In the sports world you hear a lot of cliches. There are a lot of hot takes about “who wants it more” or who has that “it” factor. Very rarely are we left with evidence of these intangibles actually existing.
There are some cases where it’s made evident that not enough hard work is being put into the game, though. Those cases are rare and very hard to find. You can’t actually materialize or quantify someone’s effort easily.
Effort and hard work are a psychological thing. Only you can know when you’re working your hardest or doing your best at something. It may not always yield success or the same result, but that doesn’t mean that you haven’t worked.
Roy Hibbert has gotten the psychoanalytic treatment from the media over the last few months. There have been questions posed about Hibbert in the context of “what’s wrong” as opposed to “what is he doing wrong”. Hibbert has been the same basketball player that he’s always been. He’s never been the big scorer or rebounder. But he does the little things like protect the rim and box out.
The Indiana Pacers have been on a slump in the last two months and it didn’t go away against the Atlanta Hawks. They were pushed to a game 7 and Hibbert took a brunt of the blame. He wasn’t optimal in the series because of how Atlanta spaced the floor and the hot shooting show that they put on. Hibbert wasn’t able to close out to guys like Paul Milsap, Pero Antic and Mike Scott.
Was it that he wasn’t trying? No. He tried to play defense against them. He just wasn’t capable of covering that much ground–that isn’t his normal role. Did he let that impact him on the offensive end? Possibly. He may not have been engaged in the game with a lack of offensive touches and a hard cover on the other end–that’s completely plausible. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a good player.
Yesterday, Hibbert proved that against the Washington Wizards. The Pacers got Hibbert going early and he responded very well. Hibbert’s first made shot was a 21 foot jumper and it dropped. After that, he’d score 26 more points and only miss three times all game.
But what really fueled Hibbert’s fire yesterday? It was his hustle. You can’t exactly quantify effort and hustle, but Hibbert covered more ground than the Washington Wizards’ bigs yesterday. After game 1, Hibbert said he needed to establish himself and duck in a bit early. He was right on the money with that and he backed his talk up in game 2.
Let’s take a look at Hibbert’s second bucket of the game.
Hibbert runs down the floor hard and pushes Marcin Gortat all the way under the rim. His push on Gortat allows him to move a bit closer to the basket and get in great position for a dump into the post, an offensive rebound or an interior pass.
West ends up beating Nene off of the dribble and Gortat rotates over in order to help on the shot. Hibbert comes in a bit further after West draws the defense and sets himself up for an easy finish.
Hibbert set himself up deep in the paint for that easy look. He remained patient until the ball came to him. Even if West put up that shot, Hibbert would still be in prime position for the offensive rebound. A note for the future bigs at home: That’s you set yourself up for success as a big man. Do your work early and get as deep as you can into the opposing territory.
Essentially the same thing happened in this next play. Hibbert makes sure to run hard down the floor and he’s able to pick his spot because of it.
Hibbert beat all of Washington’s big men down the floor after a missed shot. He runs hard instead of jogging and is able to establish himself in the paint. He gets two feet inside without even being touched.
Hibbert was able to get to a spot that he was comfortable at and catch Nene with a couple of post moves to give himself some more space for a soft jump hook. Hibbert isn’t known for his touch, but when you’re 7’2 and already that deep in the paint, you don’t need too much.
The Wizards didn’t do a good job of putting a body on Hibbert as he dove to the rim. By the time they actually touched him it was too late. Even in transition, Hibbert was running harder than everyone else. On this play, he darts past everyone else and gets right back to that sweet spot of his out of transition.
Once Stephenson is able to draw the defense, he kicks it to Hibbert who gets another uncontested bucket. No one touched him as he darted through the paint and that is unacceptable here if you’re the defense. In transition, you have to pick up the ball first and protect from rim runs second. Washington didn’t do either on that possession.
Hibbert was rewarded for his work off of the ball all night long. Even here, where he sets a hard screen on Martell Webster. This invokes a switch and gives him a mismatch down low.
Nene is forced to switch out onto the ball and Hibbert is left down low with a small. But Washington had a huge misstep that allowed Hibbert to remain open for a monster finish at the rim uncontested.
Martell Webster rotates back over to his man and expects Drew Gooden to step up and take on Hibbert. But instead, Gooden stays home because of the possible feed to David West–interior passing had been beating Washington all night long. Gooden doesn’t trust Andre Miller to rotate from the wing and help and that results in a dunk for Hibbert.
Hibbert creates this play with his enormous presence. He sets a big screen to force a switch after Webster can’t recover in time. Then once he receives the ball, he doesn’t shoot. Instead, he waits and passes the ball back to Paul George. Then he makes his way down toward the rim and gets the best look he possibly can.
This was something that bit Washington all night. They didn’t do much to keep Hibbert covered throughout the game and it showed. Instead of doing their work before the ball was caught, they waited until things were already in motion to take action. Take a look at this play here.
Hibbert is able to duck into the paint after he sets a screen for George on the weakside. This is something that the Pacers have gone to throughout the season and especially in the playoffs. It frees Paul George up from his defender and gives him a variety of options as he handles the ball in the middle.
This time, though, George chooses to reward Hibbert for establishing himself. That’s when he makes his move and hits the defense with a baby hook shot. But that very play set up a crucial one in the waning moments of the game. Take a look.
It was the exact same play, but David West goes to the second option because Washington covered the first one well. And this time, Nene has his body on Roy Hibbert. That leaves the dribble handoff option with Paul George for West. Once he gets it, he slithers by Ariza for a strong finish. There was an opportunity for Nene to help. he didn’t, though, because Washington was burned on that same play earlier by none other than Roy Hibbert.
That’s what happens when you do your work in the paint early as a big. Hibbert ran hard, set screens and rolled hard to the basket in an effort to create space. He isn’t going to continue to put up 28 for the rest of the series–he’s not a high volume scorer. But his presence definitely should be felt in this way. If Hibbert continues to establish himself in these ways we won’t hear talk about “what’s wrong with him” for much longer.