Roy Hibbert: The Los Angeles Lakers' Big Question Mark
The biggest obstacle standing in the way of the greatest basketball player in the world was Roy Hibbert.
For three years, the Pacers-Heat playoff series was billed as the matchup of the playoffs, and with good reason. Always lacking an effective big man to limit Hibbert, the Heat watched as Hibbert bruised and bullied his way through Miami’s defense. The two-time All-Star was considered to be one of the most dominant centers in the game.
But Hibbert slowly faded out of the national spotlight. No longer did he strike fear in the hearts of opponents. After a lackluster year in Indianapolis in 2014-15, Hibbert was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers.
So what happened to the 7'2" center, and what does his future look like in Tinseltown? Let’s break it down.
As much fuss was made over his decline, perhaps Hibbert’s rise was just as overstated. Truth be told, Hibbert was never truly a dominant offensive player. In his best year, the center averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds, while shooting just a shade under 50 percent, respectable averages -- but far from dominant -- albeit he was playing under 30 minutes per game
Furthermore, the only year Hibbert had a positive Offensive Box Plus/Minus was in 2011-12. That was also the only year he had more than two Offensive Win Shares. Also in 2011-12, he had his highest PER, 19.3: solid but far from elite, especially for a big man.
All told, Roy Hibbert struggles on offense. He averaged 10.6 points per last year, his third straight year that his scoring averaged decreased. His Effective Field Goal Percentage was a paltry 44.6 percent, putting him in the company of notoriously ineffective guards like Rajon Rondo and Evan Turner.
As one of the tallest players in the league, one would think Hibbert would love be nearing the basket. But that's not the case. Just 22 percent of shots came from within 3 feet of the hoop. And even among those shots, he found it difficult to find the bottom of the net. He connected on just 51.2 percent of shots within 5 feet, sixth worst among centers who took at least 2 such shots per game last season.
Farther from the basket, Hibbert is a little more effective. He made 45.8 percent of shots between 5 and 9 feet from the basket last season, a little above average among players who took more than one shot from that range per game last season. He actually ranked sixth in the NBA in field goals made from that range last year.
In 2014-15, the Lakers mainly used Jordan Hill at center. Like Hibbert, Hill shied away from the basket. He took just 24.5 percent of his shots within 3 feet of the rim. His average shooting distance last year was actually farther than Hibbert’s by a foot. Hill’s role on the team last year likely makes it reasonable to predict that Hibbert will similarly remain away from the basket.
Hibbert could even play farther from the hoop, as the Lakers and Byron Scott have a love affair with midrange shots, oft referred to as the most inefficient shot in basketball.
Los Angeles took the third most 10- to 19-foot shots last year. And it’s not as though the Lakers were particularly good at connecting on such shots. In fact, they were pretty awful, yet they continued to heave from midrange. Only two teams shot worse from that distance, and combined, the teams took five fewer midrange shots per game than Los Angeles.
Another big question to be asked about anyone joining the Lakers is how Hibbert's style mesh with Kobe Bryant's. It's hard to tell because Hibbert has never played with a truly ball-dominant guard.
The closest player to Bryant that he has shared the floor with is Danny Granger, who played 544 games as a pacer between 2005-06 and 2013-14. Between 2008-09 and 2011-12, Granger boasted a Usage Rate of 25.9 percent or higher.
When he and Hibbert were on the court together, the Pacers were successful. When the combo of Granger and Hibbert played together, the Pacers averaged more points than any other combination. The Pacers also shot their highest percentage from the floor and from deep and rebounded the ball at the highest rate when Granger and Hibbert were two of the five men on the floor.
This bodes well for Hibbert on the Lakers, because with Bryant still the alpha dog in L.A., the offense will run through him.
Hibbert's real value, however, can be seen on the defensive end. Last year was the first season in the past four years in which Hibbert wasn’t in the top four in the NBA in blocks. In 2013-14, he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
|Defensive Win Shares||5th||5th|
|Defensive Box Plus/Minus||5th||7th|
|Blocks per Game||4th||4th|
Hibbert didn't rank in the top 10 in any of the above categories in 2014-15, but it's important to note that the first three are all highly dependent on team defense. Due to the loss of Paul George to injury and Lance Stephenson to free agency, Indiana's defense dropped from first in the NBA in Defensive Rating to eighth. Other more individualized advanced analytics clearly show his impact.
Last year, Hibbert's points saved over position average was third best in the league, behind only Rudy Gobert and Andrew Bogut, per Nylon Calculus. Among players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game and defended at least 3 field goal attempts at the rim per game, Hibbert was fourth in the league, holding opponents to a 42.6 field goal percentage.
According to NBA.com, Hibbert limited opponents to 5.9 percentage points worse when he defended their shots compared to their average. Among all players who defended at least 4 shots per game last year, only Draymond Green and Anthony Davis, 6.3 and 6.2 percentage points, respectively, performed better.
To say the Lakers struggled defensively last season would be an understatement, and with the trio of Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell and Nick Young starting, L.A will likely struggle again. Los Angeles was second worst in points per game defense, Defensive Rating and opponent field goal percentage.
Most importantly, the Lakers allowed the third highest defensive field goal percentage within 6 feet last year. Hibbert's presence could help this out tremendously. He'll be a major improvement over Hill, who had a Defensive Rating of 109 and a negative Defensive Box Plus/Minus. If Hibbert can carry over his past success to Los Angeles, the Lakers could have a dramatic improvement in the core of their defense.
So will Roy Hibbert be the second coming of Shaquille O'Neal? Probably not. But can he help bring the Lakers' defense from worst in the league to somewhere in the middle? All signs point to yes.