I wanted to note that I always try to avoid writing in the first person, as to avoid bias, but when it comes to the Pacers, I feel nothing but bias. I have grown up a Bulls fan and am just old enough to remember despising Reggie Miller and everything the Pacers were. I hated that they made the second round of the playoffs last year, as the Bulls faltered without Derrick Rose and I mock them openly to the people around me. I bashed the max signing of Roy Hibbert and I laughed at his horrendous numbers to start the year. But after watching a two minute interview of Hibbert after a career night of, 20 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocks against the Bucks last week, I came away impressed. He took complete responsibility for his poor numbers this year, was open about his weaknesses and seemed completely devoted to his team, devoted to improving on offense and devoted to his defense. He was well spoken, funny, but most importantly honest and to my surprise, I found myself respecting him. Lost in his awful offensive numbers is the fact that he is the foundation of their league-leading defense and is a lead contender for Defensive Player of the Year and should be the favorite as of today.
Yes his offensive numbers are atrocious, at 9.7 points per game on 40.1% shooting, compared to 12.8 points on 49.7% shooting last year, which were both career highs for Hibbert. The fact that the second tallest player in the NBA is shooting 40%, is amazing. His shooting percentage is at a career low, while his scoring is lower than every year, other than his rookie campaign. Hibbert is also shooting a career low 66.2% from the free throw line, down from his 72% career average and he is getting there less frequently than every year of his career, other than, once again, his rookie season.
Lost behind his offensive struggles has been the brilliance of his defense. The whole team is struggling on offense with the loss of long-time leading scorer, Danny Granger, who has yet to play a game and so the team has shifted to a defense first style of play and Hibbert has become the leader of this style. Using his imposing size to his advantage, he is dominating the post, averaging a career high, 2.7 blocks per game, which is 3rd in the NBA. The Pacers are second in the NBA in defensive scoring, but first in shooting percentage at 41.4%, which is by far the best in the NBA, with the second best defense at 43%. They are also leading the NBA in 3-point percentage against and points per shot attempt against. Of course, this is not only because of Hibbert, as the Pacers have one of the league’s best perimeter defenders in Paul George and a great point guard defender, in George Hill, but it is Hibbert’s dominance down low that makes the Pacers’ defense elite. A single great perimeter defender cannot create a dominant defense, a great defender down low is needed. Hibbert has become that and more for the Pacers, as he has become a truly elite defensive big man.
As Tyson Chandler showed in New York last year, one great big man defending down low can turn a bad defensive team into a good one and Hibbert is showing that a good defensive team with a great big man defender can become an elite defense. Just as Tyson Chandler was defensive player of the year last year, Hibbert deserves to be it this year, as the catalyst of the league’s top defense. I still may despise the Pacers, but I can clearly see the value in Hibbert and I applaud the entire team in their defensive efforts, as they are currently the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed, despite an average offense and without their best offensive player. Although this is not just a one-man effort, Hibbert is the key to the their defense strategy and deserves the honor of the reward, as much as it pains me to say. He has truly earned the right to become the DPOY.