Player Preview: Roy Hibbert, Seeking Redemption

May 24, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) reacts during a game against the Miami Heat in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
May 24, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) reacts during a game against the Miami Heat in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the more under-reported Indiana Pacers stories is that Roy Hibbert has a player option to become a free agent next summer.

There are reasons to believe he will not opt out.

Specifically, there are fifteen million, five hundred and fourteen thousand reasons, aka, the number of dollars he will take home during the 2015-16 season if he plays the final year of his current deal. Leaving that sort of cash on the table would, in a vacuum, be foolish.

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But Roy Hibbert doesn’t live in a vacuum. He lives in Indiana. And there are plenty of non-financial reasons to think he might be ready to live somewhere else.

There may be no moodier player in the NBA, and Hibbert’s play is tied to his mentality. When he plays with confidence and is comfortable in his surroundings, he is perhaps the most-imposing defensive player in the NBA. When he is doubting himself, he withdraws and plays in a listless funk, sometimes for months at a time, bumming out the world as he walks through it like Eeyore.

We first saw this after then-Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien let the air out of his Most Improved Player (MIP) campaign in 2010. Hibbert was playing the best ball of his career. The basketball bloggerosphere concensus in mid-December was that Indiana’s new beast in the paint was leading the MIP race. When asked about it, O’Brien said, “I don’t think he’s having a very good season.”

Before this point in his pro career, Hibbert was a foul-prone, clumsy, tall guy. But for the first 23 games that year, he was a borderline All-Star, averaging 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 49.3% from the field. He wasn’t just having a good season for a young Roy Hibbert; he was having an objectively good season for anyone. But O’Brien had a penchant for rubbing balloons with sandpaper just to see if they would pop.

In the six games after O’Brien talked publicly, Hibbert shot 29-for-86 (33.7%). The tailspin lingered, with Hibbert’s scoring average falling to 9.5 points per game in January and his once-plentiful offensive rebounds disappearing. It wasn’t until after O’Brien was fired, on January 30, that Hibbert began to look like anything resembling his early-season self again. In the next month — wouldn’t you know it — he got his scoring back up to 15 points per game on 49.7% shooting.

Then there was last year.

There is no exact moment to point to like the O’Brien incident, but there was clearly some inter-team issues that culminated in Hibbert telling reporters that there’s “some selfish dudes” in the locker room. Who knows what all the inner turmoil was about, but it was clear that Hibbert didn’t think he was getting enough touches on offense and that he was in a deep, dark funk.

This lasted for months. It was evident throughout The Struggle late in the regular season, but really reared its head nationally once Hibbert started recording 0-point, 0-rebound games in the playoffs.

He did right himself after a rough series against the Atlanta Hawks, however. And the timing shouldn’t have surprised anyone who has followed his career.

After Hibbert failed to score in the Pacers’ Game 1 loss to Washington at home, his Georgetown University coach, John Thompson III, flew to Indiana. The center talked with his mentor, and Thompson sat near the court for Game 2. “I just wanted to sit down in my own way and remind Roy that he’s still Roy and make sure he remembered who he was,” Thompson told the Washinton Post. “I think he kind of got the message.”

Roy scored a season-high 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Game 2. The Post blamed Thompson for Washinton’s loss, calling Thompson “The Hibbert Whisperer.”

This is just who Hibbert is. He stands in contrast to a guy like Reggie Miller, who used taunts and scorn to fuel his I’ll-show-em braggadocio. Hibbert instead is fueled by encouragement and a sense of being a valued member of a team. The vile of Spike Lee propelled Reggie. The reassurance of Thompson lifted Hibbert.

After Indiana was eliminated, the offseason from hell began for the franchise. Now, with Paul George out for the year and Lance Stephenson gone, how will Roy Hibbert respond?

Will Roy Hibbert believe his outward confidence about being one of the league’s best or will he let doubt overcome him after a few ugly box scores?

