After a buzzed up summer full of MMA training and hard work that translated into an immediate payoff; a 28-point season debut, higher than expected rebounding numbers, All-Star consideration, and heavy buzz for Roy Hibbert being the fourth Pacer crowned Most Improved Player, the past three weeks have done their part to shut off the heat in all of that talk, just in time for a frigid month in the Hoosier State, even getting to the point where maybe, just maybe, Hibbert is what he is and the Pacers should entertain trade talks while he still have the value worthy of a viable return.
Hold up…what? How did we go from discussing Hibbert as the possible face of the franchise and a Pacer lifer to trade bait? In three weeks?
Well, it’s been just about that bad. Since this struggle started eleven games ago, Hibbert’s then 15.2/8.9 average on .514 FG% dropped thanks to this 10.2/6.7 on .346 FG% stretch. Hibbert hasn’t shot above 50% from the field in any of those games, and has been outplayed by most of his opponents. In fact, the on the floor production has gotten so bad that he wasn’t even looked at as the team needed a replacement in the closing minutes against the Knicks, even despite what may have been his best game since the fall off.
Regardless, how long does this last? Hibbert’s game against the Spurs will be important. Not only does the team need a win against the historically hot Spurs, but Hibbert scored his season high 28 points against San Antonio in the season opener. This assumes, of course, he gets the time. Since Jim O’Brien’s job is safe for any of the next 50-57 games, it’s going to be about Hibbert’s adjustments more so than gameplanning that will have to fix whatever’s wrong with Roy. Teams are better adjusting to the big fella, and there aren’t many options the Pacers have that can cover that up and get Hibbert in better position himself.
So…is it really time to sell high on Roy Hibbert and cut our losses?
To be fair, Hibbert may have outperformed his expectations. He’s limited athletically, and hard work has been the catalyst to his success in the NBA thus far, so it remains fair to ask the question: how much better will Roy Hibbert actually get?
Prior to the start of the 2009-10 season, a lot was being made of Hibbert’s offensive abilities. In fact, there were some justifiable parallels being made between Hibbert and former Pacers center Rik Smits. I don’t know for sure he’s failed to live up to those expectations. Certainly, Hibbert has himself a nice offensive touch. His work in this previous offeseason allowed him the opportunity to show that through the first month of the season.
But perhaps the parallels to Smits runs deeper. The back half of Smits’s career with the Pacers rose the Dunkin’ Dunchman’s ranks among all-time Pacer greats from "get him out of here!" to top 5. In 1989, Sports Illustrated described the second-year big man as someone who "doesn't rebound or pass that well and can be muscled out of position." The following season, he had lost his starting job while averaging career lows in points and field goal percentage, for the record, every bit as bad as Hibbert’s this season.
Smits spent another year coming in and out of the starting lineup, and almost two full seasons after that before coming on strong at the end of the 1993-94 season, where he was more than halfway through age 27. So much talk about Hibbert’s growth seems to start and end with his physical limitations in relation to his age. But what is age in the NBA when it’s different for every player? Who’s to say Hibbert’s struggles at age 24 is simply what we’re going to get with him? If we want to believe Hibbert can be the next Rik Smits, isn’t it fair to realize there will be struggles?
In addition, Smits came into his own just as his interior help, Dale Davis and Antonio Davis came into theirs. Hibbert, much like Smits, isn’t a center who is built to bang down low. He’s built to catch slower and bigger centers off guard. The Pacers have the blueprint in their own backyard how to deal with that, and it starts and ends with having help inside to draw attention away from him. Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough don’t seem like those pieces to me, and until those pieces are in place, it’s impossible to fairly assess Hibbert’s strengths.
They say it’s wise to sell high, but is it equally as wise to sell based on a small sample size in a young player’s career? Hibbert showed his ability to be a 17-10 player. We want to prepare for the worst that his career is basically what it’s been the past three weeks because he’s facing his first real bout of adversity and that there’s no way he can possibly overcome that adversity?
While no one is suggesting Hibbert should be off any trade tables for the right price, he should be off the trade tables for any deals the Pacers look for. Let other teams gauge Hibbert’s value, because it’s likely not going to be worth what he gives this team right now, much less in the future. Even with his heavy struggles, his progress is not even coming close to touching the Hasheem Thabeet plane of underachieving.
A true seven footer is always in season, especially one with the offensive abilities of #55. Perhaps this summer, Hibbert should seek out the guidance of one Rik Smits, if not for his on the floor play, then how to deal with the inconsistencies of an offensive center looking to blossom in the back half of his career. If anyone has the work ethic to make a joke of things like being an old man and set at what you are by age 24, it’s going to be Roy Hibbert.