Ever since the Pacers put a scare into the Bulls in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, there has been a lot of focus on the Pacers' future. Many people, myself included, think the Pacers have a lot of young talent to build around.
The Internet has been buzzing about Darren Collison's play, Paul George's defense, Tyler Hansbrough's tenacity and Frank Vogel's coaching chops. One issue where many people seem divided is Roy Hibbert.
Some feel that Hibbert plays too soft for a guy his size. He showed flashes of dominance against Chicago, but also disappeared at times and played like he was 6'2 instead of 7'2. He would step out and knock down a couple 16-footers, only to miss consecutive three-foot hook shots. In other words, he was an enigma against the Bulls.
While he may have looked inconsistent at times, he was effective. He quietly had a solid series. When talking about the five games against the Bulls, the numbers do not tell the whole story. The Pacers were a different team when Hibbert was on the floor. He opened up the perimeter for some open looks, and on defense, he changed the way the Bulls attacked the rim.
On top of that—though the national media may not have realized this—Hibbert is the emotional leader of the Pacers. He may sometimes let his emotions get the best of him, but the other players certainly feed off his emotion when he is playing well.
Some of Hibbert's biggest games came against the best teams in the NBA. His game against the Lakers in L.A., along with his games in Miami and at home against the Celtics, are proof that he can play with the big boys. He just needs to put it all together and quit getting down on himself when things are not going right.
Even though stats never tell the whole story, they also don't lie. Hibbert's numbers have increased significantly each year as a pro. Take a look at his improvements over three years:
2008-2009: 70 games, 14.4 MPG, 2.1 FTA, .667 ft%, 3.5 RPG, .7 APG, 1.1 blocks/g, 3.1 pf, 7.1 PPG
2009-2010: 81 games, 25.1 MPG, 2.8 FTA, .754 ft%, 5.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.6 blocks/g, 3.5 pf, 11.7 PPG
2010-2011: 81 games, 27.7 MPG, 3.4 FTA, .745 ft%, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 blocks/g, 3.2 pf, 12.7 PPG
It may not be a Derrick Rose-type jump in numbers, but Hibbert has shown improvement. His minutes, free throws attempted, rebounds, assists, blocks and points have increased each year. The most significant number may be the minutes per game. If Hibbert can stay on the floor, the Pacers are a better team. Hibbert getting increased minutes usually is contributed to two things: conditioning and foul trouble.
Hibbert has shown a fantastic work ethic in the summers. Last year, he stayed in Indiana, worked on post moves with Bill Walton and greatly improved his conditioning by doing MMA training. Hibbert essentially transformed his body, which allowed him to get up and down the floor far more easily in 2010-2011.
Hibbert also has shown a great commitment to the city of Indianapolis. Along with his charity work, he also started the very popular Area 55. Much like Andrew Bogut's section in Milwaukee, Hibbert bought out a section of seats and held auditions to determine which fans would win the seats. The emotion brought by Hibbert on the court was only outmatched by the emotion brought by Area 55 night in and night out.
His willingness to work and coachability, combined with his size (7'2 doesn't come around too often), makes Hibbert a player the Pacers should build around instead of trading away like some have suggested. If Big Roy continues to improve each offseason and shows his doubters that he can bang inside, he could be one of the top five centers in the league—the big man the Pacers build a contender around. (That is, if they don't gamble on bringing the prodigal son, Greg Oden, home to Indy.)