Full Court Press for a Big
Okay, I'm not really seeing the Joel Freeland Era in Portland after all. He's living in Spain, making the big bucks, a star in his league... Why the HELL would Freeland be dumb enough to take a pay cut to come to Portland to serve a four year term of indentured servitude for the crazy pants Trail Blazers? Think about it — if you were making bank as a junior partner at a law firm in coastal California, would you quit your job to move to St. Louis to become a minimum wage intern at the Budweiser factory?
No, these silly Blazer bastards really do think they can solve their problems by bullying an underfinanced team in the same way they've punked or tried to punk the Utah Jazz two years running...
Boy, that has been a great strategy. It worked to a T with Restricted Free Agent Wes Matthews — and everybody raise your hands who's happy about paying Wesley $6.5M this year, $6.9M next, and $7.25M the year after that. It didn't pan out so well with Paul Millsap, but the Blazers' bold move did force the Jazz to lose Carlos Boozer and retool their team and they only finished 8 games ahead of Portland and in the playoffs this past season. Genius!
Now it's time PDX to try to rob somebody else, it would seem. Hello Indianapolis — The Octopus would like your Center, please.
Far be it from me to suggest that given the limitations of the new CBA there is no number big enough that the Blazers can dish to "overpay" Roy Hibbert. Belly up to the bar, throw down your $14.5M average or whatever the megamax possible under Stern's new deal — I've heard all sorts of numbers, that's close — and you're still paying the guy less than Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson make and roughly equivalent coin as that paid to such low post furies as Emeka Okafor, Tyson Chandler, and Andrew Bogut. In short, $14.5M is basically an equilibrium price bid for an All Star Center. That number is not gonna wow anybody.
Pacer GM Kevin Pritchard will match because he's not stupid, even if it means he has to flog off a player for cool prizes at the trade deadline to cut payroll. In the meantime, the actual, performing low post player that the greedy gut PTB had in their possession, J.J. Hickson, will be down the road as an Unrestricted Free Agent. Why? The NASA Engineers at 1 Center Court didn't extend him a $4.4M qualifying offer to retain Bird Rights because they needed the cap space to go all-in on Hibbert. Close your eyes and swing for the fences, it's the Trail Blazers way. Ah, the brilliance!!!
Nope, I didn't figure the Blazers were that dumb. I thought they must have had Freeland in the bag for them to be as cheeky and, ummm, cavalier as they were about Hickson. It turns out I simply misunderestimated them again...
• • • • •
The View from the Crossroads
An interview with Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows™ (SBN)
For more than five years Tom Lewis of Fishers, IN has been the head honcho and janitor at the swell Sports Blog Nation Pacers blog "Indy Cornrows." Given the convergence of Hibbertmania and the ascent to the throne by new Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard, it seemed like a good time to have a chat with an Ears-Eyes-Nose-and-Throat specialist for Indianapolis basketball. Thanks for taking the time, Tom.
No problem, Tim. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest with relatives in Portland so I always love talking hoops with folks from back home.
So how did you get into the Pacers, Tom?
I LOVE the NBA thanks to spending my formative years in elementary school in the midst of NBA heaven with the Blazers and Sonics being top teams in the lat '70s. My first game at the Seattle Coliseum in the mid '70s is foggy, but my next game is clear as a bell. A couple of days before Christmas in 1978. Blazers vs. Lakers. Walton vs. Kareem. 12,666 going crazy for Portland's win.
I'm from Richland, Washington, originally a Sonics fan, and went to UW — setting up years of verbal battles with Duck-fan cousins. For some reason, I always loved basketball in Indiana. The high school tournament, Bobby Knight, Gene Keady, all of it. So as a NBA fan I loved the Pacers in the East and when Detlef Schremf eventually teamed up with Reggie Miller, they rode shotgun with the Supes as my team.
Then I ended up marrying an Indiana girl during the mid-'90s and we moved to the area a couple of years later. I started the blog in October 2006 on the first day of training camp. Little did I know the night I set up the blogger account that Stephen Jackson and company would get into a guns blazing fight at a local strip club. I've been trying to catch up since.
After witnessing Blazers General Manager Paul Allen bully the underfinanced Utah Jazz two years in a row, snagging Wesley Matthews with a front-loaded offer as an RFA and pushing the Jazz to give a big payday to Power Forward Paul Millsap, it now looks like the Indiana Pacers are being singled out as the weak antelope in the pack that the Vulcan jackals might be able to eviscerate. What's the financial situation in Indy in terms of the depth of pockets of the ownership, the local TV deal, and arena attendance?
Herb Simon's pockets are plenty deep enough but they didn't get that way by spending unnecessary money. As the team has struggled in recent years, he restricted spending on the Pacers roster to keep them under the salary cap. With the cap situation under control the team will spend their available cap space but they won't be tempting any luxury tax thresholds since the team is losing money. The new CBA should help with losses but the tax penalties are only going to get steeper so the Pacers won't be taking that luxury tax hit going forward.
