A surging Hibbert: ‘We have something special here’
Pacers center Roy Hibbert began turning heads last spring as the Pacers advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. The team was succeeding, had more eyes tuned into Pacers games than anytime recently, and Hibbert was a big reason why the Pacers possessed one of the best defenses in the league.
This year, there’s no doubt. The Pacers top the charts, and it’s not even close.
They’re holding opponents to 83.7 points per game and 38.6 percent shooting, with the next team at 90.1 point per game and 41.2 percent, respectively. Their continuity is a critical element because they understand where one another is going to be at all times. Their movements are rapid and help off the ball has been outstanding.
“They’re the best defensive team in the league,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said recently. “They compress the paint real well and they make it hard for the guards to get in there and make anything happen. They have great length and they contest every shot. They just make it tough for you. … They seem to be on a mission, they’re playing with great energy, they are playing well together and all the pieces seem to be clicking. That is a sign of a good team.”
The Pacers are 9-0, the lone remaining undefeated team in the NBA, and they have at least a three-game lead on every Eastern Conference team.
Following his best output of the season Friday night in a 27-point win over Milwaukee — 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks — Hibbert said this is the most comfortable he’s felt since his college days at Georgetown.
“The first couple years were awful,” said Hibbert, as he was seated at his locker in the corner of the room. “We had guys in here that as soon as April 15th hit, they were gone. They were done a month before April 15th. We have expectations and we want to win. We want to play deep, deep into the playoffs. You gain confidence in your teammates when we’re all on the same page and we all have one goal.
“Some guys on this team before were just trying to get a paycheck, and just go home, and then chill on the beach and sip mint mojitos. That’s not us.”
This 9-0 Pacers squad is as together as it’s ever been, brushing off opponents and beating them in a variety of ways. You see with this group, they don’t care who has a big night.
They are so connected and supportive of one another “because you want to see them eat,” Hibbert said after a recent practice. “You want to see them do well.”
Through nine games, Hibbert is averaging 11.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game, with the latter two both being career highs. With eight blocks on Friday, Hibbert is off to a torrid pace with 43 total. That’s more than half of the teams in the league by himself. Paul George, who is scoring at least 20 points on the regular, praised the 7-foot-2 center after Friday’s win.
“It allows myself, George [Hill], and Lance [Stephenson] to really pressure up on the wings,” he said of having Hibbert as the last line of defense, the anchor of their league-leading D. “To have the best defensive big in the league to protect the paint, it gives us all confidence.”
Added Hibbert: ”We have a great group of guys that want to win. Our bench is great. We’re very confident. I love this team and we have something special here so I just want to keep pushing.”
The Big Dawg has made it perfectly clear that he wants to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award this season. He felt slighted last year, finishing 10th and seeing fellow big man Marc Gasol of Memphis take home the trophy.
“[He's] proving night in and night out that he’s the best rim protector in the game,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “Just a clear frontrunner for the best defensive player of the game.”
Friday, All-Star voting began and will run through Jan. 20. The Pacers’ core six — the starters plus Danny Granger — are on the ballot.
“If it happens, it happens,” Hibbert said of his desire to be a second-time All-Star. “My thing at the beginning of the summer was put on size so I could get in there. I want to be Defensive Player of the Year. Whatever happens with All-Stars happens. I never thought I’d be an All-Star when I got to the league. I have one under my belt. If it happens, I’m happy. But I don’t think about that.”
To vote, visit NBA.com/ASB.
Weightlifting Goal Set
In the offseason, Hibbert added more than 10 pounds of muscle to his frame, which he said will help him be tougher in the post and improve his endurance. In Friday’s win, we saw the weight put to good use when one of his arms was held, he was fouled, and yet he managed to get the shot off and to go down. He was 8-for-10 with a season-high 24 points.
Hibbert has a goal to be the hardest working player in the locker room. As it pertains to weightlifting, strength and conditioning coach Shawn Windle requires every player to get at least 10 lifts in a month.
Halfway through November and Hibbert was already at 11 at of Friday, but well aware that he’s one lift behind Luis Scola and Rasual Butler.
3s, as seen to the right, are for actual lifts. 2s are given for coming in and doing a light life with core. 1s are simply handed out for stretching.
“My goal is to get as many 3s on the board,” Hibbert declared. “Even though I am playing a lot of minutes, I want to push myself mentally.
“I could easily just say I’m tired after games or after practice. … I come in on days off and get a lift in and go back home. It’s just mentally training yourself. It’s going to help me down the line. I may be hurting now but it’ll help.”