The Hibbert Effect

By Brian Martin

With less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's game in Indianapolis, the Miami Heat had scored four straight points to cut the Pacers' lead to five and had the ball in their possession looking to cut the deficit even more.

LeBron James gathered the ball outside the 3-point arc and ran a pick-and-roll with Chris Bosh, driving toward the right sideline. Paul George was unable to fight past the pick and David West did not hedge to cut off James, who turned the corner with a clear lane ahead of him.

As this happens, Quinn Buckner of the Indiana broadcast team says "Oh no" as James drives toward the basket and says it again as James gets ready to put up a layup. But as we listen to the "Oh no's," we also see Roy Hibbert leave Chris Andersen at the top of the key to pick up James on the drive.

Hibbert challenges the layup, but does not block it, as the ball hits the backboard and then the left side of the rim and bounces away for the miss.

The play is registered as MISS James 2' Driving Layup in the play-by-play. There is no mention of Hibbert since he did not block the shot. However, it was his defense that altered what initially looked like a play that would cut the Pacers' lead to three with 1:44 to play.

Instead, the Pacers held onto their five-point lead and the Heat would get no closer. In fact, the Heat would not score until the final seconds of the game on a Ray Allen 3-pointer with the Pacers comfortably ahead by nine points.

This has been the challenge when it comes to measuring defense using statistics. A look at the box score from Tuesday's game shows that Hibbert recorded one blocked shot, well below his season average of 3.0 (second in the NBA). It gives no indication of how important his defense was in helping Indiana secure the come-from-behind win over the defending champs.

The good news is that we have graduated to a new era of analytics and with the use of SportVU player tracking data and video from each play of every game, we can now better analyze defensive impact.

With SportVU player tracking, we now have statistics for rim protection, which measures the opponent's field goal percentage at the rim while it is being defended. Rim defense is defined as the defender being within five feet of the basket and within five feet of the offensive player attempting the shot.

Among the 48 players that face at least six field goals at the rim per game, Hibbert leads the league with opponents shooting just 39.7 percent against him.

Here is a look at the top five:

PlayerBLK per gameOpp FGM at Rim
per game
Opp FGA at Rim
per game
Opp FGP at Rim
Roy Hibbert (IND)
Brook Lopez (BKN)
Tyson Chandler (NYK)
John Henson (MIL)
Joakim Noah (CHI)

In addition to the missed layup by James in the final two minutes, Hibbert made an impact on seven other plays at the rim on Tuesday night. And by using the new interactive box scores we can now watch video of each of these plays.

Let's start with the easiest one to measure -- the one blocked shot that Hibbert recorded against Chris Andersen.

2nd Qtr; 4:45
Hibbert BLOCK (1 BLK)

Now we have to do some digging to look at the Heat's shot attempts at the rim that were missed and see if Hibbert was on the floor and whether or not he made an impact on those misses. Here are the five plays where Hibbert helped force a Miami miss at the rim.

When looking at these five plays, you'll notice that three were shots by James and two were shots by Mario Chalmers. While most of them were with Hibbert as a help defender coming off of his man to help guard the basket, the first one is the result of a switch that had Hibbert guarding James one-on-one. The Indiana broadcast team is calling for help for the big man, but he is able to hold his own against the reigning MVP on this play.

2nd Qtr; 2:50
MISS James 3' Driving Layup

3rd Qtr; 8:02
MISS Chalmers 3' Running Jump Shot

3rd Qtr; 7:30
MISS Chalmers 3' Reverse Layup

Part of what makes Hibbert so effective is his ability to challenge shots without fouling. When you look up the law of verticality there should be a picture of Hibbert next to it as he is the master of going straight up, with his long arms held high, but not coming down on the offensive player as he attempts a shot. As long as the defender does not jump into the offensive player or swing his arms down to attempt a shot block, contact between the two players is allowed.

"He takes a lot of teams out of what they're accustomed to doing because he's so great at the rim and protecting the rim," said James after the game (3:30 mark of video). "And they allow him to use his verticality rule, more than anyone in our league. He does a great job of changing your offense and making you take contested shots at the rim or contested jump shots."

[For more on Hibbert's defensive impact and his use of verticality, check out The Starters breakdown of the Pacers' win over the Heat.]

4th Qtr; 6:28
MISS James 2' Layup

4th Qtr; 1:44
MISS James 2' Driving Layup

And finally, when you are one of the preeminent defenders and shot blockers in the league, occasionally you are going to commit fouls when protecting the rim. On Tuesday, Hibbert committed two shooting fouls, both in the second half and both against LeBron James.

3rd Qtr; 7:21
Hibbert S.FOUL (P1.T1)
James Free Throw 1 of 2 (13 PTS)
James Free Throw 2 of 2 (14 PTS)

The first foul didn't help the Pacers as James went to the free throw line and knocked down both shots. However, in the fourth quarter, it was a different story. Once again James went to the rim, once again Hibbert fouled him. But this time James missed both free throws. Considering Hibbert wasn't in foul trouble, this would definitely be categorized as a good foul. Make the player earn the points at the line rather than at the rim. And in this case, James was unable to do so.

4th Qtr; 6:00
Hibbert S.FOUL (P2.T2)
MISS James Free Throw 1 of 2
MISS James Free Throw 2 of 2

So while the box score only lists one blocked shot for Hibbert, a closer look using video and player tracking data allows us to truly measure how much an impact Hibbert had on defense to help Indiana earn the win over Miami on Tuesday night.