Hibbert Becoming Himself Again
As the Pacers huddled following their first practice since returning from a weeklong road trip, Roy Hibbert had a few more words for the team. Lately, he’s had a lot to say to the team over the last week, and he now has the game to back him up.
While the Pacers were on a four-game Western Conference swing, and won all four games, Hibbert was a big part of the equation. He shot 59 percent from the floor and averaged 22.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. His first quarter on Monday against the Clippers, where he made all seven shots and had 15 points, was most impressive.
After a troubling offensive game for the first five months of the season, everybody can’t help but notice the play of Hibbert.
“He’s just taking his time now,” said Paul George. “He looks real relaxed and he’s not getting sped up. He’s getting the shots that he wants, the positions that he wants and it’s just back to Roy being his old self. His whole demeanor has changed. Now he’s the aggressor. He’s looking for the ball and demanding the ball.”
Hibbert’s defense has been there all along. He’s been one of the best big men and rim protectors in the league, according to Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. His offensive output over the last month is a huge bonus.
“I’m more seeing the Roy Hibbert that I’ve come to be used to over the last couple of years,” Vogel said. “He’s a big part of what we’re doing at both ends of the court but I’ve always said, we’ve got a variety of weapons. Our team is not going to sink or swim with Roy Hibbert’s offense. But when he’s going like he’s going, we’re awful tough to beat, no matter who we’re playing or where we’re playing.”
A greater opportunity opened up on the offensive end when David West was sidelined in the middle of March for six consecutive games because of a lower back sprain. That afforded Hibbert more touches and minutes, which helped him get in a rhythm that he was without for most of the season.
“He’s been such a contributor, and a closer, a starter and everything,” Hibbert said of West. “So when he went out, I just wanted to be a little bit more aggressive and things have fallen for me. I know I’m not going to have a night like that past couple nights all the time, but I just want to be solid and be effective and efficient.
“…When I don’t get in foul trouble, I just try to to be aggressive and finish. I wasn’t finishing plays at the beginning of the season. My wrist is healed up and everything. When I take good shots and they fall, it helps and my teammates give me confidence as well.”
Those bunnies around the hoop are no longer rimming out and he’s taking his time with those hook shots that previously never had a chance. He has also begun to mimic West’s workouts that involve different drills such as taking shots further back around the free throw line, shooting at the end of the shot clock — all while being more assertive.
“I’ve been working on some different things,” Hibbert explained. “Miles [Plumlee], my rook, has been my road dog — before practice, after practice, before games, he’s just like my test dummy. We’re just working together. He pushes me and I push him.”
Because his offensive game has returned, Hibbert is comfortable in taking an enhanced leadership role. As the second-most experienced player on the team in terms of games, below West and excluding Granger, Hibbert wants to ensure the Pacers don’t let up. He understands the importance of consistent play as the regular-season concludes, and that’s why he’s been unusually vocal.
“I know where we want to go and what we have to do,” he said. “We have to finish strong. I fire myself up and try to fire up my teammates and hopefully that gets us going. We need to finish the season out strong.
“We’re hungry. We have empty stomachs right now. We’re ready to go out there and eat again.”
It’s coming to be the time where postseason awards are discussed and then soon handed out. Paul George and Lance Stephenson both have legitimate shots at the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
They have both elevated their game in the absence of Granger. George was named to his first All-Star game and is averaging 17.9 points (+ 5.8) and 7.7 rebounds (+2.1) per game. Stephenson, who started just one game in his first two seasons and has started 66 and counting this year, is averaging 8.6 points (+6.1) and 3.9 rebounds (+2.6) per game. He has also raised his shooting percentage almost six percent (.458).
As you’d expect from their coach, Frank Vogel is supporting their candidacy. “I think they both should probably finish one and two,” he said. “I think they’re both Most Improved Player candidates.”
Ian Mahinmi was held out of practice on Wednesday as a precaution. The Pacers’ backup center sustained a right shoulder contusion in the second quarter of Monday’s win over the Clippers. He did return to the court and played eight minutes in the second half.
Gerald Green hasn’t played in the previous two games because of a upper respiratory infection. He said he had a 102 degree temperature but after taking antibiotics, he’s feeling much better.
Coach Vogel said he wasn’t aware of when Danny Granger would have surgery on his left knee.