Attendance has been brutal the past couple of years, as well. But there was a local awakening at the end of this past season that brought fans back to the Fieldhouse and had the town buzzing about the Pacers again. The most compelling reason for bringing back Hibbert is his popularity among fans and maintaining a starting unit that was successful in their first year together to let them continue growing while maintaining the fans' attention.
Do you think the Pacers have the bucks to sign Roy Hibbert to a max deal? If they do match, do you anticipate that it will motivate them to move Danny Granger, the same way the Jazz matching on Millsap spelled the beginning of the end for Carlos Boozer in SLC?
The Pacers have the money to match the deal Portland has offered which is less than the max the Pacers could offer. Still, Hibbert isn't what most would consider a "max" caliber player in the league, which is causing the front office consternation. Bringing back Hibbert won't impact Granger who has this year and next remaining on his contract. Matching for Hibbert is done with the idea to keep the starting unit together and Granger is the team's leading scorer. If things go sideways, maybe they deal Granger next year when his expiring contract will be more attractive, but it won't be a direct impact of retaining Hibbert.
What's the Danny Granger situation? Is it all good with Granger and ownership and Granger and the fans? He's always in trade rumors, what do you make of that?
Danny Granger will always be a player mentioned in fan trade speculation to land a superstar player but I think fans have finally come to accept the type of player that Granger is now and have stopped trying to make him into something he isn't. Granger is a 20-point per game scorer who has improved his game over the past couple of years, but he's not carrying a team on his own. Still, with more talent around him he can help any team win games.
It kind of goes back to the Hibbert conversation and how you define a max player. Just like Hibbert isn't truly a max player, neither is Granger and he never was, which is why his second contract was right on the money at 5 years and around $60 million (under the old CBA). Bird and ownership have been loyal to Granger because he signed that deal at a time when Bird told him the team would struggle for three years but then should improve for his last two. Hopefully that remains the case.
So how good is Roy Hibbert? How does his offensive game compare to, say, that of Andrew Bynum? Are reports of his passing skill on the mark? How solid is he on the defensive end?
Hibbert is a remarkable story of hard work and perseverance paying off. The development of his game now from where it was when he was a rookie and simply couldn't stay on the floor without committing fouls is impressive. He has nice touch on little jump hooks with either hand. He's developed patience with the ball, to maintain control in the post and make a move or pass with more successful results. He is an excellent and willing passer out of the low post or with the ball or with the ball around the free throw line.
He is not a physically dominant type of center like Bynum or Dwight Howard. In fact, Hibbert still has problems setting up deep enough in the post, needing more lower body strength and coordination. But, considering he couldn't run in a straight line when he arrived at Georgetown as a freshman, the big fella has literally made big strides every year since.
Hibbert finally overcame his fouling issues on the defensive end this year. He has learned to jump straight up and has enough veteran chops to avoid getting the calls he used to when a smaller player would simply run and jump into Hibbert. He can still get his feet tangled defending the pick-and-roll, but has improved his shot-blocking timing quite a bit so he is not the defensive liability he used to be. Just not a defensive anchor.
The book on Hibbert is that he is a poor rebounder for a man his size. What is it exactly that he needs to do to improve this skill? Have you seen improvement in his rebounding prowess over the first four years of his NBA career?
Like everything else, Hibbert has improved as a rebounder but he isn't quick enough to change directions and rebound out of area. His improvement comes largely from tipping balls and trying to keep possessions alive. There are nights when he is a monster getting his hands on everything and other nights when he'll just grab five or six rebounds. Hibbert should be able to give 16 points and 9 rebounds by just walking off the bus and when he does deliver those type of numbers at a minimum, he is quite valuable.
It is really hard to look at a stat sheet and get the full story on Hibbert. He is beloved by fans and a PR dream because of his work ethic and genuinely nice personality. He is self-aware to the point of being self-conscious at times which holds him back. Under the demanding style of Jim O'Brien, Hibbert really struggled with confidence issues for stretches of the season, but with the far more nurturing style of Frank Vogel, Hibbert flourished and was able to battle through a rough middle of the season without going in the tank.
Like his physical game, Hibbert has worked on his mental toughness and dealing with adversity without tucking his tail for an extended period of time, but it is a concern. The same traits that make him such a lovable player and fan favorite can work against him when his confidence wavers.
Do you think the Pacers' courtship of Chris Kaman is indicative of a decision to let Hibbert go? What's your best guess, are they going to sign him or not?
The Pacers are weighing all of their options and are definitely giving strong consideration to not matching Hibbert. I don't think anyone in the front office likes the numbers they are faced with and initially it appeared they were looking to uncover every option to allow Hibbert to go. But with the way the free agent market is shaking out and the fact that the Pacers need to maintain or build on last season's success, I feel they will eventually decide to bring Hibbert back. If not, there will be some other major moves and I just don't see that happening.
Indianapolis has a new General Manager, Kevin Pritchard, who needs no introduction to the Blazer faithful. Indeed, Pritchard had something of a cult hero status in Portland as a sneaky and perceptive trader, a man able to "Pritchslap" the multitude of lesser GMs around the league. What's your take on the new guy?
