Posted Nov 4 2010 11:03AM - Updated Nov 4 2010 11:39AM
Roy Hibbert seemed almost eager Wednesday night to let the world know how thoroughly unacceptable the Indiana Pacers' performance at Philadelphia had been in their 101-75 beatdown by the 76ers. He was waiting for Mike Wells, beat writer for the Indianapolis Star, when the locker-room door swung open to media at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
The team in that locker room had some 'splainin' to do, losing in such an embarrassing fashion four days after handling Philadelphia by 13 points at Conseco Fieldhouse, and Hibbert was determined to be the man to do it.
"It was really pathetic," the Pacers center said. "People have to be held accountable. We have to run the system. When we run it, we're good. When we don't, we lose like this ... We were horrible. We weren't running our sets. We weren't getting out and running. We were't cutting and moving. This wasn't Pacers basketball. I thought we just took three steps back, in my opinion."
Hibbert's we-a culpa didn't stop there. Soon enough, "Hoya2aPacer" was apologizing to his greater Twitter community: "I am sorry Indiana. That was not Pacer basketball. What u saw is not acceptable and we r not gonna let this be the norm. We can do better!"
Hibbert already is.
For the past few months, the focus has been on Hibbert's physical and basketball development, areas in which he has made impressive strides. His body fat is down, his strength is up and while he still looks a few sandwiches light through the hips and thighs to consistently hold his position in the low post, he was making good on all the happy projections.
Through the Pacers' first three games, the former Georgetown standout -- my preseason pick to be chosen Most Improved Player -- had averaged 18.3 points, 10 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.67 blocks.
Hibbert spent three invaluable days this summer being tutored by Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, courtesy of the player's Hall of Fame boss, Larry Bird. He stuck around Indianapolis and sweated through strength-and-conditioning coach Shawn Windle's routines. With nine points on 4-of-12 shooting Wednesday, he wasn't without fault in the stinker in Philadelphia -- coach Jim O'Brien felt Hibbert held the ball too long, his indecision encouraging the diggers and double-teamers who left their men to pester the post. But by the time O'Brien said it, Hibbert already knew it. No one is tougher on this guy than himself.
"Last year I was unknown and people let me go 1-on-1 in the post," Hibbert said after a preseason game in Chicago. "But now I've got to adjust, because they're digging in and sending two or three people at me. I have to make smarter decisions. It is a sign of respect, but I need to find my teammates and hit the open man instead of forcing shots."
It's all part of the plan, in Year 3 now, in which Hibbert makes himself (with lots of help) into a Top 10 center. Maybe something more.
"I want to be great," he said. "I want to be the best. It's just a matter of putting in the work and having it come through on the court. Eighty-two games is long. Hopefully I can learn, be a leader on the court and help us win."
Said Bird, the Pacers' president of basketball operations: "The thing about Roy is, Roy works. He's always been a worker. Puts his time in, wants to be good. And he's gettin' better. He'll have some good games and then he'll come back and have a mediocre game. But he is getting more consistent ... He don't get satisfied."
Reaching out to Walton was Bird's idea. Did the famous redhead impart to Hibbert every nuance and angle of what generally is considered the best big-man's passing game ever? Not exactly, not in three days. But he did hammer home some basics in footwork and in outlook.
"Bill tried to transfer attitude to him," O'Brien said. "How lucky he should feel about being in the NBA. How he should carry himself, being 7-foot-2. What his attitude should be on the court. How to present himself in the post. What Bill worked with him on the court would best be described as simple fundamentals. He had Roy jump-stop 700 to 800 times in four days. One simple jump-stop.
"Bill's so upbeat and great to be around. To have one of the great centers in the history of the game spend that much time and really talk to him about how to carry himself and be huge in the post and never take your eye off the ball, demand the ball, and that the mental is every bit as important as the physical, was great."
Some lessons, of course, can only come in competition. Against the Bulls two weeks ago, with Joakim Noah out (flu), Hibbert battled inside with wily veteran Kurt Thomas. Despite giving up five inches in height and 14 years in age, Thomas used his width and the wiles of 16 NBA seasons to move and disrupt Hibbert almost at will. The younger man wound up looking way too mechanical.
Thomas chuckled later when asked about the youth vs. experience disparity.
"Oh definitely. Those are the things he'll start to develop over the years," he said. "Sky's the limit for him. He does a real good job of creating contact and space when he posts up. He really knows how to use his body, and he's real long. He uses his length, his long arms, to get his shot off, and on the defensive end he uses his length to contest and block shots."
O'Brien, a stickler for his motion offense, wants to keep it simple for Hibbert: Stay on the court (and out of foul trouble) for 33 minutes, shoot at a high percentage and log two assists for every turnover as the ball moves through him, and he'll be doing his job just fine. Four games in, his accuracy needs to improve (44 percent) but Hibbert is hitting his other marks (33 mpg, 17 assists so far to seven turnovers).
The big man's progress is vital to the Pacers' blueprint. There is a cluster of teams in the NBA Central that are building around top-notch point guards and centers. Chicago has Derrick Rose and Noah, Milwaukee has Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut and Indiana believes it is set for the long haul with Darren Collison and Hibbert (along with small forward Danny Granger). Not coincidentally, those are the two positions where the vaunted Miami Heat are weakest.
Giving Indiana a presence in the locker room, on the buses and the planes and through the low points that invariably pockmark each NBA season is a part of it for Hibbert, too. Bill Walton wanted him to "be big." The Pacers need him to stand tall.
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