#55 / Center / Indiana Pacers
Little was publicized more this past summer for the Pacers than the work load Roy Hibbert took on to improve his game and look to become a quality center in the NBA. Working with Bill Walton, training in MMA, pushing his rookie protégé, slimming down, becoming limber and quick, it was a summer of transformation for Hibbert, a player coming out of the draft was seen as slow and lumbering.
And the work paid immediate dividends on opening night, dropping 28 and 9 on the Spurs. Through November, Hibbert was a 16/10 player with 2 blocks per for an above .500 ball club, showing himself as a clear front runner for the league’s Most Improved Player award. His post game was refined and patient to go alongside a potent midrange jumper, his play on defense active and anticipatory. It seemed Indiana would be in for a great season with Hibbert at the center spot.
Unfortunately, Hibbert’s effectiveness proved to be unsustainable as teams around the league began game planning for the big fella. Once that happened, it went south pretty quickly. Suddenly, shots wouldn’t fall, movements were awkward, and his post game fell apart. Nothing Roy was doing had any kind of confidence and it was easily visible in his play.
Over the next two months, Hibbert went from a potential award winner to possible benching, averaging just 9.7/6.7 on an unfathomably dreadful .399 shooting. But while Roy’s ego was shaken, he wasn’t receiving much help from his coach, who did everything to belittle Hibbert’s play except whisper in his ear at night how much he hated him, going so far as to say the only reason Hibbert was still the starter was because there was no one behind him.
Hibbert’s psyche definitely took a hit this past year, even as his own Area 55 cheered him on, and it simply didn’t improve under Jim O’Brien. It seemed that once teams figured out an effective way to remove Hibbert, O’Brien didn’t allow Roy the patience to overcome the hurdle, rather opting to issue him some tough love, even though it proved to be ineffective.
Then, as O’Brien tinkered with the lineups, slowly moving Josh McRoberts out of the post and inserting Tyler Hansbrough in addition to the PF play of James Posey, it didn’t leave Hibbert any help in the paint to showcase his passing skills to his forward should he get caught in the post. Not only was O’Brien throwing Roy under the bus at any given opportunity, but he was also abandoning him down low.
Roy’s play started showing signs of improvement around the time of O’Brien’s dismissal, however, and a heavier focus and more support allowed him to slowly work out of his slump, reaching 24 points and 11 boards in Frank Vogel’s first win as head coach. The second half of Hibbert’s season saw its ups and downs, but was able to settle into a steady 13/7 average on a much healthier .490 shooting.
While Hibbert’s play wasn’t routinely as great as it was the beginning, he was working through a lot of his issues. Heading into the playoffs, the Pacers were focused on getting Hibbert big play as an advantage against Chicago. His play at times was large, but only in stretches, play that was easily capped once it got a bit too effective for the Bulls’ liking.
So how did Roy impress?
His improvements were impressive alone. The additions he showed early in the season, and at stretches during the second half, were very positive for a player whose pro prospects were heavily criticized coming out of Georgetown. But like with all the young guys, consistency is key. When Roy was in charge of a game, he was a dominating offensive player, with a soft jumper, a tough baby hook, and a confident low post turnaround.
In addition, he showed his wares as a rebounder after a couple of years where those questions were raised about that aspect of his game. Defensively, Roy had stretches of noteworthy play; a gifted blocker thanks to his size, and far smarter awareness of how to stay out of foul trouble.
His infectious personality really made him a fan favorite despite his struggles, and his tremendous fan service in opening up Area 55 was an outpouring display by a player who loves where he is; something the franchise hasn’t visibly had since the retirement of #31, as he routinely went above and beyond promoting the franchise and working to show former fans just how much fun Indiana basketball is becoming again.
And how did Hibbert disappoint?
The biggest concern moving forward with Hibbert would almost seem to be his psyche. During his struggles in December and January, Hibbert sought out a psychiatrist to help work him through some of his issues. As trade rumors surfaced on Draft Week involving Roy’s name, the first thought across most fans mind was, "I sure hope that doesn’t hurt his confidence." It’s a bit of a concerning issue to have lying deep in your center’s makeup.
It would be nice to see Roy, who often seemed visible bothered by questions involving his confidence, work on not getting too high or too low regarding his play. While his dances and giant grins are very positive signs for fans on how Hibbert was playing, that kind of response requires a counterbalance, and that was often very distraught and frustrated, making it hard to gauge how Roy would react to any given situation.
But mental hurdles are far harder to overcome than physical ones. Roy has no issues putting in the work to overcome his own physical shortcomings, but doing the same for mental aspects is another game entirely. He can start by focusing on his game and rounding it out. His youth and steady growth gives much cause for excitement, and the next step is not falling in and out of games, and becoming a more effective all around player even as teams threaten to take away his effectiveness, something he didn’t do well this past season.
So what’s next for Big Roy?
Despite some trade rumors swirling around as Draft Week began, Larry Bird was quick to dismiss them, lauding Hibbert as one of the team’s key core players, and really, it makes perfect sense to move forward with him. While you can find more gifted and athletic players than Hibbert at just about every corner of the NBA player market, it’s hard to replace a true seven footer, much less one that has shown great acceptance of the city of Indianapolis and displayed incredible work ethic. Those kinds of additions make a player far more valuable to a franchise, and it’s easy to see why Bird would want to keep a player who helped push the team’s 2010 #1 pick into a direction of potential greatness. Should Hibbert remain a Pacer as most hope he does, the Pacers will start to hash out a contract extension to make #55 and Area 55 a regular sight at Conseco Fieldhouse for years to come.