It hasn’t been pretty, but the Indiana Pacers ‘survived’ to advance to the second round of the playoffs and in the process Frank Vogel has stuck with Roy Hibbert in his starting lineup.
Given the big man’s struggles on both sides of the floor, it wouldn’t have bothered most Indy fans if Vogel had made a change to tap Ian Mahinmi into the starting unit.
Prior to Game 2, Vogel let Hibbert play more than 20 minutes in just 3-of-8 playoff games, but the increasingly embattled coach has been clear that he won’t nail the coffin shut on his big man’s fragile psyche.
This paid off in a big way in Game 2 Wednesday night when Hibbert finally caught some breaks in a 28-point, nine-rebound performance, though when we go back to the tape it wasn’t nearly the breakout game that many are making it out to be. The Wizards still targeted him relentlessly in the pick-and-roll and continued to rain jumpers over him at an alarming rate, going 10-of-16 for 20 points on shots created against Hibbert in space.
Offensively, the Wizards are fine with the way the Pacers entered the ball into Hibbert, who hit 42 percent of his shots in the post this season. He’s not bending the defense and the Wiz will welcome anything to keep Paul George and Lance Stephenson from snapping out of their 16-of-55 shooting start.
Wednesday’s result was more about everything working in the big man’s favor on offense, with an early long-range hit setting the tone for a fortunate night. Between teammate penetration, better positioning and some lapses by Washington, Hibbert took what the defense gave him and got the monkey temporarily off his back.
The good news is that Hibbert showed a different gear playing defense on the interior, which was still a mixed bag, but he changed a number of shots, fought for position and grabbed nine rebounds after securing four or less in 6-of-8 games before the Pacers’ Game 2 win.
Now in perhaps the most evenly matched series remaining, the question for Indy isn’t so much if Hibbert is back on the offensive end (that question falls on George and Stephenson against athletic wings Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal). The question is whether or not Hibbert can hold his own on the defensive end, and Vogel might have tipped his hand on how he plans to assist in that development.
Here you see Marcin Gortat, a primary screener for the Wizards, is set to head up to familiar territory to execute the high pick-and-roll with Bradley Beal. But seeing that he is covered by David West, he motions for Nene to execute the play instead.
As noted, Hibbert has been a defensive liability on this action not just in the playoffs but for the second half of the year. Typically, the Pacers have chosen to deal with the consequences rather than change who they are, and in the playoffs when teams expose weaknesses this has been their undoing.
But here, the Pacers decide to change things up. Instead of following Nene up to the top of the pattern, Hibbert and West switch with the Wizards applying no pressure on the exchange:
Beal runs the pick-and-roll against a more mobile West, who keeps the action in front of him long enough for George to recover, and Stephenson pinches in to give help when the ball is passed back to Nene:
Nene arguably can take the 18-footer but it’s going to be contested, so he instead decides to put the ball on the ground and go to the hoop. Instead of West securing the paint, the Pacers have their seven-foot rim protector waiting in the lane:
Typically, looking at a still showing Hibbert going straight up like this is going to result in a miss or a block, but Nene made the conversion. In fact, the three times the Pacers made this switch the Wizards were able to convert. But as coaches constantly say, it’s the process that matters and not the result.
Having West handle pick-and-roll duties in space or forcing Nene to take contested jumpers on the perimeter makes a whole lot more sense than watching Hibbert feebly chase players that are half his size. When the switch results in keeping Hibbert anchored in the paint it’s a no-brainer.
It’s unclear if the adjustment is a realization on Vogel’s part or a card that he felt pressured to play when facing the prospect of an 0-2 start. Should Vogel continue to go this route, the Wizards will need to find a way to keep Indy from switching the big men without a penalty, and Randy Wittman and his group aren’t known for their imagination or late-game execution on the offensive end.
Vogel can keep this card in his back pocket as a change-up or he can play it right away, but he needs to do something to mask Hibbert’s deficiencies and keep him in a position to defend and clean the glass.
If that doesn’t happen, Hibbert can score all that he wants and it’s not going to make a difference.