During the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Miami Heat last year, Roy Hibbert looked like a man among boys.
He towered over Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat frontline with his 7’2” frame and poured in 22 points, while shooting 55 percent from the field and hauling in 10 rebounds per game.
That sort of play had many touting him as one of the best centers in the game and it was difficult to argue against it. Pretty much everything he touched turned to gold as he consistently nailed the short mid-range jumpers as well as converting 80 percent of his free-throws.
Fast forward 12 months later, against the same team and he looked like a completely different player. The towering presence was still there but the Georgetown product was no longer the same beast.
After scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the first game of the series, he would only manage to his surpass the 12 point mark once in the remaining games, even failing to register a single point in 22 minutes of action during Game four.
So what changed?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
His teammate, Paul George, will tell you that the the fault lies with him and the rest of the Pacers on the floor because they’re not looking for the big fella, saying: "I think it’s more on us, than Roy. Last year we did a great job of finding him where he needed the ball. In this series, we didn’t get to that.”
If you ask Roy Hibbert, it’s the offensive game plan laid out by Coach Frank Vogel.
Per ESPN.com’s Brian Windhoast: “The game plan really wasn't to utilize me as much; I'm just trying to be effective as I can," Hibbert said. "Would I like a little bit more touches early on? Yeah. But that's how the cookie crumbles sometimes.
"I can only control what I can control, and I can't control plays called for me. I just need to be a good teammate if I don't get looks.”
If you ask ESPN TV’s Jeff Van Gundy, who will represent the coaches for the sake of this argument, then he will tell you that it is Hibbert’s own fault because he is mentally weak.
“We’re in this blame-the-coach culture right now,” said Van Gundy. “To see Roy Hibbert blame Frank Vogel for his lack of production in Game 4, was weak-minded and I was really disappointed.
“I was fortunate enough to coach Patrick Ewing, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo, and I never once, after they played a poor game, was on the end of the blame for their poor performance. They always looked inward.”
Ask Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh and he’ll tell you it was the team’s overall defense as well as his own individual stopping power: “Everybody talked about the success of last year and I really took the personal challenge to do a better job.
"I didn’t want him dominating to be a part of conversation so I wanted to do a good job defensively and on offense when I had the chance. Coach gave us the freedom to trust each other and live with the results so we were able to play him using our defensive instinct.”
In reality, it’s probably some combination of all three. Hibbert didn’t get the ball in the post as much because Miami began playing full court press in Game two of the series. So by the time Indiana got into their offensive sets, there wasn’t all that much time left on the shot clock.
That meant they had to run isolation plays for George or Lance Stephenson, a quick pick and roll (usually with David West) or simply jack up a desperation shot.
As a result, Hibbert wasn’t getting the ball in the post as much as he normally would. And when he doesn’t get the ball in areas where he can be effective he has a tendency to disengage from the game, leading to either a pedestrian performance on offense or he jacks up bad shots - Like 3pointers, which completely take away his teammates trust in him.
Moving forward, Hibbert, his teammates and Vogel will all have to do their bit to keep him engaged. Otherwise Indiana will be paying $15million+ for a 'potential' All-Star rather than an imposing figure that can produce on both ends.
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