December 1 2010 Last updated at 06:24 AM ET
Roy Hibbert Fights to Improve His Game
By Sam Amick Senior NBA Writer | Follow on Twitter: @samickAOL
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- And my unofficial vote for Most Improved Player goes to ... Roy Hibbert.
OK, so maybe it's too early to start handicapping the 2010-11 hardware just yet, but Indiana's transformed center is having the perfect storm of a season when it comes to winning such honors. First of all, anyone who hasn't heard that the 7-foot-2, third-year big man out of Georgetown worked off the equivalent of a small toddler this summer (23 pounds) needs to browse your local Google images to check out the before and after. Then grab the remote and set the DVR to record the next Pacers tilt (Wed. at Utah, 9 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), because he is fast becoming one of the best big men in the game.
After finishing with 16 points (8-of-13 shooting), eight rebounds and four assists despite foul trouble (32 minutes) in a win over Sacramento on Tuesday, Hibbert has seen his scoring increase from 11.7 points per game in 2009-10 to 16.1 per this season, his rebounding improve from 5.7 to 9.5, his assists jump from two to three and his blocks go up from 1.6 to 2.1. The Danny-Granger, Darren-Collison, Hibbert-led Pacers are, as their man in the middle put it, "the best-kept secret" in the league, having won four of their last five games (including wins over Miami and the Lakers) to improve to 9-7.
Yet the most fascinating and impressive stat that pertains to Hibbert is his playing time, as Hibbert is taking on a bigger load than ever before because, well, he's no longer a load himself. And that development -- a minutes-per-game increase of approximately 25 to 30 minutes per game between last season and this season -- is quite a story in and of itself.
Hibbert spent most of his first two seasons wondering why he couldn't go as hard or as long as he wanted on the floor. His fleshy body weighed him down, and his lungs left him short of breath long before he was ready to head for the bench during games.
"The most I could play was 21 or 22 minutes (last season) before I got really exhausted and tired," Hibbert told FanHouse.
Until, that is, the discovery of a previously-undiagnosed asthma condition changed everything.
After last season, Hibbert had his lungs tested in an eight-hour process at an Indianapolis-area hospital in which he breathed into a machine to get a reading on his windbags. When it was deemed what Hibbert called "athlete-induced asthma," the prescription for an inhaler quickly followed and Hibbert was on his way to an unexpected rebirth.
Suddenly, the breaths came easier, the frame felt lighter, and Hibbert went to work shedding weight so as to take full advantage of his new physical circumstance. He accepted an invitation from a team trainer and joined the world of Mixed Martial Arts fighting in the pursuit of peak condition.
The new-and-(most) improved Hibbert has gone from 278 pounds to 255 while seeing his body fat decrease from 14 percent to eight percent.
"Those (MMA) guys, I feel like, are the best conditioned athletes, so three days a week, I did punching, knees, everything you see those guys do on (the Ultimate Fighting Championships), I was doing that," Hibbert said. "It got me in tip-top shape. I'd go to Fortville, Ind., drive like 40 minutes after my (basketball) workouts (in the summer) and trained there."
The inhaler remains key, as Hibbert uses it every morning and then "one hour before games," he said.
"I do feel like a new man," Hibbert said. "I'm getting used to my new body, and I'm appreciate of Indiana investing a lot in me and I just want to give back."
At this rate, the Pacers will be giving Hibbert far more than they planned on the financial front next summer when he's eligible to negotiate an extension.
"He has a great work ethic, a commitment to the franchise, and he wants to be good," Pacers general manager David Morway told FanHouse. "He wants to be very good .As time went by (during the last three years), he's gotten more comfortable and more committed and more committed. And then when he saw the results, just like anybody else, that had a huge impact on him."
And his opponents.
E-mail Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @samickAOL.