With 1:05 remaining in the first quarter of the Indiana Pacers’ 99-82 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, Roy Hibbert denied an Anthony Davis drive to the rim. Hibbert didn’t necessarily block the shot like Davis would’ve if the roles were reversed. He used the “verticality” rule — which he’s made famous — to perfection; leaping straight into the air as Davis crashes into him, thus forcing up a weak attempt for Hibbert to swat away.
Davis (3.2) and Hibbert (2.8) are the current leaders in the NBA in terms of blocks per game, yet the two are vastly different. Davis uses his freakish athleticism and length to terrorize opponents, while Hibbert relies more on timing and that same verticality rule better than anyone else in the league. If Davis is a 6-10 fly-swatter, Hibbert is a 7-2 brick wall.
“They’re dramatically different types of shot blockers,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel offered before the game. “Anthony Davis is a pogo stick. He’s got such extraordinary athleticism and is a high-flyer, where as Roy uses more body position, really does a great job understanding angles, getting himself in front of the ball.”
The Pacers’ defensive scheme is centered around Hibbert’s strengths on that end of floor: run three-point shooters off the line and not give up anything in the paint. The strategy fueled Indiana to a second-half comeback on Saturday, as the Pelicans managed just 33 points in the half. It’s a scheme that has caught the attention of the rest of the league due to its success. However, the talking point continues to be Hibbert and verticality. Opposing coaches and players do their best campaigning to referees on and off the court, suggesting Hibbert fouls more often than not when employing the technique. The constant discussion doesn’t seem to bother the Pacers, though, at least that’s what they would want you to believe.
“They can talk about it all they want,” Hibbert said after blocking five New Orleans’ shot attempts and altering several others. “I own that space. As long as I don’t jump from A to B, that’s a foul. I understand that. I spent a long time two summers ago working on that and it’s been able to help me stay in the game and help the team.”
One would think that the Pacers wouldn’t care for all the talk surrounding verticality. They aren’t a team that relies on taking charges and what makes their scheme so special, is the fact that the likes of Paul George, George Hill, and Lance Stephenson know that they can close out on shooters at the three-point line with more aggressiveness with the best rim-protector in the league behind them plugging up any potential leaks. While a rule change at this point seems doubtful, enough momentum, enough complaining, and you never know.
The rule does seem to offer better basketball viewing. The NBA has some of the finest athletes in the world that translate those skills to spectacular feats in the air. Why discourage that and bring the game lower to the floor?
“I like it,” Vogel said in agreement with Hibbert after the victory, “because we’re the best in the league at it. It’s a strength of ours. I like the idea of this team evolving and going away from a charge-taking team. You take a charge, it’s either a foul or it’s a turnover. I like the idea of not fouling and keeping teams off the line. If you take a charge and don’t get it, you’re on the floor. How are you going to rebound when you’re on the floor?
“I like guys making basketball plays, athletic plays at the rim. I think it’s good for the game. I like that a bulk of the league is trying to do it now, because what’s more exciting than two all-world athletes making an athletic play at the rim in mid-air? I think that’s more exciting than someone trying to fall to the ground.”
One reason Hibbert might not mind the talk around his controversial ploy is the fact that much more attention is on his overall effectiveness and how it translates to the Pacers’ win column. One could argue that Hibbert could easily be leading the league in blocks per game (his shot-blocking numbers, both per game and advanced, are on par with last year’s), but it goes further than that for both the Pacers and Hibbert.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hibbert replied when asked about his shot-blocking numbers. “I have one thing in mind, to win games.
“People know that I’m a big part of the defense and why we’re number one in guarding the paint, but also guarding the three, because I always tell guys to bring guys off the three-point line and then when they try and score in the paint, I’ll take care of it.”
“More important than anything, we need [Hibbert] on the court,” Vogel added. “I encourage him to stay straight up and try to change things, block the ball when it leaves the offensive players’ hand and that’s going to lead to less blocks, but it’s going to keep him on the floor more.”
While the main goal for this Pacers team is to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference and carry that over to an NBA title, there’s individual achievements being sought after as well. Hibbert finishing 10th in Defensive Player of the Year award voting last season still doesn’t sit right with him. The positive attention the Pacers’ success this season and the shot-blocking is great for his cause, but the infamous verticality rule and Hibbert stamping his name all over it might be even better.
Hibbert made sure everyone knew that was the case again after the Pacers’ win Saturday. “I created that,” he confidently said.
Brandon Curry is the Pacers Beat Writer at the Indy Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow Brandon and the ISRon Twitter.
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