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Player Review: Roy Hibbert

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

June 18, 2013, 10:50 AM

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Age: 26
Years Pro: 5
Status: Has three more years remaining on a contract that will pay an average of just under $15 million per season. He can opt out after two more seasons if he prefers.
Key Stats: Averaged 11.9 points on 45 percent field goal shooting during the regular season, but was notably better in the playoffs. Averaged 17 points in 19 playoff games, including a 22.1-point scoring average on 56 percent shooting in the Eastern Conference Finals.

For most of the first 52 games last season, Roy Hibbert gave the appearance of a player overwhelmed by the pressure and scrutiny that comes with signing a max-level NBA contract.

For most of the following 46 games, playoffs included, Hibbert deflected those concerns as if they were a Carmelo Anthony dunk attempt.

Hibbert struggled offensively through the first 52 games of the season, failing to reach double figures in 26 of them, and, like Paul George had done at Golden State at the start of the month, failing to score in a game in Atlanta on Dec. 29. He appeared timid at times, throwing up awkward, off-balance “shots” that had little chance of going in, and missed easy shot attempts as well. The only positive result was that his offensive offense motivated him to focus more on his defense. After all, a guy has to do something to earn his $14 million.

It would eventually be learned that Hibbert's shooting woes were mostly the result of a sore right wrist, an injury originally suffered in the previous season's playoff series against Miami and aggravated early in this season. It turned out to be a simple explanation for a troubling issue – had the Pacers spent $58 million for this? – and one he never used as an excuse.

The first sign of a turnaround came on Feb. 13, in a home game against Charlotte, the final game before the All-Star break. Two nights earlier, in a homecourt loss to Brooklyn, Hibbert had hit just 5-of-18 shots. He played just 18 minutes against the Bobcats, more than necessary in a 24-point victory, but hit 5-of-9 shots in an active, efficient performance.

Over the final 46 games he failed to score in double figures just nine times, and most of those were in games in which he played fewer minutes than normal – such as the first game after the All-Star break, when he played 18 minutes in a blowout victory over the Knicks and hit 4-of-5 shots and scored eight points.

Concerns over what the Pacers had gotten themselves into were alleviated by the time the playoffs began, at which point Hibbert made himself look like a bargain. He averaged 17 points on 51 percent shooting in 19 postseason games, along with 9.9 rebounds. He reached a previously unseen peak in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami, when he averaged 22.1 points on 56 percent shooting, and 10.4 rebounds. He also averaged two blocked shots throughout the playoffs, including a memorable left-handed denial of Anthony's dunk attempt in the Pacers' Game 6 series-clinching victory. “As good a block as you'll ever see,” they called it on television.

Hibbert's postseason was the best a center has had in the Pacers' NBA history. Compare his stats over those 19 games to those of the regular season, when he averaged 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds – in about 10 fewer minutes per game – and it seems apparent he had raised his level of play more than any player of any position in franchise history.

Time will tell if it will carry over to next season, but Hibbert now stands as one of the team's greatest sources of hope for continued improvement. Centers tend to peak later than smaller players, and Hibbert is a late-bloomer anyway. Five seasons into his NBA career, he still seems a kid at times, such as those occasions in the postseason when he made awkward or profane post-game comments that bear little resemblance to his character.

Don't look for Hibbert to average 22 points next season, or even 17; he has plenty of scorers around him and the possible return of Danny Granger to soak up the offense. But you can expect that Hibbert will continue to improve, and that alone is enough to maintain optimism among Pacers fans throughout the off-season.

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