The style of Roy Hibbert might have gone extinct, but there was a semi-recent time where he was causing serious problems for the league’s premier team.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra had been experimenting with Chris Bosh at the center spot ever since he joined the Miami Heat. After witnessing how it helped dismantle the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 Finals, Bosh was on board with a full-time gig after resisting at earlier points.
With the appropriate amount of shooting at the other four spots, the goal was to further open up an already dynamic offense headlined by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. He wasn’t shooting threes yet, but Bosh’s inaugural presence just inside the arc as Miami’s tallest player was the catalyst for results that speak for themselves.
Miami boasted the league’s top offense in 2012-13 with a rating 5.8 points better than the year prior. James was the near-unanimous MVP and Wade posted what was a career-high in field goal percentage. The Heat won a league-best 66 games, including a 27-game winning streak, and entered the playoffs as heavy favorites to once again emerge on top.
But no matter the level of dominance, every team has a weakness. With Bosh in the middle, Miami sacrificed size for threes and speed and paid on the glass because of it as the 30th-ranked team in rebounds per game.
Bigger teams made sure that weakness was exploited. When the Heat’s famous winning streak finally did end, it came against a Chicago Bulls team that held a 43-31 edge on the boards including a plus-six advantage on the offensive glass.
The tradeoff was a logical one given the supreme advantages it afforded Miami as a team that could fill up the scoring column and switch multiple matchups at the other end. That didn’t mean it couldn’t be capitalized on with the right personnel at the right time.
Roy Hibbert has been absent from the NBA for more than three years due in large part to the league-wide absence of demand for what he did best.
His domain was as close to the rim as possible, where a hulking 7’2”, 270-pound frame functioned as a brick wall-like blockade for opponents looking to attack the basket.
A big man today couldn’t command a starting spot with Hibbert’s lumbering feet and limited range. The philosophical change in basketball’s fundamentals is what landed Hibbert on four teams in three years to (seemingly) close out his career.
But at a time when small-ball was only just starting to gain traction, Indy stayed true to the roots of the game because of the good it brought them.
Hibbert’s size was embraced as the fulcrum of a ’90s-lite defense that funneled opposing ballhandlers into a towering frame that grew larger due to his master of the rule of verticality. He limited close-range opportunists to just 38.0 percent shooting in 2012-13, the second-best mark in the league.
In 2011-12, the Indiana Pacers defense ranked 10th. One year later its was tops in the league, propelling them to a matchup with Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Despite that niche taken full advantage of, Hibbert wasn’t exactly considered a superstar or even a star during his peak days in Indiana.
That didn’t mean people weren’t aware of what he brought to the table. He imposed himself in the Pacers’ second-round victory over the New York Knicks with 13.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game — none more famous than this one.
A two-time All-Star in 2012 and 2014, but also someone who never averaged more than 12.8 points per game in any of his nine NBA seasons. In a league where notoriety is driven by offensive excellence, Hibbert lagged far behind.
Against a Heat team expected to drag him away from the basket, many believed Hibbert’s defensive abilities would be minimized and his perimeter limitations exposed without the scoring punch to make up for it at the other end.
The threat of Bosh canning an open jumper made no difference to Indy’s gameplan. Hibbert was to remain planted in front of the rim, wreaking enough havoc to force even LeBron off his game.
James converted on a staggering 76.1 percent of his 7.1 restricted area attempts per game during the regular season. In three matchups with Indiana, he shot a still-elite 66.7 percent but took just 3.0 shots per game.
The results trended in a similar direction come playoff time, where James shot 71.0 percent on 7.7 nightly looks in the restricted area in the first two rounds but 68.1 percent on 6.7 attempts per game against the Pacers.
For all of Hibbert’s exploit defensively, the absence of a legitimate post-game typically rendered him something of an afterthought at the offensive end.
The Pacers ran post-ups more than any play type in 2012-13 — per Synergy — but Roy Hibbert registered just 0.88 points per possession on such draw ups — a below-average mark. It’s partially why he ranked fourth among Pacers that year in shots per game.
And yet, against a matchup who surrendered roughly 35 pounds in Bosh, Hibbert was able to average 22.1 points on 55.7 percent shooting along with 10.4 rebounds per game.
The Heat emerged victoriously from what stretched into a seven-game series but not without a pause for concern over their chances to do so in future years.
Coaches can draw up gameplans to run shooters off the 3-point line or block off opponents from the rim. When a guy is simply bigger and stronger than any matchup a roster can deploy, it’s a beating they might just have to take in stride, as the Heat did in a series that saw neither team win consecutive games.
The Heat knew Indiana would likely stand in their way the following season. It was no coincidence, then, they signed Greg Oden that summer.
At 7’0” and 250 pounds, Oden was Miami’s best bet to contain a player who averaged 5.0 offensive rebounds per game over the seven-game series.
It was a flier that didn’t pan out as the former No. 1 pick appeared in just 23 games during the regular season and totaled seven playoff minutes. That the Heat took it at all shows the way they believed Hibbert could swing a rematch that seemed inevitable.
His impact was enough to make LeBron utilize a floater that only seemed to be dusted off against Indiana. “LeBron never shoots floaters,” said one Eastern Conference scout in a Sports Illustrated piece. “But against Roy, he shoots them all the time.”
Indeed, James took an extra 1.9 shots per game in the non-restricted area paint when Hibbert stood in the way during the 2012-13 regular season and an added 0.8 in the conference finals compared to rounds one and two.
The Heat at times seemed unbeatable during their four-year run, ratting off historic win streaks with stretches of two-way brilliance that could swiftly cut any deficit or greatly expand a lead.
Upon playing the Pacers, that pristine image took a hit. Of their 10 matchups across the 2012-13 regular and postseason, Miami crossed the 100-point mark just three times. Hibbert made sure of that as one of the ideal players to expose the gaping cavity within Miami’s construction.
It wasn’t enough to help snap a streak of what would be four consecutive Finals appearances. Against one of the greatest teams of all-time, commanding that type of attention is still quite the coup.