Pritchard wasn't real visible in his role with the Pacers last season but it became apparent that he was Bird's guy at the end of the season. I think a lot of fans expect Pritchard to make bold moves like he did with the Blazers which would be a change from the more conservative approach Bird used. But the team approaches things from the owner on down in a more conservative manner so Pritchard will have to be crafty and make impactful moves that may not be marquee moves. Also, he's working with Donnie Walsh who will have a say in what goes on. I do feel real good about Pritchard being able to utilize a strong scouting and analytics framework in place with the Pacers to make those impactful moves that may not appear like it at the time of the deal.
KP's sidekick in Portland was salary cap guru Tom Penn, last seen as a draft night special commentator on ESPN. Penn was likewise held in high esteem by the Blazermaniacs but was thrown overboard by the ownership immediately prior to Pritchard getting the sack. Have there been any rumblings in Hoosierland about the possibility of reuniting the Dynamic Duo of Pritchard and Penn?
No word on Penn taking up residence at the Fieldhouse with Pritchard. As I mentioned above, the Pacers have a solid infrastructure of behind-the-scenes scouts and cap analysts that I was happy to see remain in place after Bird left. Time will tell if they all remain or Pritchard makes some changes but it is hard to argue with how the team worked their way out of cap hell.
If Kevin Pritchard gave you a telephone call tomorrow and asked you what to do about the Pacers' roster, looking forward, what would you advise him?
I would advise Pritchard to continue tweaking and fortifying the depth of the team. The starting unit could play with every team last season. They gave the Heat fits, had the Thunder down 26 in third quarter in their only meeting, thumped the Clippers in their only meeting, took the absolute best shot from San Antonio on the road and didn't get blown out, beat the Bulls early in season when Rose was healthy. The bench was solid at times in the regular season but was exposed in the playoffs so they need to add a scorer and front-court defender/rebounder otherwise they will remain in the same situation.
Also, for the long term they have to utilize rookie contracts and be willing to move guys before they come up for their next contract unless they are difference makers. Regardless of what they get in return, if there is no intent to re-sign a player getting something in return will help adding value to the roster.
Finally, there's a 7'1" fellow from Indianapolis that Kevin Pritchard knows a little, a guy named Greg Oden. If I were to say to you: "I'll bet you $10 that Greg Oden plays basketball for the Indiana Pacers this decade," what kind of odds would you give me?
If I was fair I'd double your money if that happens. I don't think anyone around here wouldn't want the Pacers to give Oden a shot at a comeback, so he would be fully supported on a variety of levels. The issues, as you are well aware, lie with the part about Oden actually playing basketball. Hopefully it will happen in the next couple of years. Who knows? Maybe Pritchard already has the plan in place and that's why he will let Hibbert go to Portland!
Thanks very much for your time, Tom, I appreciate it. Good luck with the season!
• • • • •
Hats Off to (Roy) Hibbert
Roy Denzil Hibbert's parents are from the Caribbean and he was born in Flushing, Queens, New York, but he's really a kid from Adelphi, Maryland. That's the first thing to know about him — he's a kid from the tony suburbs of our nation's capital.
Adelphi is an unincorporated community of about 15,000 located in Prince George's County in the Southwestern part of the state. Dominated by slave plantations in colonial days, Prince George's County today holds the distinction of being the wealthiest county in the United States with an African-American majority according to Ebony magazine.
Mind you, Prince George's County is not just a wealthy black county, it is a wealthy county in absolute terms — home to doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs and standing in the top 2% nationally in income level.
Basketball was not the first choice of his parents, Jamaican Roy Hibbert, Senior and Trinidadian Patricia Edwards. They preferred that their son play tennis and golf and learn the piano. The gangly boy was too uncoordinated to play football, but as he grew taller and taller he began to see basketball as an activity at which he could excel. Given the fact that their son was 6'6" tall in 6th Grade, it did not take long before his parents recognized and accepted that he might have a natural affinity for the sport.
During his high school years, Hibbert attended Georgetown Preparatory School, an all-male Jesuit institution established in 1789 as part of Georgetown College, legally separate since 1927, and located today in Bethesda, Maryland. Georgetown Prep is an elite institution — dozens of leaders of government, business, science, and the arts have attended the school down through the years. A quality education is delivered, but it comes at a price, with individual tuition ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 per year depending upon whether a student attends on a day basis or boards at the school.
Hibbert soon came to live and breathe the game, excelling despite athletic limitations during his senior year at Georgetown Prep. Although nicknamed "Lurch" by teammates after the slow-moving behemoth of Addams Family fame, during his final year the bottom line was the bottom line for Hibbert — an average of 19 points and a mindblowing 17 rebounds per game, to go with and 6 blocked shots and 3 assists. The "Little Hoyas" finished the year 16-4 and were co-champions of the Interstate Athletic Conference. The legit 7-footer found himself in an enviable position entering college, with broad horizons before him.
