scoring units in the league, but their defense was playing at a legendary level. With their defense regressing to their very, very good mean instead of the legendary one, their offense had no room for error. But it still ended up tailing off and the only offense worse than the Pacers since the All-Star break is the Indiana Pacers.
That’s a legitimate problem that should be getting far more discussion than the Danny Granger conversation, among other things. People have taken the time to write the Pacers off as contenders and some Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards fans are actually hoping for a first round series against the Pacers instead of the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls.
But one thing that has penetrated the social stream that is the twitterverse this week is Roy Hibbert’s rebounding “problem”. Roy Hibbert only snagged one rebound in over 30 minutes in a loss against the Miami Heat over the weekend. That is definitely a problem, obviously. You never want your bigs to finish a game with only one rebound–but there is sometimes a reason for that.
There’s no question that Hibbert’s performance that game was subpar . The Heat really started punishing the Pacers from the outside and that, in turn, enhanced their inside game. Hibbert’s rim protection faltered and the Pacers’ defense didn’t live up to expectation.
But to question Hibbert’s effort on the glass because of a one rebound game is completely ignoring his role on the team. Lance Stephenson is the leading rebounder on the Pacers because of guys like Hibbert, David West and Ian Mahinmi. Stephenson snags 7.1 rebounds per game and gets about 69% of the rebounds within a 3.5 foot radius of him. Those are both excellent numbers, without a doubt. In fact, according to StatVU’s numbers given to us via NBA.com, Stephenson ranks 14th in percentage of rebounds per chance when stacked with all players in the league that play at least 20 minutes per game.
But the underlying reason for this is because a large percentage of his rebounds go uncontested. Out of his 7.1 rebounds per game, 5.3 of those rebounds go uncontested. That means that no opposing player is within 3.5 feet of him when he grabs these rebounds. Paul George, their second leading rebounder and another perimeter player, averages 6.7 rebounds per game. But out of those rebounds, 5.2 are uncontested. So, like Stephenson, he benefits from having mostly uncontested rebounding opportunities.
The Pacers have the best defensive scheme in the league. That’s because every movement they make is a calculated one. From the way that the contest their shots and funnel perimeter guys into Roy Hibbert to how they grab defensive rebounds and kill possessions. The Pacers are second in the league in defensive rebounding percentage and they’re third overall in rebounding percentage. This shows that their system works.
The Pacers are a team that leaves three people, at least, to corral a defensive rebound and end an offensive possession. They have one guy box out the nearest and biggest threat to the glass, one guy to grab the rebound at all times and one guy with the option of boxing out or grabbing the rebound. Take a look at the play below.
Ian Mahinmi focuses on boxing his man out from under the rim. That leads to an uncontested rebound after the Zach Randolph shot.
Stephenson gets an uncontested rebound because Ian Mahinmi never left Marc Gasol after Zach Randolph’s shot. David West and Mahinmi were Stephenson’s box out guys on this play. Their jobs were to make sure that no one else had a shot at the rebound. Now Stephenson has the rebound and can push the ball up the floor instead of looking for an outlet pass.
This saves time on offense and can get things started a bit earlier. The Pacers don’t have to get it to a guard to start a possession since he’s already rebounded the ball. We see the Miami Heat do this with LeBron James as often as anyone else in the league. The Heat’s offense is better than the Pacers’ because of their shot selection, but the same concept still applies.
This has become commonplace in the NBA. Bigs like Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez and Nene are all skilled at this. They clear the path so that their perimeter players can get the ball and push it up the court. As far as Roy Hibbert’s role with the Pacers goes, he’s their biggest body and their best boxout player. Hibbert is tough to move out of the lane and you can’t swim around him because of his immense length and size.
In this shot, Hibbert can be seen boxing out Noah. Noah is such a great rebounder that the Pacers committed two other players to him, but Hibbert was the first guy on him and made his move to seal him off as soon as the shot went up. You can see that happen in the video below:
Hibbert’s main two priorities on the defensive end are contesting shots and boxing out. He’s the anchor to that defense in more ways than one and is still one of the best rim protectors in the league. He’ll probably end up winning the defensive player of the year award this season and rightfully so. Hibbert is the best in the league at defending the rim. Out of players who have played, at least, 30 games and allow, at least, 5 shot attempts at the rim per game, Hibbert ranks first with an opponent field goal percentage of 41.5%.
That’s an astounding mark and it really solidifies the back end of your defense. Players just can’t get the the rim against Hibbert and that’s because he knows how to perfectly time his shot contests and has mastered the art of verticality. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t nimble enough around the rim to block shots as well, though.
The way Hibbert crept into the lane and timed that block perfectly without fouling or causing David West to foul was sensational. That’s the type of help on the back end that Hibbert must deliver for Indiana’s defense to be successful. He’s their most important defensive cog and it really shows whether he grabs one rebound or not.
His rebounding isn’t indicative of his entire impact on the Pacers’ game overall. Though his total rebounding percentage have dropped month by month, he’s consistently the one boxing out for Indiana. A whopping 47.6% of Hibbert’s rebounds are contested against. Out of players playing at least 20 minutes per game, that ranks as the fourth highest mark. In other words, Hibbert is consistently near other players when rebounds become available to him. His focus when it comes to rebounding is ensuring that the offensive player doesn’t get them, not snatching them down himself.
Before you question Hibbert’s effort on the glass and in general, just take a look at his true impact on the Pacers’ rebounding and their efforts of the defensive side of the ball. If you look closely enough you’ll see one of the more powerful defensive forces in the league and a player that remains true to his role on that end. Hibbert may not have the flash, but the tape says that he’s filled with substance–even if you need to look two or three times to see it.