Roy Hibbert established himself as one of the better young centers in the NBA last season, but what started out as a breakout campaign ended quietly.
Through the first 16 games of the 2010-11 season, Hibbert averaged 16.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and two blocks while hitting 48.5% of his shots. Had he sustained that level of play, Hibbert may have made his first All-Star appearance last spring instead of this one.
However, his numbers dropped incrementally each month from October through January. After his hot start, he finished with respectable numbers, 12.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, but shot a career-low 46.1% from the field and was never the same player we saw early on.
Even with the acquisition of David West to help with frontcourt offense, the Pacers entered this season in need of a more consistent Hibbert.
Thanks to a strength program that allowed Hibbert to undergo yet another body transformation, the positive reinforcement of coach Frank Vogel and the interior assistance of West, the seven-footer has delivered in the lockout-shortened season.
“I feel real comfortable,” Hibbert told RealGM of his body early in the season. “I’ve got a strength program with our strength guy and the biggest thing is maintaining it. In the past, I lifted hard for two months in the offseason and then I stopped somewhat during the season. I’ve worked with the strength coach to figure that balance out.”
Adding muscle to his frame was something Hibbert had to focus on after he dropped weight under former coach Jim O’Brien to aid in running up-and-down the court. Thanks to a more concrete role and exercise program, Hibbert has bulked up, while also becoming more agile, to play down on the block more effectively.
Because he is better conditioned -- his exercised-induced asthma is under control -- and has gained the needed experience for a big man, Hibbert has been able to contribute and help the Pacers win even when he isn’t scoring.
In a win over the Cavaliers last week, Hibbert contributed 11 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals in 38 minutes. He took just nine shots, but was a team-high +15 in a six-point overtime road victory.
“With the change in coaches, the team and my increased strength, I feel like even when I’m not scoring I feel like I can do other stuff to help out the team,” said Hibbert. “I feel fine, I feel great. This is what is normal for me.”
A threat for a double-double on a nightly basis and an imposing defensive presence in the paint, Hibbert will be a restricted free agent this coming summer. He wasn’t able to work out a contract extension with the Pacers early in the season, but neither side seems too concerned about what this offseason will bring.
Hibbert, who is earning $2.5 million this season on the final season of his rookie scale contract, could be in line for as much as $11 million annually, according to a league source.
The Pacers wanted a more consistent Hibbert and in many ways that have gotten more than they bargained for -- he has gotten better as the season has progressed. His shot attempts have dipped a bit from the first half, but that is more a fixture of the emergence of George Hill and the addition of Leandro Barbosa than Vogel taking the ball out of Hibbert’s hands.
He is averaging more than three blocks per game in the month of April and has displayed much more confidence than we saw in the early stages of his career. He declared himself the best passer among the NBA’s big men earlier this month, something he wouldn’t have thrown out -- true or not -- even early last season.
Hibbert has scored 20 or more points six times this season, while posting fewer than eight on seven occasions. But as mentioned earlier he doesn’t need to score to help Indiana offensively. He is grabbing 3.4 offensive boards per game, a career-high by more than a full rebound, which has him among the league’s leaders in that category.
He ranks sixth in offensive rebound percentage (12.8%), ahead of famed rebounders like Kevin Love, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard and David Lee. Hibbert isn’t only a crasher of the offensive boards either, he ranks fourteenth in total rebound percentage, grabbing 16.8% of all available misses while on the floor.
Hibbert isn’t likely to receive any attention for the All-Defensive Team, but he is the defensive anchor of a good defensive team. He has a 5.3 block percentage (good for eighth and ahead of Howard) for an Indiana team that allows a ninth-best 102.8 points per 100 possessions.
Hibbert has the highest PER (19.4) on a team that clinched a playoff berth with seven games to go and sits third in the Eastern Conference. They have the sixth-best record in the league just a year after sneaking into the playoffs as an eighth seed.
As good as Hibbert has been, he hasn’t put together a complete season yet. There are a few more games left on the 66-game schedule, of which he has missed none, and the playoffs loom.
The Pacers gave the Bulls all they had in a five-game series loss last April, but Hibbert didn’t play particularly well. Meanwhile, Danny Granger got a taste of primetime attention as the No. 1 option on a playoff team and Paul George earned praise as a precocious rookie assigned to contain Derrick Rose defensively.
Hibbert? He averaged 10.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 26.2 minutes per game. He had five fouls in three of the five games and shot 44.4% from the floor. Joakim Noah didn’t dominate, but he was better than his counterpart – he posted 12 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while hitting 44.7% of his attempts.
There is a good chance the Pacers will host a first-round series, but that doesn’t mean things will come easily. If Indiana is matched up with Orlando or Boston, Hibbert will be matched up against either Howard or Kevin Garnett, the latter of whom has excelled as a five in the second half of the season. A matchup with the Hawks, who are without Al Horford, would represent a better matchup for Hibbert.
In three games against Atlanta this season, Hibbert is averaging 11.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while shooting 50% from the field.
A complete regular season is nice, but having improved quicker than many expected, the Pacers now want to see Hibbert play well from October through May or June, not just mid-April.