View Full Version : Hibbert could turn Pacers from afterthought into contender

11-05-2010, 06:51 PM
Hibbert could turn Pacers from afterthought into contender

by John McMullen, NBA Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network)


When you see Roy Hibbert play it's clear the talent is there, even if the consistency is not.

For the last few seasons the Indiana Pacers have been an afterthought in a Central Division ruled by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The seismic shifts provided by the "Summer of LeBron" reshaped the Eastern Conference with the power landing in the Southeast. Orlando was already a legitimate title contender thanks to the overpowering play of Dwight Howard and the steady stewardship of the underrated Stan Van Gundy, while Miami quickly joined that exclusive club when they inked James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwyane Wade.

Even Atlanta and its less publicized "Big Three" of Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith has a chance to make some noise in the postseason, while Charlotte is coming off the franchise's first playoff appearance and Washington has been reborn thanks to the addition of the electrifying John Wall.

In my mind, however, James' exit out of Cleveland had an even bigger impact on the Central. The Cavs are no longer the 60-win club that regards the division crown as a birthright. On the contrary, it's hard to even imagine Cleveland becoming a threat for a postseason spot, leaving a giant door leading to the division title wide open.

Most prognosticators, including yours truly, thought Milwaukee or Chicago would step up and seize control of the now LeBron-less division.

The Bucks stepped on the gas down the stretch last season and finished with a solid 46-36 record before any chance of success in the playoffs was derailed by the terrible season-ending injury to the talented center Andrew Bogut. Bogut, a former No. 1 overall pick back in 2005, along with explosive point guard Brandon Jennings and late-season pick-up John Salmons were the main cogs in Milwaukee's turnaround last season before the Australian star suffered one of the more horrific injuries in the recent history of the NBA, dislocating his right elbow, breaking his right hand and spraining his wrist after falling hard to the floor following a slam dunk against Phoenix in early April.

You had to figure it would be time to fear the deer again, if Bogut was healthy and Jennings showed incremental improvement. Early in the season, Bogut's numbers are fine, 14.0 points per game and 11.0 rebounds, but the confidence in his body and the recklessness that provided isn't there, something the veteran center alluded to prior to the season.

"I might not be 100 percent the whole year," Bogut said in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I won't be 100 percent, so I'll have to play through the pain through the season. Even once it gets better, I'm still going to be 90 percent for the year or 85 percent. I don't have my mobility and flexibility like I should, but I just have to adjust to it."

Meanwhile, Jennings is mired in a bit of a sophomore slump, shooting just 38.6 percent from the floor and a miserable 25 percent from beyond the arc during the Bucks' 1-4 start.

Over in Chicago, the Bulls hired a defensive mastermind, Tom Thibodeau, who inherited a pair of elite frontcourt defenders in Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the game's best young point guard, Derrick Rose, and a solid small forward in Luol Deng. Add the additions of All-Star Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver to that mix and Chicago looked like a solid bet to take over the division.

On paper, Rose should be able to play pick-and-roll all day with Boozer, and the former Jazz stalwart is also a top-tier scorer with his back to the basket, meaning the Bulls will be a much tougher team to defend in the half- court. However, the new plan has had to wait while the oft-injured Boozer recovers from a broken hand suffered back on Oct. 2 that required surgery.

Understand, it's still far too early to push the panic button in either Midwestern city, but it has left that aforementioned door ajar for another club in America's heartland, those afterthought Pacers.

It might be a reach to call Indiana a contender this early, especially considering the team is coming off its worst performance of the season, a 101-75 drubbing at the hands of moribund Philadelphia. But, the addition of point guard Darren Collison and the continued development of Hibbert have allowed Indiana to appear in the rear view mirror at least.

And while the Pacers still might be off in the distance they do have a chance to charge and charge fast. The 7-foot-2 Hibbert is the key. He improved steadily from his first season, elevating his scoring output from 7.1 to 11.7 ppg and his rebounding from 3.5 to 5.7. The Georgetown product has always been an imposing presence in the middle, compiling 1.1 blocks in just 14.4 minutes per game in his rookie season and upping that to 1.6 in 25.1 minutes during his sophomore campaign.

Staying on the floor is paramount for Hibbert, who lost 20 pounds in the offseason and found a better way to deal with an asthma problem that has plagued him at times. So far the results have been eye-opening and the Queens native is second on the team in scoring to All-Star Danny Granger at 16.0 ppg, and first in rebounding (9.3) and blocked shots (2.75), while playing nearly 32 minutes a night.

Only centers like Howard, Horford and Brook Lopez can match that kind of production in the East.

That said, the most impressive thing to me about Hibbert early this season was his reaction after the Pacers laid their egg in Philly. Instead of chalking it up as just 'one of those nights,' like his coach Jim O'Brien did, Hibbert was happy to call out his teammates.

"We just played horrible tonight," Hibbert said after the game. "We weren't running our sets. We weren't getting open. This is not Pacer basketball. I thought we had taken a step forward, but we just took three steps back in my opinion. People have to be held accountable. We have to run the system. When we run it, it's good. When we don't, we lose like this."

The talent has always been there. The consistency is coming and the leadership? Well, who knew.

Hibbert is well on his way to turning the Pacers from afterthought to contender.

11-05-2010, 06:53 PM
Couldn't agree more.

Roy has got to be more consistent. But that will come with time. All the tools are there for him to be an excellent player.

Add the emergence of his leadership, and you've got one heck of a player.

11-05-2010, 08:57 PM
Ya ...I agree with this article ..

I have always been a massive sunshiner in the potential I saw in Roy his rookie season..
I admit I didn't see Roy play much before we got him..

...And to think.... I seem to remember alot of talk about trading big Roy .. even in his 2nd season , by a few members here.. I personally thought they were nuts,... Now we are seeing Roy's potential .. actually materialize for an NBA franchise that so desparately needed it ..