#55 / Center / Indiana Pacers
#55 / Center / Indiana Pacers
When not on the bench in foul trouble, Roy Hibbert spent a majority of his rookie season with the Pacers making most of his detractors look to second guess their feelings on the big fella. Roy’s delightful and infectious personality coupled with a strong work ethic and a surprisingly polished offensive game really gave fans a lot to look forward to. Unfortunately, Hibbert’s rookie season wasn’t everything it could’ve been, partially due to his fouling problems, but also due to Jim O’Brien’s rotation system often shuffling Roy out of the deck, especially against light-footed opponents.
Despite the drawbacks, Hibbert’s rookie season ended with less fouling, more consistent playing time, and quality production for the time allotted. What there was to expect in Roy’s progress was first put on display when the Pacers hit the summer circuit in Orlando. Hibbert’s monstrous play led him to win honors as the best player in Orlando, giving him a catchy (but lengthy) nickname from summer league fixtures Dante and Galante: Hungry Hungry Hibbert, aptly describing the big man’s appetite for basketball destruction.
Shortly after the season began, Troy Murphy went down with injury, allowing Hibbert to show off his growth. Roy was an indispensible catalyst to the Pacers five-game winning streak to help push the season off to a brighter start than the three game openers. In Murphy’s absence, Roy was able to average 14.6/11.6/2.6 with 13 blocks during the streak, leading to some speculation that Murphy may not be the best fit to go with Hibbert. As Murph returned, Hibbert’s game returned to a more grounded and less impressive state.
Despite production appearing to be stifled by another teammate’s presence, Hibbert had noticeably improved his all around game. His soft hook was unstoppable, his range was opening up, and most importantly, he had gotten his fouling tendencies under control. Even on games Hibbert found himself in foul trouble, it was easy to find that most of his fouls came from having to cover for a beaten teammate.
Hibbert played as the primary starter, but still saw limited game action on nights and even came off the bench on others, curiously, as O’Brien looked to find the perfect rotation. O’Brien’s lack of trust in Hibbert as an offensive push led to a "Feed Roy!" revolution (and t-shirts!) in hopes that we could catch a glimpse of Hibbert in Hungry Hungry mode. As we all marveled in the misusage and mismanagement of Hibbert’s game, Murphy once again went down for a short period of time.
In that small frame, Hibbert scored over twenty points three times, and showcased his most iconic performance of the season: a head-to-head beatdown of the Magic’s Dwight Howard, dropping 26 points, pulling down 8 rebounds and sending 4 blocks on their way against the Defensive Player of the Year, holding the would-be MVP candidate to 11 points on 2 of 6 shooting, before Howard went out on fouls leading the Pacers to victory.
The remainder of the season saw a steady dose of consistency for the big man in minutes and production, carrying his weight as the Pacers drifted to a strong finish to the regular season. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was fun to watch. Roy appeared to be the kind of player who needed a strong opening to the game to end up having a solid one. There were few things more fun than watching Hibbert grin ear to ear after big plays.
So how did Hibbert impress?
Hibbert’s overall game appeared much more polished than it did at any point last season. Where his career high heading into the season was 19 points, Hibbert reached the 20-point marker 13 times. His offensive skills proved to be consistent and valuable to an offense lost without those traits. The work ethic was in full force this season, as Hibbert improved in every area he could. Perhaps the most interesting prospect for young Hibbert was the growth of his passing abilities. One of the most lethal portions of the Pacers offense (most really meaning one of the few) was a feed inside to Hibbert, who was more than capable of finding the open man for a great look that fell at a consistent rate. Roy would go on to lead the NBA in assist percentage for centers, edging Marcus Camby in a contest that would’ve probably been a much wider gap had assists not been a premium for this year’s Pacers team.
And how did Hibbert disappoint?
Hibbert’s defensive abilities remained underwhelming compared to his offensive skill set. His defensive prowess was felt mainly in blocks and in improving in avoiding the foul. Speaking of fouls, Roy may have dropped his per 36 averages from 7.7 to 5.0, but still finished second in the league in fouls committed. That will continue to be an area of much needed improvement for Hibbert moving forward. Hibbert also continued to be underwhelming as a rebounder even though it’s difficult to get a full read on his rebounding skills playing alongside Troy Murphy. Without Murphy, Hibbert showed solid rebounding numbers, but with Murphy being one of the league’s best rebounders, there’s simply less to go around for the big fella. Regardless, it’s assumed that Hibbert’s rebounding abilities will remain subpar with or without Murphy.
Well, what’s next for Hibbert?
If this team has anything remotely approaching an untouchable player, Roy Hibbert is. Calling the guy untouchable is very far fetched, but he’s reaching a legitimate "He’s more valuable to us than to you" state, which is going to keep him locked up in the Circle City unless the deal is completely in Indiana’s favor. The guy’s personality, work ethic, and offensive skill set open up plenty of opportunities in a league that isn’t built to handle traditional centers. A valuable commodity, Hibbert is flourishing his way into a Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Rik Smits type center. So sit back, feel a little safer in buying a Roy Hibbert jersey, and take pride in watching Roy battle with the league’s elite centers, hopefully coming out ahead in those battles.