So understand this well: Roy Hibbert and Ron Artest may have both been born in Queens, New York, but their life experiences and personalities are as dissimilar as Mercury and Pluto.
Well, if you're from Maryland and if in high school you go to Georgetown Prep and if you play basketball and you're a big man, there's only one place to go to college, is there not? That's exactly what Roy Hibbert did, enrolling at Georgetown University in the fall of 2004 to play for new Head Coach John Thompson III, eldest son of the man who helped shape NBA greats Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, and Patrick Ewing.
Hibbert took a battery of introductory courses during his first year at Georgetown, en route to declaring a major in Government.
Roy Hibbert had the length and girth needed to bang at the low block, listing at 7'2" and 272# as a Hoya freshman. Strength was another matter altogether. His first encounter with the Georgetown strength coach was a moment of deep humiliation. Asked to drop and give the coach some pushups, Hibbert found himself face down like a slug, unable to do even one. With female soccer and lacrosse players looking on, Hibbert remained prone, burning with shame.
"It was humiliating," Hibbert later recalled. "All these girls are watching — they can do push-ups but I can't." Nor could Hibbert do even one deep squat. His agility seemed akin to a fisherman in hipboots, with his pigeon-toed gait resembling a waddle more than a run. He would be a project. "To put it bluntly," one Georgetown assistant coach remembered, "Roy was awful."
Hibbert joined the Hoya team along with a more highly touted 6'8" Freshman named Jeff Green — later of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics. The team was lead by a talented Junior Small Forward named Brandon Bowman, a man who would play extensively in Europe following graduation.
Despite his real physical deficiencies, Hibbert managed to start 17 games as a Freshman, although averaging less 16 minutes per contest that first year. Already wearing his trademarked number 55, Hibbert averaged just 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest as a Freshman, with a season high of 15 points scored on February 6, 2005 against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
While his shooting percentage was a rather uninspiring 46.9% — not impressive for a big man working close to the hoop — Hibbert did show a first indication of superior passing skills, racking up 5 assists in a single game against San Jose State.
The team finished 19-13 and won two games in the post-season NIT before falling on the road to the University of South Carolina, 69-66.
Hibbert took his strength, endurance, and agility deficiencies seriously and worked hard to remedy them. Hibbert dedicated himself to strength training and fitness work following his first year as a Hoya. He began running 3 miles of hills each day after being challenged by Michael Sweetney, his predecessor as a Georgetown big who had fitness issues of his own.
The big man was more ready for his Sophomore season in 2005-06, although his listed playing weight was up to 283# for the campaign. Success followed, with Hibbert opening the season with back-to-back games in which he scored 20 points or more, finishing the year second on the team in scoring (11.6 PPG) and tops in rebounds (6.9 RPG). Hibbert was the 14th ranked rebounder in the Big East Conference and was named to Second-Team honors on the All-Big East Team.
Most importantly, Hibbert's Sophomore season saw a marked improvement in his offensive efficiency, with his field goal percentage jacked up to an extremely impressive 59.0%. His free throw percentage (always important for a post player, as Dwight Howard would attest) rose to a quite competent 72.3%.
While Hibbert's NBA-ready size was never in question, there have always been certain question marks about his game. In 2006 Aran Smith of NBADraft.net likened Hibbert's game to that of Portland's Joel Pryzbilla, calling him "limited athletically" and short in open floor speed and explosiveness. Hibbert "has trouble against big and athletic centers," Smith observed. Indeed, Hibbert wound up on the floor after leaping to dunk so frequently that his Hoya teammates began razzing him with the nickname "Bambi."
With more work to do on his game before he was ready for the next level, Hibbert decided to forego an early exit for the NBA. By the time of his Junior season Hibbert had slimmed down and greatly boosted his fitness. His 7 collegiate double-doubles as a Sophomore attested to Hibbert's growing proficiency on both ends of the floor. Now it was time to put it all together.
Hibbert had a sensational season, boosting his field goal percentage again, this time to 67.1% — number two in the nation. Finishing second on the Georgetown squad in scoring, with an average of 12.9 points per game, Hibbert was named to the All-Big East First Team. His 2.43 blocked shots per game placed Hibbert 21st in the nation.
The 2006-07 NCAA tournament looked to be a special one for the Hoyas, powered by Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, DaJuan Summers, and Patrick Ewing, Jr. On paper, the team appeared to many to be as well stacked as anyone in the field. Hibbert proved himself mortal in the 1st Round against Pittsburgh, but in the 2nd Round against Boston College he went off for 17-and-12 en route to a Georgetown victory. He accumulated his third and fourth consecutive double-double games in the "Sweet 16" and "Elite Eight" games, victories over Vanderbilt and UNC, respectively. In the latter game Hibbert demonstrated his unique amalgam of beastliness (6 blocks) and finesse (4 assists) on the big stage to a national audience.
Unfortunately, in the Final Four Georgetown drew Ohio State University and the Hoyas took a 7-point loss to Freshman Greg "The Dentist" Oden and his speedy sidekick, Mike Conley. Hibbert remained strong in the defeat, however, scoring 19 of the Hoya's 60 points in the losing effort, going one-on-one against the future Blazer.
