Last night in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert played just 20 minutes. He grabbed one rebound, didn’t score a single point, and according to Pacers beat writer Mike Wells, he declined postgame comment for the first time in his five-year career.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel simply said this about Hibbert: “He didn’t have it tonight.”
Problem is, Hibbert hasn’t had it on most nights this year. With Danny Granger sidelined and the Pacers desperately in need of production on the offensive end, Hibbert has shot a woeful 39 percent from the field and averaged just 9.5 points per game this season.
Lest you’ve forgotten, Hibbert is 7-foot-2 and was hotly pursued by multiple teams before Indiana signed him to a max contract this offseason. To say his offensive production so far this year isn’t befitting of a max player is a gross understatement — it hasn’t even been remotely average.
Hibbert is shooting just 47 percent directly at the rim this season, missing more than he makes from point blank range. The NBA average at the rim? Right around 63 percent. Even worse, if you subtract Hibbert’s dunks (20-for-23) from that total, he’s shooting 37% at the rim. That’s beyond awful for any center, let alone one that towers over most players inside.
So what’s the deal? Is this just a 30-game anomaly? Or is it something else?
One theory is that Hibbert’s struggles could very well be attributed to a lingering wrist injury that dates back to last season. Tim Donahue of the always excellent Pacers blog “8 points 9 seconds” took a very detailed look at how the weakness in Hibbert’s wrist has affected his hook shot. That’s one of Hibbert’s pet moves, and without it, he’s not the same player.
It also seems very well possible that Hibbert’s weakness in his wrist is influencing his confidence more than anything else. Hibbert is attempting more tip shots than ever before, which perhaps indicates his reluctance to come down with the ball for an actual attempt, or worse yet, go to the free throw line where he’s shooting a career low 63 percent.
Hibbert’s comments to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports earlier in the month seem to support that:
“Physically everything is there,” Hibbert said. “I just got to get over some stuff. It’s more mental with me than anything. I’m getting to the [floor] spots I want to get to, but the shots aren’t dropping that usually drop.”
Hibbert has been seeing a sports psychologist since 2008, and he says that it’s been working. Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated to the floor quite yet. Although he’s played very well defensively, Hibbert has scored less than 8 points in six of his last nine games, and his limited minutes in a close game last night speak volumes. Slumps for big men just don’t last this long, and it’s unclear what has to change for Hibbert to snap out of it.
That’s the tricky part about injuries. The physical recovery can be reasonably predicted and everything can heal and feel fine, but the mental recovery often isn’t as simple.