Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert leads the NBA in blocks with a 5.2 per-game average as of Nov. 6.
Hibbert has started off the 2013-14 season on a tremendous defensive note. He is averaging 5.3 blocks per game, slightly more than twice what he averaged in all of last year (2.6 BPG) and tops in the NBA through Nov. 6.
He has not made his presence felt as much offensively as he did in 2012-13, when he averaged 9.8 points on 38 percent shooting from the field and 62 percent from the free-throw line during the first five weeks of last season.
This season, he is averaging 8.2 points on 44.4 percent field-goal shooting and 60 percent free-throw shooting.
And yet, the Indiana Pacers are 5-0.
Hibbert hasn't given us much to complain about in Indy's best start in over 40 years, but there are several things he needs to do in order to become a truly elite center in 2013-14.
Maintain Defensive Impact
|Player||Games Played||Blocks per Game||Opp FGM Made at Rim Per Game||Opp FGA at Rim Per Game||Opp FG Pct. at Rim|
|Roy Hibbert (IND)||4||5.3||3.5||11.0||31.8%|
|Anthony Davis (NOP)||4||4.3||1.0||5.0||20.0%|
|Brook Lopez (BKN)||4||3.0||2.8||9.5||28.9%|
As previously mentioned, Hibbert's current output on offense is nothing to crow about. So why is everybody taking notice of him this early?
Hibbert ranks as the NBA's No. 1 defender, thanks mainly to his gaudy 5.2 blocks-per-game average. A closer look at the above chart indicates this average puts him above New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis, who has better steals numbers (two per game).
While Hibbert is the league's leader in blocks, opponents are taking it to him more than they are to Davis, as evidenced by their number of attempts against Hibbert at the rim per contest (11 per game).
This is because Hibbert weighs 290 pounds (as opposed to Davis' 220 pounds), so throwing all that weight around on the defensive end is just what opponents want to bait him into early foul trouble.
Still, take nothing away from him. He has improved tremendously in what is known as "The Law of Verticality," as explained by Pacers head coach Frank Vogel last year, per NBA.com's Steve Aschburner:
He's (Hibbert) the best in the league at exercising the fundamental of verticality. Using his legs, getting off his feet and making a legal defensive play and earning a no-call.
You're allowed to jump straight up, no matter where you are, and absorb contact.
Roy Hibbert is off to a hot start defensively. Now the bigger question looms: Can he maintain it?
Or better yet, does he have what it takes to win Defensive Player of the Year honors?
With the way he's going, the answer should be a resounding yes.
Finish Better in the Paint
If you're looking for a reason why Hibbert's shooting percentage and scoring have tailed off, look no further than his shooting clip in the shaded lane.
Now, he's shooting 44.83 percent (see above shot chart). After all of the work that he put in during the offseason with Tim Duncan, what excuse does he have now?
It could really be that Roy Hibbert is just a slow starter on offense.
Granted, a sizeable chunk of his shot attempts near the basket are from putbacks while going for an offensive rebound. However, no center should be hailed as elite if he shoots just 44 percent in the paint.
We have 77 more regular-season games on tap. There's still plenty of time to witness Hibbert improve on his offense and display his arsenal, which includes the seemingly lost art of the hook shot—a wonderful sight to behold in today's game.
Earn All-NBA Honors and Help the Pacers Win the NBA Title
Apart from being an Eastern Conference All-Star in 2012, Hibbert has never won a major NBA accolade since breaking into the pro ranks in 2008.
That could change in 2013-14.
If Hibbert gets it going on both ends of the court, he would be able to break that trend this year. He is expected to compete against the likes of Brook Lopez, Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah for that honor.
He also made great strides in last season's playoffs, upping his postseason scoring average to 17 (from 11.7 in 2011-12) to complement his 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
What's more impressive is he saved his best for last in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, tallying 22.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and one block per game—quite a turnaround from his very sloppy start in the regular season.
He should be able to pick up where he left off come playoff time.
If Roy Hibbert can somehow earn a spot in any of the three All-NBA teams and help the Indiana Pacers win their first NBA title, he can add "elite" to the list of adjectives that describe him as a center.
Wrapping Things Up
How can Roy Hibbert become an elite center this season?
Indiana Pacers center is poised for a breakout season this year. We have witnessed him evolve from being a foul waiting to happen in his first few seasons into becoming the Great Wall of Hibbert.
Could he actually take the next step and become as elite as his fellow Georgetown alums Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning?
In order for him to get to their level, he must maintain his defensive intensity, finish better in the paint, earn All-NBA honors (or NBA Defensive Player of the Year) and help the Indiana Pacers win the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
It's a reality that's bound to happen much sooner than later.