One wonders why Roy Hibbert returned to Georgetown for his Senior season. Certainly he had little left to prove in the college game. A childhood fan of the Hoyas, a star for the Georgetown Prep Little Hoyas, Hibbert apparently went stayed true to his heart rather than the mathematics in his head, offering only "I love the atmosphere here" and his intention of further improving his game.
"My heart was here," Hibbert told another reporter. "I feel like I have unfinished business here." Visions of a national title for his beloved school haunted him. "We were right there," he declared.
So Hibbert delayed financial riches one more year to return for his final season of college eligibility. The 2007-08 campaign was one of treading water. Hibbert's shooting percentage remained an impressive 60.9% for the year, and his points per game edged up slightly to 13.4, but his average rebounds tailed off by half a board a game despite equivalent minutes and his blocks per game number similarly decreased slightly. Only his passing numbers showed improvement, moving from 1.1 to 1.9 assists per game.
The Hoyas slayed, though, finishing the regular season 27-5 and entered the single-elimination NCAA Tournament as a 2 seed. Unlike the previous two seasons, however, the tourney proved rough sledding and Georgetown found themselves eliminated in the 2nd Round by a 30-point barrage by Steph Currey of the undermanned 10th seed, Davidson. Roy Hibbert scored just 6 points and pulled down 1 rebound in the 74-70 loss, fouling out after just 16 minutes on the floor. His college career was over.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacer
Time had expired on Roy Hibbert's Georgetown Hoyas basketball fantasy. It was time to see what the General Managers of the National Basketball Association felt about the "lumbering big man" — he was big enough, but was Hibbert quick enough and strong enough to excel in the long season?
Pre-draft scouting noted that Hibbert's offensive efficiency had regressed slightly during his Senior year at Georgetown, but that he remained a polished offensive player with an excellent hookshot, soft hands, and good touch. He was regarded as a soft interior player in one in-depth review by the highly respected DraftExpress, with limited fluidity and explosiveness and one who had difficulty finishing at the rim after contact. He was regarded as a slightly inferior rebounder, given his size. Conditioning was also mentioned as a potential red flag, owing to the fact that Hibbert had never averaged more than 26 minutes per game during his 4 year collegiate career.
The first 7 picks of the 2008 NBA Draft have all proven their mettle in the Association: Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari, and Eric Gordon. None were Centers. The first true Center taken was Brook Lopez, selected by the New Jersey Nets at #10. Paul Allen's Blazers went for Point Guard of the Future Jerryd Bayless at 11, while the Kings took Power Forward Jason Thompson at 12. Robin Lopez, listed as a PF, went to the Phoenix Suns at 15.
The Indiana Pacers moved aging former Trail Blazer Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto in exchange for T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, and the rights to the 17th pick, which they used on Roy Hibbert. Hibbert was taken just ahead of JaVale McGee and J.J. Hickson. The draft also landed the Blazers Small Forward Nic Batum with the 25th pick, following a swap of the 27th pick of the 1st Round and 3rd pick of the 2nd Round with the Houston Rockets.
08-09 ROOKIE YEAR
Roy Hibbert was far from a sensation entering the NBA. Showing difficulty with the speed and physicality of the professional game, Hibbert frequently rode pine — although protected by the two year guaranteed contract to which all drafted 1st Round players were entitled under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.
Roy's first start came on Dec. 13, 2008 against the Milwaukee Bucks, a game in which he went 4-for-7 for 8 points and pulled down just 2 rebounds in a 121-103 loss, the 6th straight for the Pacers. Despite the fact that Hibbert was on the court merely for a shade over 18 minutes, Head Coach Jim O'Brien like what he saw well enough to start the big man from Maryland in each of the next 13 games. The team went 5-8 during the stretch, with Hibbert reaching double figures in scoring 7 times.
Rebounding remained an enormous issue for Hibbert. Not once in the entire 70 games he played in his rookie season did the 7-footer manage to snag 10 boards. This was to some extent a product of his inability to stay on the floor, be it for reasons of conditioning or foul trouble (5 games fouling out, 9 games finishing with 5 fouls). Hibbert found himself outhustled and outmuscled by opponents and found himself collecting a half case of Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions.
“It’s a learning process,” the underutilized rookie told the Washington Times. “It’s about staying mentally focused, even if you are not getting into the game.... You can’t worry about that because your number might be called the next game."
There was also work to be done.
09-10 SECOND YEAR
In the summer after his first year in the NBA, Hibbert went to work with former Blazer great Bill Walton to work on honing his already proficient passing ability, a coveted skill in the NBA's pick-and-roll oriented game.
"[Bill] had a drill from the high post and he was like, 'Just make passes between your legs, behind your back,'" Hibbert explained. "They were silly passes to the guards while they were moving, and he was like, 'Don't be afraid to make those passes.' We watched tape on Hakeem, we watched Pau Gasol and David Robinson and how they were able to see guys and they didn't think twice about making those passes. It just came natural to them, and Bill said I have that [ability] so I should do it."
