Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog: "Hulk" Hibbert playing stronger inside

"Hulk" Hibbert brings stronger presence inside

Jan. 17, 2012

Getting stronger is one thing. Being stronger is another.

Roy Hibbert took care of the former in the weight room over the summer, adding 15 pounds of muscle to his 7-2 frame. As for the latter, well, it's safe to say Hibbert is rapidly learning how best to apply his added bulk.

"I'm learning to use it a little bit more," he said. "I've been able to do things I haven't been able to do, get offensive rebounds, finish in the post a lot stronger a lot stronger than I have before, not getting knocked off (the block). The biggest thing for me is maintaining. After every home game, win or lose, I lift with the strength coach Shawn Windle on heavy lower body stuff. I'm usually the last one leaving here after a game."

If you keep waiting for a breakout season from Hibbert, you're going to be disappointed. This is not a guy in need of an epiphany, waiting for the light bulb to go on to show him the way. Hibbert has been a thorough professional since he was drafted, understanding his strengths and weaknesses and methodically, relentlessly, working to improve himself.

That he has done in every season of his career, from 7.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 10.2 fouls per 48 minutes as a rookie to 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 fouls in 2009-10, and to 12.7, 7.5 and 5.5 last season.

This season reflects even more steady progress, as Hibbert is averaging 13.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.8 fouls per 48 minutes while shooting 52.6 percent from the field.

"He definitely affects the game," Boston Coach Doc Rivers said. "With his size, he's just a tough guy to guard. And his defense has really improved. I think that's what keeps him on the floor longer now. He's one of the best bigs in the league for what he does."

Hibbert definitely affected Rivers' strategy. The coach had promoted Brandon Bass to the starting center spot one game before and said the move was effectively permanent.

But facing Hibbert and the Pacers, Rivers went back to aging 6-11 Jermaine O'Neal and returned the explosive (but 6-8) Bass to the bench. In two victories over the Celtics, Hibbert had 22 points, 20 rebounds and six assists. O'Neal shot 1-of-9 and totaled seven points.

"He's just playing more physical," Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. "There's no softness to his game whatsoever. On the offensive glass he's trying to punish bodies. In the post, he's not setting for turnaround jump shots, he's trying to not only be physical when he has the ball but doing his work early -- his duck-ins and his early seals have been better than they have been in the past. He's taking advantage of the extra muscle he put on in the offseason."

Remember those turnaround fadeaway jump shots from the post that used to make us cringe? Remember all the times he picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and disappeared for the rest of the night? Remember the swings of inconsistency, dominating Dwight Howard one night, getting roasted by Joel Anthony another?

Hulk Hibbert is making them a thing of the past.

"He's getting older. He's getting more mature," Vogel said. "He's comfortable in his role and he knows that the ups and downs are not going to change his role."

Patience is a premium with the development of big men. Consider the case of the last elite center in franchise history. In his fourth season, Rik Smits averaged 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds and twice lost his starting job to Greg Dreiling.

There is no such threat to Hibbert. Aside from Orlando's Howard, the argument can be made he is the next-best center in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut might be a tad better, offensively. New York's Tyson Chandler is a defensive anchor. Hibbert plays both ends of the floor with equal vigor.

His consistency has been particularly impressive. Already he has six double-doubles. He has scored in double figures in 10 of 12 games; in the other two he scored nine. He has struggled a bit with his free-throw stroke, hitting just .639 from the line (he carried a .731 career percentage into this season) but in every other way, Hibbert continues to improve.

Where his ceiling ultimately lies remains to be seen. The thing about Hibbert is, you can be confident he will find a way to get there.

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