Pelicans’ Davis Admires Hibbert’s Defense

by Manny Randhawa

January 5, 2014, 12:05 a.m.

As the basketball was tossed in the air at the opening tipoff of the Pacers-Pelicans contest Saturday night, the two men vying to give their team the first possession of the game were arguably the top two defensive players in the NBA.

Roy Hibbert won the tip against Anthony Davis when the Pacers secured the ball to begin play. As the night wore on, Hibbert got the best of Davis again, blocking two of the 6-10 power forward’s shot attempts in the paint.

But make no mistake: while Hibbert appears to be the early frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year honors, Davis has made quite an impact on the defensive end of the floor this season for his Pelicans.

Davis leads the NBA in blocks per game, with 3.2. Hibbert is second, with 2.8. Despite having missed seven games earlier in the season due to a fracture in his left hand, Davis has blocked 80 shots, just nine behind Hibbert’s league-leading 89.

There is no rim protector in the NBA like Hibbert, whose overall defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) coming into Saturday was a league-leading 93. But Davis -- whose defensive rating coming in was 102 -- is not far behind in his second professional campaign.

Both continued their shot-blocking clinics on Saturday, with Davis rejecting three shots and Hibbert denying five, including the two against Davis. The 20-year-old second-year pro, facing Hibbert and the Pacers for the fourth time in his young career, is impressed with the 7-2 center’s prowess on defense.

“He’s a big body,” Davis said of Hibbert. “He does a great job of contesting shots, altering shots, and is a big presence in the paint. Eric [Gordon] and Jrue [Holiday] and a couple other guys had to shoot their shots even higher [Saturday] just because he did a great job of affecting shots. He just plays well. He’s a good defender.”

Davis said what he admires most about Hibbert’s game is his ability to alter shots without picking up fouls, keeping him in the game so that he can continue to disrupt opponents’ offensive schemes over the course of an entire contest for a team whose bedrock is defense.

“He does a great job defending the ball without fouling, and that’s a big key for the Pacers,” Davis said. "He takes his time offensively and does a great job going vertical on defense, instead of fouling. That’s huge.”

Hibbert alluded to that crucial ability to avoid fouling while frustrating shooters in the paint after his five-block effort against New Orleans.

“I own that space,” Hibbert said as he motioned up above his head with his right arm. “As long as I don’t jump from A to B – that’s a foul, and 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 it’s helped the team.”

Indeed, when presented with the word “verticality” for the [insert absurdly large number here] time, Hibbert said what everyone already knows: “I created that.”

Hibbert has practically sparked the proliferation of the term, and Davis takes special note of the havoc No. 55’s patented verticality inflicts on drives to the rim.

“If he’s able to stay on the floor like that – especially when the Pacers need him in the fourth quarter – for a really great team in clutch situations, for him to be on the floor because he doesn’t pick up early fouls by going vertical [is key],” Davis said. “So that’s huge for him and that’s probably the biggest thing I admire about him.”

Davis’ overall numbers are better – on paper – than Hibbert’s, as the Pelicans' big man came into Saturday’s contest averaging 19.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game to Hibbert’s 12.7, 8.1, and 2.7. But the dynamics of the respective teams that each plays for are extremely different.

Hibbert is the anchor of the league’s best defensive squad, the force from which everything else in Indiana’s defensive strategy flows. His unparalleled ability to protect the rim allows for the rest of his teammates to extend out to perimeter shooters with impunity, knowing that if there is penetration Hibbert will be there to disrupt in the paint.

So his defensive impact reaches beyond the area he personally, physically covers, a ripple effect that makes him such a unique defender in the NBA.

“We’re at the top of the East and we’re moving along,” Hibbert said. “People know that I’m a big part of the defense and why we’re number one at guarding the paint, but also guarding the 3 because I always tell guys: ‘You run guys off the 3-point line and they’re going to try to score in the paint. And I’ll take care of that.’”

Offensively, the Pacers have the luxury of multiple scoring weapons, meaning Hibbert isn’t as much of a go-to offensive player as perhaps Davis is.

“We have so much firepower with George [Hill] and Paul [George],” Hibbert said. “It’s not like one of those teams where there are only two guys that can score. We have guys that can go any night, so I may not get that many touches, but I just want to bring it on the defensive end and try to be a part of the offense.”

Hibbert remains the favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, something he has declared to be a goal of his this season. But the second-year pro who is competing against him in that race could very well become a familiar name in that discussion along with Hibbert’s for many years to come.

“I take pride in defense, especially blocking shots and altering shots, just like Roy and other big guys in the league,” Davis said. “I’ve just got to continue to keep doing it.”

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