Walton also worked to boost the self-esteem of Hibbert, who grew up, as we have seen, as an oversized, clumsy, weak, pudgy clod, and who has always had to work hard to build his strength and enhance his athleticism.
"He said you have to love yourself," Hibbert remembered to one journalist, reciting Walton's lesson that swagger was an important component of athletic success in the NBA. Henceforth it would be all eyes on Hibbert, coming out in pre-game introductions with boldness and confidence, arms held high in the air. "I do it now because of Bill, that's why I come out like that," Hibbert explained.
Hibbert also continued to work hard on his weight, body fat, and conditioning. The doughy 280-pounder of college days managed to trim down into the 260 ballpark — a transformation which further added to his ability to stay on the floor for protracted shifts.
Roy's hard word paid off. Whereas in his rookie season he averaged less than 15 minutes of action in each game played, during his second year that figure shot up to just over 25. Hibbert cemented his place as a double-digit scorer, averaging 11.7 points per game, including a career-high 27 point, 10 rebound effort against the New Orleans Hornets on Jan. 16, 2010.
Roy also began to show signs of improvement as as a rebounder and a defender, hitting double figures in boards in 5 out of 7 games during one early season stretch, and swatting 5 or more shots 7 times during the year. While his position on the starting roster was not always assured, with Coach O'Brien bringing Hibbert off the bench a dozen times, Roy's durability was unquestioned and he saw action in 81 of 82 games.
It was a year of significant improvement and the appreciative Pacers picking up the big man's modest $1.7 million contract proved a foregone conclusion.
10-11 THIRD YEAR
In the summer of 2010, Hibbert spent 5 hours at an Indianapolis hospital working on resolution with an ongoing problem with his breathing. Athletics-induced asthma was diagnosed and a pocket-sized inhaler was prescribed. Two hits a day are taken, once in the morning and once again immediately prior to tipoff, thereby neutralizing the problem. The anti-asthmatic drug enabled Hibbert to extend his court time. "I had been playing 5- or 6-minute stretches," he told the Washington Post in December 2010. "Now I'm playing whole quarters sometimes."
There was no more question as to whether Roy Hibbert was a starter — he was, and he did, coming out arms-held-high for 80 of the 81 games he played in his third year. Despite more times opening the game and improved conditioning, Hibbert's minutes edged up only slightly for the season, averaging 27.7 per contest instead of 25.1. His scoring again improved, up to 12.7 points per game, although it came at the cost of somewhat decreased efficiency, with Roy's shooting percentage for the year tailing off from 49.5% to 46.1%.
Hibbert was also learning to play in foul trouble. Although he accumulated 5 fouls 19 times during the year, he drew the 6th foul only once. He was playing a smarter game, going for big blocks less frequently and not having to pay the price for swinging his arms.
Hibbert also began to show signs that he could rebound his height for the first time since his days at Georgetown Prep, collecting 10 or more boards 22 times, including a career-high 15 against the Atlanta Hawks on November 16th. Rebounding remained an overall deficiency, however, as for the year Hibbert averaged 7.5 rebounds per contest — compare and contrast to the 8.8 gathered that year by Blazer Lamarcus Aldridge (no rebounding machine, he).
The Pacers snuck into the weak Eastern Conference Playoffs despite a losing record of 37-45, only to be dispatched by Derek Rose and the Chicago Bulls in a five game series that was never close. Hibbert averaged just over 10 points and 6.8 rebounds in the losing effort in the second season.
It was, in short, a year of slow, incremental improvement. But improvement it was. The Pacers picked up Hibbert's final year of his rookie contract, calling for a salary of just $2.6 million, with glee.
11-12 FOURTH YEAR
During the lockout summer of 2011, the "Jamaican" Roy Hibbert worked out extensively with his fellow Caribbean big man, Tim Duncan, in an effort to improve his game. The pair remain close today.
”I model my game after him," Hibbert has stated, adding that The Big Fundamental still texts him after every game. "I’m appreciative, and he’s somebody that looks out for me." The hard work would once again pay dividends for Roy Hibbert.
The case for an Indiana Pacer to be on the 2011-12 Eastern Conference All-Star team was made early in the year and loudly, as Indy won their first three games and found themselves 11-4 after the first 15. After two dozen contests, the team was 17-7 — including impressive wins on the road against the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Magic, and Mavericks, as well as home wins against the Celtics and Hawks. At the time the NBA coaches made their selections for All-Star reserves, Indiana had proven they could play with anyone and was seemingly cruising for an eventful post-season run.
Roy Hibbert was workmanlike, if not spectacular during this early interval, hitting double digits in scoring in 20 of the first 24 games (while 9 points three times), topping the 20 point mark twice. Hibbert was also giving every indication that his rebounding weakness was being overcome, grabbing an average of 9.75 boards a game in just a fraction under 30 minutes of action. While his offense wasn't as instrumental to the team's success as that of talented swingman Danny Granger, his defensive presence — sitting at 10th in the NBA in blocked shots in the early season — and his newly found rebounding prowess clearly made Hibbert a keys to Indiana's effort.
