Roy Hibbert isn't the prototypical All-Star. He doesn't score in bunches. His game isn't flashy. He doesn't jump through the roof, doesn't light up defenses with scoring barrages and isn't likely to put the Indiana Pacers' offense on his back.
So why is he making a trip to New Orleans? He's anchoring the NBA's best defense, the calling card of the NBA's best team.
It's difficult to measure the defensive impact of a a single player. Offense can be weighed in field goal attempts, percentages and distance, but defense is still a tricky area. Sure, analytics are moving toward finding ways to better identify how an individual player can impact, but it's still best seen with the eyes. Seeing still remains the best path to believing with Hibbert.
Any player who can be used as an equalizer against LeBron James is doing exceptional work. Hibbert's ability to use the "verticality rule" to his advantage makes him one of the NBA's best defensive players, and perhaps Indiana's only hope to reach an NBA Finals while South Beach is still partying during the Big Three era.
The Pacers are leading the Eastern Conference for a few reasons. They have personnel consistency in their starting lineup, they have a budding two-way star Paul George, and they hold opponents to an NBA-best 93.6 points per 100 possessions. When is Indiana at its best? When Hibbert is playing. He has the best net rating on the team at +11.3. When he's playing Indiana's defense improves to a 92.7 defensive rating. It's at its worst when he's off the court, slipping to 95.1, according to NBA.com. While it's a marginal dip, that's the worst off-court defensive rating on the team. The 105.3 offensive rating he yields while on the court is the cherry on top of how great he fits into Frank Vogel's schemes.
It's not hard to root for Hibbert, either. He's enjoyable to watch both on and off the court. He takes selfies in postgame interviews. He has Twitter conversations about shaking hands with Stone Cold Steve Austin and wanting to Stone Cold Stunner him out of respect. He issued the #RoyHibbertChallenge on Twitter -- the task of downing a Gatorade bottle in a single gulp -- after this moment was captured during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
There's nothing manufactured about Hibbert. He comes across as genuine while embracing the blue collar job of protecting the rim. That he's playing on a team that took a giant leap into elite territory last season makes it a great narrative to match his phenomenal defensive prowess.
Indiana has done a great job getting out ahead of the pack as it looks to secure the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. This batch of Pacers -- a group largely unchanged from last season aside from upgrades to the reserves -- is on pace to finish with the best record in franchise history. They're doing it with defense. They're able to perform at their peak because Hibbert is lurking in the paint, ready to make that weak side rotation, ready to come out of nowhere and stuff the next poor soul who tries to sneak a layup against a stingy defense.
Will it be enough to stop the Heat from marching to their fourth straight NBA finals appearance since James, Bosh and Wade joined forces? Only time will tell how far this team will go, but if the Pacers are the team to stop LeBron's reign atop the NBA, it will have everything to do with Indiana's ability to put the brakes on Miami's offense.
The man standing seven foot tall at the center of Indiana's defensive identity is Roy Hibbert. From a Hoya, to a Pacer, to a two-time All-Star.