Hibbert Still Adjusting; Hill Feeling Good

Roy Hibbert's role with the Pacers fluctuates like the weather. Is he “the guy” to build a team around? Someone to rebound and defend and leave scoring to other people? Or something between those extremes?

He's not really sure, and neither is coach Frank Vogel, but they're OK with that. It will vary from game to game. The desired theme is for him to be assertive at both ends and take what comes offensively.

Hibbert has been a greater factor the past two games, which the Pacers not coincidentally happened to win. He had 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots at Minnesota on Sunday, and 14 points, four rebounds and seven blocks (all in the first half) in 22 ½ minutes against New Orleans on Tuesday.

The Pacers tend to win when he plays like that, but he hadn't been playing like that for awhile before Sunday.

There's no mystery to it. Hibbert sprained his ankle in the game against Phoenix at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Nov. 22, and then struggled with that and his changing role in an ever-changing lineup for awhile. The numbers tell the story clearly enough. He shot 47 percent from the field in the 12 games before the one against Phoenix, when he was the only returning starter from last season and, in Vogel's words, “tried to own the team.” He sat out four games with his injury, and then shot 36 percent in the next 10 games, the last of which brought a scoreless effort at Denver.

While Hibbert sat out with his sprained ankle, David West returned from his own sprained ankle, suffered in the preseason, so Hibbert returned to an altered landscape and at less than full strength.

“I thought when Roy came back he consciously or subconsciously took a backseat to David, because of the respect everyone has for David,” Vogel said following Wednesday's light workout at The Fieldhouse. “I just want him to go back and have the approach he did early in the season. But his No. 1 role on this team will always be to protect the rim and to defend and rebound and give us some offense when we need it.”

George Hill's return on Tuesday will bring further adjustments, but not necessarily unhappy ones for Hibbert. The offense ran better when Hill was in the game, and should continue to do so in the future, which should create easier scoring opportunities for Hibbert.

“It was a rough 10 or 12 games,” Hibbert said Wednesday. “I just want to be aggressive. We're figuring things out.”

Assistant coach Popeye Jones sat down with Hibbert after that scoreless outing in Denver, and showed him video clips of more aggressive play in other games. That's Vogel's bottom line for him. Protect the rim defensively, rebound and be more aggressive about establishing position near the basket and demanding the ball. The point totals will come and go, but wins will likely come more often.

“Seven-footers are different,” Vogel said. “You miss a week or eight or nine days, that's like a regular player missing three or four weeks. It took him a little while to get his legs back under him.”

Hill survives debut

George Hill participated in Wednesday's workout and reported no problems after playing 21 minutes, 15 seconds the previous night.

He and Vogel talked after practice, and agreed he likely will continue to come off the bench for the next two games, Friday at Detroit and Saturday in Brooklyn. His return to the starting lineup is most likely to come in Monday's game against Chicago at the Fieldhouse.

Whatever his role, his return will necessitate further adjustments for a team that's been adjusting since the season began.

“I’m not going to make any predictions,” Hibbert said. “It's going to take some time for us to gel again with him back. It was a good first game for him and a good win for us, but it's going to be a process.

“I'm not sure how long, but hopefully the chemistry will get back to how it was.”

No sentiment for Stuckey

Friday's game in Detroit brings a homecoming for Rodney Stuckey, who played his first seven NBA seasons with the Pistons. He's not particularly emotional about it, though. He wasn't traded to the Pacers, he left on his own accord as a free agent. And, realistically, most of his seasons there were frustrating because of the losing records.

“I'll say hi to (former teammates) and stuff like that, but the past is the past,” he said. “All the people that work around the Palace, the training staff and stuff like that … they're all good people. The fans, too. The fans were supportive through ups and downs.”

Stuckey will fly to Detroit Thursday morning about 10 a.m., ahead of the team. That will give him more time to spend with his three-year-old son, Trey, visit his barber and hook up with his best friend from last season's team, Jonas Jerebko.

But come game time, he won't be fired up to prove anything to anyone, and he won't be caught up in nostalgia.

“Just win a game,” he said.