On the evening of February 9, 2012, NBA coaches rewarded Hibbert and the Pacers with a place on the NBA All-Star team as a reserve to perennial fan favorite and freak of nature Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. Hibbert became the 11th Indy player to be named to the All-Star team in franchise history, joining a list which includes such Pacers of the past as Reggie Miller, Detlef Schrempf, Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest, and Dale Davis.
Hibbert was humble, thanking his "teammates, coaches, training staff, family and friends for their constant love and support" and expressing a renewed focus upon "the team goal of winning a championship this year."
Indiana President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird lauded his Center's hard work and perseverance, calling Roy "a guy who has put in the hours and the work to make himself a better player and help make us a better team."
"It’s an important designation and I’m sure Roy will handle it in the right way," Bird declared, "I look forward to Roy being a Pacer for a long time.”
Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel was equally ebullient with his praise, proclaiming that Roy Hibbert "epitomizes the drive and determination that has led to our team's dramatic turnaround." The coach noted not only that Hibbert had shown "obvious statistical improvements across the board," but was a player who had "put winning, selflessness and team play above all else" and expressed pride that Hibbert would "represent the new Pacers in the national spotlight of All Star Weekend."
All-Star stats of course mean nothing. Hibbert's 3 points and 3 rebounds in 10 minutes of action at the circus in Orlando are but a minor footnote on the season.
Hibbert again proved himself durable during the 2011-12 season, seeing action in 65 of Indiana's 66 games, marking the third consecutive season during which he missed just a single game due to injury. Roy finished the year with averages of 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in a touch under 30 minutes of action — solid, if not sensational — and his team made the NBA Playoffs for the second consecutive year.
This second visit to the postseason spotlight would prove more satisfying for the Midwesterners. The team drew the Orlando Magic in the first round — a team that was a shell of its earlier self due to the loss of superstar Center Dwight Howard to injury. After dropping the first contest by two baskets, the Pacers reeled of four straight wins against the demoralized Magic, with Hibbert coming alive to collect double-doubles in games 3 and 4.
Hibbert's best game of the playoffs came in the next round against the Miami Heat, in which Hibbert contributed 19 points and a season-high 18 rebounds in leading the Pacers to a 2-games-to-1 lead against the eventual world champions. Nature eventually took its course, however, and Messrs. James and Wade managed to punch out the Pacers in the next three games to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship series.
It was a season of renewed excitement in Indianapolis. Their team was clearly on the verge.
One minor detail: in July 2012 Roy Hibbert's 4 year rookie contract, which had paid him a cumulative grand total of $7.3 million, expired, allowing him to become a Restricted Free Agent. The vagaries of the lockout and the new CBA got in the way of a timely extension and for the first time supply and demand was to come into play setting the price of Hibbert's services. As the period for free agent negotiations opened, the predatory Portland Trail Blazers came in hard, agreeing in principle to a 4 year, $58 offer for the Indiana big man — a max deal.
Pacers President Donnie Walsh and GM Kevin Pritchard had a very important decision to make.
Is Roy Hibbert the real deal?
Does Roy Hibbert have the rare combination of size and ability that merits a maximum contract in the NBA? Is he a player to be coveted as a "impact-level" difference maker who can "move the needle" on the situation of the Portland Trail Blazers?
We all have our opinions. One of mine is that there are almost no "traditional Centers" remaining in the NBA; therefore, it makes virtually no sense to mortgage one's team in order to obtain one. Holding Andrew Bynum to 20 points instead of 30 four times a year is simply not that essential. A nation should not spend a third of their military budget on magnetic mines to stop steel battleships when modern warfare is fought in the air and by land...
But, let's just assume for the sake of argument that Portland's obsession with finding a long-term replacement for Greg Oden has some sort of rational strategic basis. Is Roy Hibbert the guy you want to take out a high-interest loan with Citicorp to put on your roster?
Let's hear some uninvolved opinions, shall we? Oldest first.
"[His] skill level exceeds his athleticism. He never will be one of the fleetest and quickest centers in the NBA. His development will hinge in part on his mastery of the professional game’s nuances."
—Tom Knott, Washington Times, Feb. 2, 2009.
"That Roy Hibbert can block shots and score a bit in the NBA isn’t surprising: that’s what he did at Georgetown. Given his size and hands, you would’ve hoped he could rebound better than he has. But if you followed his college career, you wouldn’t have held your breath. And that’s really the problem with Hibbert: the Pacers, to be competitive, have to play Roy next to a dirty-work power forward, someone who can soak up the defensive rebounds and defend away from the hoop."
—Tom Ziller, NBA Fanhouse and Sactown Royalty, Jan. 29, 2010.
"...Roy Hibbert seems like he’ll grow into the perfect complimentary big man. I see him figuring out how to be a secondary big man the same way Kendrick Perkins does. He’s very solid all the way around. Obviously, the closer he is to the basket, the better he is, as most centers tend to be. He’s not a good rebounder, but he’s not really all that bad. He’s a decent defender. He can score the ball competently."
