Some interesting tidbits - I didn't know about JOB's 2.5 second rule, for example.
Pacers' young center Hibbert emerges as promising star in Indy
The ball found its way to Pacers center Roy Hibbert in the third quarter of Indiana's upset of the Lakers in Los Angeles. Kobe Bryant was doubling frantically in the high post, throwing tight, jumping-jack defense at Hibbert wherever he turned. But Hibbert didn't seem to mind. He waited and waited despite Bryant's harassment until point guard Darren Collison appeared behind Hibbert's left shoulder to receive his pass for a backdoor layup.
"I feel like I have eyes in the back of my head," said Hibbert. "Being at Georgetown we had a passing offense where the ball went through me. I try to do that here -- if people throw the ball down to me and they cut, I'm going to get it right back to them."
Few NBA offenses run as much motion around the post as the surprising 10-10 Pacers, but then few teams have a center who can pass as well as 7-foot-2 Hibbert. It's no coincidence that Hibbert spent three days last summer working with Bill Walton, the Hall of Famer who was the finest passing center of modern times.
"[Bill] had a drill from the high post," said Hibbert, "and he was like, 'Just make passes between your legs, behind your back.' They were silly passes to the guards while they were moving, and he was like, 'Don't be afraid to make those passes.
"We watched tape on Hakeem [Olajuwon], we watched Pau Gasol and David Robinson and how they were able to see guys [cutting] and they didn't think twice about making those passes. It just came natural to them, and Bill said I have that [ability] so I should do it."
At 23, Hibbert has emerged as an enormous reason to believe in the promising future of these young Pacers. Through Dec. 9, his scoring is up to 15.3 points per game (from 11.7 last year), he's averaging a team-high 8.4 rebounds (up from 5.7), 3.0 assists (from 2.0) and 1.9 blocks (from 1.6) in 29.8 efficient minutes. Since last season, Hibbert has lost 35 pounds, found a cure for exercise-induced asthma (he uses an inhaler morning and night after his condition was diagnosed last summer) and developed confidence that is on display during the pregame introductions, when he raises both hands high at the sound of his name, whether at home or away. That last bit comes from Walton.
"He said you have to love yourself," said Hibbert. "He was like, 'You have to be all about yourself!' I told him, 'Basically what you're telling me is swag.' Come out like this."
He raised both arms.
"All eyes on me," said Hibbert. "I do it now because of Bill, that's why I come out like that."
The Pacers are the most entertaining .500 team in the league. There is little that's average about this team, apart from its so-so record. They are a startling No. 1 in field-goal defense (42.7 percent) thanks in part to the leadership of Danny Granger, the ball pressure of T.J. Ford and the improved paint defense of Hibbert. They rank No. 1 in blocks (6.8) and No. 4 in rebounds.
If they push the ball across midcourt within 2.5 seconds, then coach Jim O'Brien rewards them by refusing to call a play: They either finish the break or else flow into their passing-game offense that makes full use of Hibbert's versatility. He can finish as both a roller and a popper as he has an excellent 19-foot jump shot, which he tends to convert as an afterthought when his passing options are covered. Other times when his teammates are weaving and flurrying around him he looks -- dare I say it -- like a modern-day version of Walton himself.
"[Louisville coach] Rick Pitino, whose team played against Roy's, said, 'He's not a good passer; he's a great passer," said O'Brien. "And he is. And he will get better. He turns the ball over too many times right now (2.5 per game this season), but that's just him getting a feel for his teammates. The more he gets used to playing with these guys, he'll have a 2-1 assist-turnover ratio. He'll average, I believe within a year or two, seven assists a game."
Hibbert weighs 278 pounds after shedding the pounds since last season. He keeps his body fat at 8 percent (down from 14 percent last year) by eating nutritious meals he carries with him on the road that can be microwaved in his hotel room. He stayed in Indianapolis last summer to undergo a traditional NBA workout in the mornings followed by mixed martial arts training three afternoons per week. "I was on my knees, punching," he said. "They used to call me BMW back in college -- 'Body Made Wrong.' I've never been able to play 30 minutes, and I'm doing that on a consistent basis now."
Hibbert wants to be an All-Star someday, but his goal last summer was the most improved award. "I made wristbands that had MIP," he said. "I can't wear them in the games -- they're black and I guess we have to wear our team colors -- but that's what drove me to work really hard: MIP, MIP, MIP. Because I want that award."
When the Pacers sent Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto during the 2008 draft as part of the six-player deal that gave them the rights to Hibbert as the No. 17 pick, they were second-guessed for trying to insert a slow half-court center into O'Brien's up-tempo offense. "The offense wasn't going to change, he said that from the beginning," said Hibbert of O'Brien. "So something had to change. It had to be me."
Now they go into next summer with gobs of cap space to fill in around a promising young point guard in 23-year-old Darren Collison, an All-Star scorer on the wing in 27-year-old Granger, and Hibbert, a multiple-threat center. It appears Pacers president Larry Bird knew what he was doing after all.