Not often do we see players go from All-Stars to complete afterthoughts in just two years, but that's exactly what has happened to Roy Hibbert. He was a key cog in a contender not long ago and now he's struggling on a terrible Lakers team that will likely let him walk next offseason, if they don't trade him at the deadline first.
As Silver Screen and Roll eloquently said, "it's hard to fathom you are watching the same player."
The sad part is Hibbert hasn't done anything egregious to deserve what's happened to him. He's had no off-court trouble and has addressed some of the mental struggles he's suffered from in the past. He's still good at the things he was good at back when he was considered a star, and by all accounts he's a good locker room presence and a consummate pro.
Unfortunately his skills are no longer as valuable now that the style of play has changed and his limitations have been exposed by playing on a bad team. Worse yet, there's no way he can adjust.
Rim protection is Hibbert's only defensive skill
The hottest catchphrase around the league a few years ago was "rim protection." Every team wanted a center who could deter or alter shots close to the basket and Hibbert was fantastic at it. He was the anchor of some great defensive teams in Indiana as the last line of defense, and many assumed his ability to shield the rim is what propped the Pacers up. In reality, it was a combination of favorable schemes and being surrounded by the right players that made him stand out.
Hibbert has been exposed as a member of the Lakers. He's not the type of player that can have a big impact on his own because he's actually really limited on that end. Hibbert will offer rim protection but there's a huge trade-off that comes with it: the paint might be shut down but the rest of the floor is open. Look at the opponent's shot chart with him on and off the court.
He hangs back so close to the rim that ball handlers get all the room they need to launch runners and floaters while big men who can shoot kill him in the pick-and-pop. Those are lower efficiency shots compared to layups but most good players will hit them if they have so much time and room.
His decision to stay in the paint at all times also hurts the Lakers at the three-point line. They allow almost two extra three-pointers per 48 minutes and opponents shoot 38 percent as opposed to 29 percent when he's on the court.
If the big man he's guarding can shoot, he might as well not be on the floor. The second he steps outside of the paint, he's virtually useless. With the league embracing stretch big men and going small more and more often, that's a serious flaw.
Yet, the problems don't stop there. Hibbert ranks as the sixth-worse rotation player in adjusted defensive rebound percentage, a statistic that tracks how many of the rebounds in a player's vicinity he actually grabs. He can take up space and box out but he needs others to actually get the rebounds. Paul George and David West used to do that in Indiana but since no one on the Lakers does, they are allowing three second-chance points more when he's on the court.
It's not a coincidence that the Lakers allow seven more points per 100 possessions when Hibbert plays. He offers zero versatility on the defensive end. He just protects the rim, like he always has, but that's not enough in today's NBA. Defenders need to be mobile enough to step outside to contest shots and help and recover. Hibbert simply isn't.
Hibbert's lack of offensive weapons makes him a liability
There are still traditional, rim-protecting big men out there getting minutes for good teams. Andre Drummond, for example, doesn't venture outside the paint much and wouldn't be comfortable guarding smaller players who can shoot. What he can do that Hibbert can't, however, is punish those teams on the other end.
Hibbert doesn't have a post game. Because his center of gravity is high, he can get moved easily from the block. He's too lumbering to be a good dive man and he has no reliable mid-range jumper, so he can't be a pick-and-pop option. His field goal percentage is the lowest of any rotation 7-footer who doesn't attempt three-pointers and he's one of the worst finishers near the rim among big men despite not being a featured option.
More damming, he ranks 68 in the league in offensive rebound percentage, sandwiched between stretch power forwards Ersan Ilyasova, Luis Scola, Terrence Jones and Jonas Jerebko. Hibbert can't leverage his tremendous size into offensive production, which combined with his defensive limitations makes him impossible to keep on the court against teams that have a center with range or go small against him.
The Hawks famously neutralized his rim protection by playing five players who could shoot to draw him out of the paint and he couldn't make them pay on the other end. Most teams now have the personnel to that, which turns Hibbert into a situational player.
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There's no better way to illustrate how much the NBA has changed in a short time span than to point to Hibbert's career trajectory. He went from Defensive Player of the Year candidate to pariah in Indiana, as they changed their identity to become faster and smaller to keep up with the league's evolution. They gave him away for free to a terrible Lakers team in which he's making no positive impact whatsoever. In just two years he became obsolete.
Next season he could find a more suitable home. Surrounded by good, long, athletic perimeter defenders that can cover the ground he concedes by staying in the paint he could still be an asset on defense against certain matchups.
What he won't ever be again is a core piece on a good team. To no fault of his own, the league has passed him by.
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