The answer to that question might reveal his long-term future in Indiana. If he plays well enough to guarantee himself another hefty contract, he could opt out next summer and walk away from the team, choosing to put the bad memories behind him and begin anew somewhere else.

And if he stinks up the gym all year? Well, then he will likely have no choice but to stay and saddle the Pacers payroll with a salary twice his on-court worth as both sides bite their lip and wallow their way  through one last season.

– Jared Wade

Relevant GIF

Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert /

If you plan to follow the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers, you’ll need a sense of humor. Laugh so you don’t cry. And what’s funnier than Archer? Nothing. Nothing is the answer.

Key 2013-14 Stats

10.8 points per game
6.6 rebounds per game
2.2 blocks per game
43.9% shooting
41.1% opponent FG% at the rim, the best percentage allowed by any player

One Key Question

Can Roy Hibbert become a reliable producer on offense?

The Situation: Every offseason, it seems we’re reading about Roy trying something new; Roy’s working with Kareem, Roy’s kickboxing, Roy is texting Tim Duncan, Roy looks HUGE, And every season, we see diminishing returns on the offense end. To add to the torment of the coaching staff and fans, it seems every year he has five to ten games where he dominates on that end, making people question, “Why can’t he do that every night?”

Best-case Scenario: While it may not seem like much of a “best-case,” 15 points per game, with close to 50% shooting, would do wonders for the offense. That being said, the best-case is that improved ball movement due to the Pacer’s lack of one-on-one guys leads to Roy getting the ball in better spots, and Roy slows builds back his confidence. Combined with becoming a larger part of the offense due to necessity and the chance to play through misses, Hibbert returns to pre-wrist-injury form and is able to give a consistent contribution on the offensive end.

Worst-case Scenario: The Roy Hibbert we saw during the second half of the season and through much of the playoffs is the real Roy: Zero point/zero rebound games become common, and the Pacers are stuck with an albatross of a contract.. Hibbert opts in for 2015-16, knowing he won’t get anywhere near the same amount of money as a free agent, and the Pacers have a $15.5 million backup center who is excellent defensively but a travesty with the ball.

Prediction: Roy lands somewhere in the middle, earning his contract on defense and improving his offense from “cover your eyes kids” to “occasionally useful.” He still doesn’t shoot 50% from the field, but it’s close enough, and he remains a solid free-throw shooter.

– William Furr

How He Scores

RoyHibbert /

Roy Hibbert is mostly a one-trick pony on offense: He gets his points while posting up. When he is actually getting offensive rebounds — something he does at his best but mostly stopped doing last season — he can greatly affect the game on the glass. This, more than low defensive rebounding totals is key to to him turning it around in 2014-15.

Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert /
His 2013-14 shot chart, via

As you can see, Roy Hibbert was not an efficient scorer from many spots on the court. He had some success on the right block extended. This must improve for him to be useful offensively.

Sweatin’ Bullets

sweatin bullets
sweatin bullets /

Sweatin’ Bullets is an 8p9s tradition started by Jonny Auping in which we offer standalone facts, observations, and commentary, often devoid of context or fairness.

  • Roy Hibbert had four scoreless games in the playoffs last season (in 19 games). In two of these, he also grabbed no rebounds. This is incredibly difficult to do.
  • Roy Hibbert returns to the playoffs or Roy Hibbert returns to guest star on Parks & Recreation: Which happens first?
  • The 7’2″ center had — BY FAR — the lowest effective field goal percentage (44.0%) of the eight Pacers who played at least 700 minutes last season. That was the lowest eFG% of his career, and the second straight season he has finished under 45.0% — something he had never done previously.
  • Roy Hibbert had a busy offseason, training with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (arguably the best player of all time) and marrying his long-time partner. It stands to reason that both of these things could change his mind set and him regain some confidence. Or Kareem’s spiritual teaching and becoming a husband makes him realize there are more important things in life than basketball, so he retires next summer to found a chain of vegan self-help espressos shops.

Further Reading