Player Review 2012: Roy Hibbert

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by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive ||

June 11, 2012

Now that Roy Hibbert has arrived, the challenge for the Pacers is to make sure he stays.

Continuing the steady progress that has marked each of his four NBA seasons, Hibbert achieved All-Star status in 2011-12, which certified his place among the game's best players at a position that has become increasingly thin not just at the professional level but throughout the sport.

The 7-2 center improved his statistics in most every significant category once again, averaging 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.97 blocks, 49.7 percent shooting and 29.8 minutes in 2011-12. His assists (1.7) and free-throw percentage (.711) both slipped but not precipitously.

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Foul trouble, once the bane of his existence, is now scarcely even an issue. He averaged 4.8 fouls per 48 minutes, by far the fewest of his career, another statistic trending in the right direction.

Hibbert ranked fifth in the NBA in blocked shots and was in the top 20 with 20 double-doubles. He already is sixth on the Pacers' career blocks list and etched his name in the record books in the first-round series with Orlando with 19 blocks, most in franchise history in a five-game series.

After spending much of the previous two offseasons trimming down and working to increase mobility and agility, Hibbert focused on building strength last summer, spent some time working on low-post moves with mentor Tim Duncan, and it paid obvious dividends. Not only did he become more productive, he established that elusive intangible: presence.

He became a game-changer, a guy who forces opponents to make adjustments, by becoming a jealous protector of the lane, a stronger post defender and a much more effective rebounder. With David West assuming a larger scoring role as the season wore on, Hibbert willingly stepped into a more defense-minded role and wore it well.

"He's just got to keep on getting better," Coach Frank Vogel said. "He's gotten better each of his first four years. He can't be satisfied with what he's accomplished and he's got to continue to improve, continue to stay on top of improving his body, improve his strength, improve his quickness, his endurance, his lateral mobility. And continue to improve his low-post game, which is pretty strong right now.

"He needs to seek out better competition and try to play against some of the best centers in the league, much like he did with Tim Duncan last year. The better the competition he plays against, the better he's going to become."

The combination of Hibbert and West up front proved the Pacers' signature advantage in the postseason. Without Dwight Howard, Orlando simply could not contend with those two. When Miami lost Chris Bosh, the Pacers quickly won Games 2 and 3 of the series and it appeared Hibbert and West would lead them to a stunning upset. But LeBron James and Dwyane Wade thought otherwise and Indiana's season ended in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Hibbert averaged 11.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocked shots in the playoffs.

As they launch into preparations for the 2012-13 season, there is no higher priority for the Pacers than re-signing Hibbert and fellow restricted free agent George Hill, two of the young cornerstones of the starting lineup.

But Hibbert's productivity and the limited market for elite centers makes him a tempting target for the wealth of teams in desperate need of an anchor in the middle. Though the Pacers would retain the right to match any offers -- which they fully intend to exercise -- if one team decides to put forth a wildly inflated offer, it could force a difficult decision.

"I don't want to elaborate on that. I don't know what the number is. That's going to be a decision," team President Larry Bird said. "We can sign Roy for five years where other teams can just do it for four. I don't worry about that too much. If it's something crazy and we can't handle it, we can't handle it and move on. But our goal is to sign all of our players. That's why we put ourselves in the position we're in."

With the right of first refusal and the ability to sign him for a longer term than any other team, the Pacers have the leverage to go along with the desire to keep their All-Star center in Indiana for years to come.

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