Even Danny Granger was stunned.
After training in Los Angeles and playing with USA Basketball in the World Championship, the Indiana Pacers forward returned this fall to find a physically transformed Roy Hibbert.
"When you don't see someone for two or three months, you can really tell a difference," Granger said. "He's lost a lot of weight. When we play pick-up, he's blocking shots. I don't think I've seen him miss a jump hook since I've been back.
"He's been outstanding. The things he's done to prepare himself show his commitment to this team."
Hibbert entered training camp weighing 255 pounds, 23 fewer than he carried last season on his 7-2 frame. He also discovered and corrected a previously undetected asthma problem that affected his stamina.
Heading into his third year in the NBA, the Pacers' second-leading returning scorer is no longer a complementary part of the roster who is learning the league.
"He's gone from a guy we were constantly trying to develop to more of a guy that we have to kind of run our offense through . . . in the high post to utilize his passing ability and shooting ability, and in the low post to put pressure point blank on teams," coach Jim O'Brien said.
Hibbert was the Pacers' third-leading scorer last year at 11.7 points per game, behind Granger's 24.1 and the 14.6 of power forward Troy Murphy, who was traded in the offseason.
Hibbert said that even though he lost weight, he gained strength and shouldn't have any issues in the post. An offseason of work not only changed him physically but refined his skills.
"Roy Hibbert has had one of the best summers I've ever witnessed in my years of coaching," said O'Brien, who has been in the business 31/2 decades. "Here's a young guy that understands that certainly it's up to the coaching staff to develop players, but most importantly, it's up to the individual to develop."
Hibbert's passing, O'Brien believes, has been underappreciated. The center averaged just two assists last season, but also flashed signs of what he could do.
He flirted with a triple-double, getting 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a 107-96 victory over Philadelphia on March 9. A Pacers center hasn't had a triple-double since Steve Stipanovich did it Nov. 16, 1985, against Boston with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
Hibbert worked this summer with Bill Walton, even surprising the Hall of Fame center.
"Bill Walton had no idea that Roy could shoot," O'Brien said. "The first day, he said, 'I don't know if I've ever seen anybody more confident from 18 to 19 feet.' Then he said, 'Can he pass?' I said, 'Well, I hate to be biased, but I think if he's not the best passing big man in the league, he's one of them.' "
Hibbert now uses an inhaler in the morning and evening to control athlete-induced asthma. The condition was diagnosed after he routinely felt winded after a short stretch of playing time.
"It should lengthen the period of time I can be on the court," he said.
Being a channel for the offense will be a new role, one that could develop as the season goes along with new point guard Darren Collison.
"It's not that I have to score every time, but I think I can pass the ball really well," Hibbert said. "I take pride in passing the ball and getting my teammates open shots. I feel like if I score, I can pass and make everything better for everybody else."
His teammates think he could be on the verge of a very productive year, a notion that was reinforced in the preseason opener Wednesday at Memphis when Hibbert led the Pacers with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
"The last couple weeks of pick-up games, he was scoring non-stop," shooting guard Brandon Rush said. "His jumper is good. He's stronger. He seems more like a big, big-time center that's going to produce real well for us."