—Zach Harper, Hardwood Paroxysm and Cowbell Kingdom, Jan. 29, 2010.
"[The] Pacers' color analyst mentioned that Bynum and Gasol made Roy Hibbert 'uncomfortable.' This, from what I could tell, consisted mostly of Andrew and Pau simply putting their arms up. Though a solid scorer...Hibbert is an awful rebounder. For a big man...his production on the boards is truly abysmal. Clunky, yet effective moves in the post... Needs to work on assertiveness. Not once did I feel I was watching a 7-footer."
—Marcel Mutoni, SLAM magazine, Jan. 29, 2010.
"There are moments, however rare, when Hibbert seems unstoppable. His size can be overwhelming, his decision-making impeccable, and his movements ruthlessly efficient. But then spells pass when he barely touches the ball.... While it's conceivable that Indiana could contend for a title without an elite offensive player, no team has done so since the 2003-04 Pistons. And among the Pacers' three All-Stars (Granger was selected in 2009 and David West made it in 2008 and 2009), Hibbert has the most room to improve."
—Ian Thomsen, Sports Illustrated/CNN.com, Dec. 10, 2010.
"I don't think he's a max player. I think he's somebody that gets pushed off the block a lot, I don't think he's aggressive enough in the paint, he doesn't run the floor particularly too well. But nonetheless, he's an upgrade here in Portland."
—Chris Haynes, Hayes & Janes, Comcast Sports Net, July 5, 2012.
Well, Blazer fans — what do you think?
1. Kevin Chappell, "America's Wealthiest Black County," Ebony, Nov. 2006.
2. Gordon Williams, "Jamaica's Hibbert Working Hard to Reach the Top," Jamaica Gleaner, Jan. 19, 2011.
3. Adam Himmelsbach, "Hibbert Restoring Georgetown's Reputation as Big Man U," New York Times, Nov. 16, 2006.
4. 2005-06 Georgetown Men's Basketball Media Guide. n.c.: Georgetown University, 2005; pp. 70-71.
5. 2006-07 Georgetown Men's Basketball Media Guide. n.c.: Georgetown University, 2006.
6. Aran Smith, "55 - Roy Hibbert - Georgetown," NBADraft.net, March 2, 2006.
7. 2007-08 Georgetown Men's Basketball Media Guide. n.c.: Georgetown University, 2007; pp. 54-55.
8. "Georgetown Player Quotes," cited by The Van Buren Boys, Oct. 12, 2007.
9. "Roy Hibbert," Sports-Reference.com.
10. "(2) Georgetown 70, (10) Davidson 74," Sports-Reference.com.
11. Jonathan Givony, Joseph Treutlein, and Joey Whelan, "NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/13/08 — Part One," DraftExpress.com, Feb. 13, 2008.
12. "2008 NBA Draft," Wikipedia, version of June 27, 2012.
13. Jonathan Givony, "2008 NBA Draft Report Card," DraftExpress.com, June 28, 2008.
14. Tarik el-Bashir, "After Asthma Diagnosis, the Indiana Pacers' Roy Hibbert Has Found a Second Wind," Washington Post, Dec. 28, 2010.
15. Jordan Conn, "The Roy Hibbert Project: How the Indiana Pacers' All-Star Center Avoided Becoming a Stiff," Grantland.com, May 2, 2012.
16. Tom Knott, "Hibbert Slow to Adjust," Washington Times, Feb. 9, 2009.
17. Kimberley A. Martin, "The Georgetown Giant: GU's Roy Hibbert Evolved from Goofy Big Man to Interior Threat," ''The Daily Orange,'' Feb. 24, 2006.
18. Associated Press, "Georgetown's Greet Remains in Draft, Hibbert to Return to School," May 23, 2007.
19. Ian Thomsen, "Pacers' Young Center Hibbert Emerges as Promising Star in Indy," Sports Illustrated/CNN.com, Dec. 10, 2010.
20. Tzvi Twersky, "Roy Hibbert Expounds on Relationship with Tim Duncan," Slam Online, May 18, 2012.
21. "Roy Hibbert 2008-09 Game Log," Basketball-Reference.com.
22. "Roy Hibbert 2009-10 Game Log," Basketball-Reference.com.
23. "Roy Hibbert 2010-11 Game Log," Basketball-Reference.com.
24. "Roy Hibbert 2011-12 Game Log," Basketball-Reference.com.
25. "Roy Hibbert All-Star Release," Pacers.com/NBA.com, Feb. 9, 2012.
Georgetown Prep by Brian Gnatt, 2004. Via Wikipedia, Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0.
Hibbert as a Student by Patrick Neil, April 2007. Via WMF Commons, CC S-A 3.0.
Hibbert the Hoya by Georgetown University, 2005-06 Men's Basketball Media Guide.
Tom Lewis and Friends, courtesy Tom Lewis.
Jambalaya is a weekly column by Tim Davenport about the Portland Trail Blazers and other assorted crap. It is available here farm fresh every Monday morning.