<
>

Roy Hibbert must overcome adversity

INDIANAPOLIS -- The door was shut and the room was empty except for the starting center whose frame of mind is as bad as his offensive game these days. No teammates, not even the head coach sat in as the 27 individual film clips were shown on the screen.

It was just Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert and assistant coach Popeye Jones.

Hibbert and Jones weren't supposed to be breaking down film trying to fix the big man's flaws and rebuild his confidence this late in the season -- just days before the top-seeded Pacers open play against the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

And not after the start Hibbert had this season.

He was the overwhelming favorite for Defensive Player of the Year during the first half of the season. Fellow All-Stars talked in New Orleans about how they would prefer to pull up for a short jumper than attack the rim because of Hibbert's ability to alter shots at the rim.

His offense?

That was secondary. The Pacers didn't need Hibbert to score; they had enough players to do that. But as the season wore on, the more Hibbert struggled offensively, the more he struggled with the rest of his game.

That's only natural when you're missing point-blank shots the way he did against Oklahoma City earlier this week. The Pacers have continued to support Hibbert through his struggles. But only one person can fix his problems.

And his name is Roy Hibbert.

Hibbert's average of 10.8 points was 19th among league centers, his 43.9 percent shooting was 21st, his 6.6 rebounds 22nd -- and his player efficiency rating (PER) of 13.54 ranks 48th among qualified center. But his 2.25 blocks put him in second at his position.

Those numbers were even worse during his final nine games of the regular season: 6.8 points, 27.2 percent shooting and 3.7 rebounds.

"I think what's hard about it is you want to play a complete game as a player, but you want to get back to what made you great or what made people say Roy Hibbert is the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year," Jones said. "Get back to that aspect first, then let's build on that. That's what I've been trying to do: give him confidence on the offensive end."

Hibbert is entering a pivotal moment in his career with the Pacers. Team president Larry Bird wasn't the one who signed off on his $58 million contract two years ago. That was then-president Donnie Walsh and general manager Kevin Pritchard's call. Bird had already stepped away for the year.

Hibbert has to get out of his funk against Atlanta; he was benched after playing just nine minutes against the Hawks on April 6. But that wasn't the first time he'd been benched against Atlanta; he sat out the entire fourth quarter against the Hawks in December 2012 after going scoreless and grabbing only one rebound.

His recent struggles began after the All-Star break, partly because he didn't feel involved in the offense. At times while sitting on the bench during games, Hibbert, who has admitted to seeing a sports psychologist in the past, looks as if he lost his favorite pet. When he's playing well, Hibbert has that extra pep in his step, smiling after blocking a shot or making a nice post move on offense.

The constant talk of his bad play has worn on Hibbert. He was short with the media after practice Thursday, saying, "I'm tired of you guys asking me," then uttering some words to himself as he walked to the locker room.

"I'm pretty confident in how he is," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "I've seen him have stretches where he struggles and gets down on himself. He doesn't seem to be that way now. He seems to be pretty confident, even in light with things not going his way of late."

The Pacers don't need Hibbert to put up Dwight Howard-type scoring numbers to reach their ultimate goal of winning a championship. They'll do just fine if he protects the paint, rebounds and finds the energy that's been missing for months.

Adversity is something Hibbert has yet to defeat during his six-year career. Too often he rides that emotional roller coaster that veterans like David West talk about avoiding.

"I thought Roy's strength last year was being able to focus on defense," West said. "He stopped what he was doing offensively. He was intent on being the rim protector. We've been talking about that, trying to get him motivated that way, because we're going to need him."