67RIEFNS No. 19: Pacers testing positions’ defensive importance

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

Conventional wisdom holds centers impact a team’s defense much more than any position.

1.Centers guard an opponent who’s typically hunting high-efficiency shots at the rim.

2. Centers protect the basket, serving as the last line of defense when perimeter players get beat.

3. Centers, due to their size and proximity to the rim, are key to securing defensive rebounds.

Does all that hold true in reality? Are centers really that much more important than perimeter defenders?

The Pacers will offer a great case study this season.

Indiana lost two standout wing defenders, Paul George (to injury) and Lance Stephenson (to free agency). The constant: Roy Hibbert at center.

Hibbert is one of the NBA’s best defensive centers. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and would have won the award if not due to the Pacers’ second-half collapse (which was due more to offense than defense). He’s an elite shot blocker who has progressed defending the pick-and-roll, though his rebounding leaves something to be desired.

Losing George (All-Defensive first team) and Stephenson (four spots from the second team) will certainly hurt, but their replacements – Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles – are adequate defenders. They’re the perfect variables, because they’re clear downgrades but also not so bad that they’ll screw up how Hibbert operates.

If centers are all-important defensive, Hibbert should keep the Pacers near the top of the league in points allowed per possession. Repeating last season’s No. 1 ranking is unlikely, but a top-10 finish is certainly a reasonable request.

Hibbert and George are similar-quality defenders for their positions. How much does Hibbert being taller and playing closer to the basket matter?

We should get an idea this season, and the answer could affect how we value positions defensively.