Roy Hibbert sure has come a long way.
His selection as a reserve in the 2012 NBA All-Star Game and the backlash that followed was likely a part of the reason why the NBA decided to leave the traditional “center” spot off future ballots, instead providing three “frontcourt” slots in the starting lineup that could go to small forwards, power forwards, or centers.
Less than two years later, he’s one of the most dominant big men in the league (though, despite all his basketball skills, he’s probably best known nationwide for his appearances on Parks and Recreation).
For the last two seasons, he’s been a top-notch defensive anchor for the Indiana Pacers, and his two-way excellence has made their starting lineup the league’s best in terms of point differential. However, his size and health generally limited him to under 30 minutes a night, forcing the Pacers to rely more on their backup bigs.
He struggled early last season on offense while playing through a wrist injury, but his defensive prowess helped the Pacers lead the league in defensive efficiency.
Hibbert’s defense has improved tremendously since he entered the league. He was considered by many to be too slow for the modern game when he got drafted, but he’s improved his strength and conditioning, improving his body with MMA training and even a few sessions with Tim Duncan, an absolute model of stability and consistency.
He’s also been extremely coachable, buying in completely to the Pacers’ defensive system. He’s able to overcome his lack of quickness due to his expert positioning, relying on short slides and adjustments rather than quick sprints to wall off the paint. He’s also a master of jumping straight up to contest shots without fouling.
He was a force in last year’s playoffs, destroying opponents on the offensive glass while continuing to play superb defense. The Pacers’ dramatic improvement in the playoffs could be attributed in part to simply giving Hibbert more minutes.
With their defensive anchor and best rebounder (4.7 offensive boards and 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes last season) on the court for more than 36 minutes a night, the Pacers were able to bully the New York Knicks into submission before nearly downing the Miami Heat.
The Eastern Conference has gotten more competitive since last season and for the Pacers to rise to the top of the pack again, Hibbert will have to prove that he can withstand a heavier minutes load and the fatigue that comes with it. They’ll need him on the court because the Pacers play at a completely different level with their All-Star big man.