The Los Angeles Lakers were able to salvage this off-season by acquiring Indiana Pacers All-Star big man, Roy Hibbert. A trade that has been reported as all but done, just needing to wait until the transaction can officially be completed when the NBA moratorium is over. While Hibbert isn’t quite the big name as those that the Lakers pursued, such as LaMarcus Aldridge or DeAndre Jordan, he is a difference maker and vastly improves the team for this coming season, most significantly on the defensive end.
It is on the defensive end where the Lakers have needed the most help the past two seasons where they’ve ranked near last place in defensive rating which coincided with the worst seasons in Los Angeles Lakers’ franchise history. In fact it’s been 5 years since the Lakers ranked in the top ten in defensive rating with the 2010-11 season which was a year removed from their 2010 championship against the Celtics and Phil Jackson’s last year as coach.
Recent team history shows that when the Lakers defend well, they win and it is in that area where Hibbert excels. The Pacers with Hibbert as their defensive anchor have thrived defensively.
The Pacers were the NBA’s best defensive team in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 season. Defense as their calling card, Hibbert and the Pacers made two straight Eastern Conference finals appearances. While the Pacers lost both series to Lebron James and the Miami Heat, they battled, taking the series to 6 games in 2014 and 7 games in 2013. While last season was a down year for the Pacers they still ranked in the top one-fourth in the league defensively.
Hibbert’s presence on the defensive end has accounted for about a 1 to 2 percent difference in the Pacers’ opponents effective field goal percentage when he is on the floor versus off in the last 3 seasons. How Hibbert affects the action inside is why the Pacers have been such a good defensive team. Hibbert really makes his mark and separates himself from most big men in the league when it comes to defending the interior.
Hibbert absolutely owns the space from the basket up to 10 feet out. In the last two years NBA.com has tracked opponents field goal percentage against individual players based on their position on the court and have compared that to their opponent’s field goal percentage against the rest of the league. As you can see by the graph above Hibbert has held his opponents far below their efficiency against the rest of the league when they’ve dared to venture within 10 feet or less of the basket. The most astonishing is what Hibbert accomplished defending within 6 feet of the basket in 2013-14 when he held his opponents’ field goal percentage 15.3 percent lower than when they faced the rest of the league.
Rim protection is vitally important for any good defensive team and Hibbert is elite in this area.
Many think of a player that registers a ton of blocks as a great rim protector but that isn’t necessarily the case. A player can compile blocks by playing off the weak side or trying to swat everything in sight at the expense of good team defense. It is how effective the opponents are at scoring at the rim against a defender that matters most and as you can see by the above graph Hibbert has excelled in this area. Hibbert was first in the league at opponents field percentage at the rim 2 seasons ago and 4th this past season.
Hibbert does get his share of blocks, even though he was down slightly last season (1.6 blocks per game), the 3 seasons prior to that he ranked in the top 5 in the NBA in blocks per game. Here is a video we tweeted out of a few of Hibbert’s more spectacular blocks.
— raining3s (@raining3sdotcom) July 5, 2015
But it isn’t just swatting shots that makes Hibbert such a special defender, it’s his technique and smarts on the court.
Hibbert is one of the best in the league at affecting shots around the basket and either creating missed baskets or deterring shots in the interior all together.
One way Hibbert is able to do this is because of his great ability to contest a shot of a driving player, absorb contact, hold his position and not get called for the foul by remaining vertical.
Another way is using every bit of his enormous wingspan on pick-and-rolls where he can stay with the roll man and still deter the ball handler from driving to the basket with his length which then usually ends up with a low percentage floater or mid-range shot.
At 7’2 and 270+ Hibbert understandably doesnt have the greatest lateral quickness so staying in front of some of the incredibly quick guards in the league is a challenge when he switches, but he surprisingly will do an adequate job in these situations, even when he’s screened from as far out as the top of the key. In the following video he meets the speedy Russell Westbrook after the Pacers guard is screened, successfully blocking off the path to the basket and swatting away his shot.
The defensive prowess of Hibbert isn’t by accident, its learned by him studying players tendencies and their repertoire of shots. In 2014 Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated wrote a piece about Hibbert and noted that he “studied video of opponents, to time their jumps and gauge their releases.”
The Lakers will make a huge jump this season as a defensive unit with Hibbert on board. Kobe and the rest of the young perimeter players will now be able to really get into the player they are defending, take chances they couldn’t before, knowing that they have their fail safe at the rim. In addition, those players that the Lakers’ perimeter players defend will not be so open to attacking the inside knowing the big man is sitting there waiting for them. That is what Hibbert does, he shrinks the court for his perimeter defenders by giving them less of the court to defend.
Now, while Hibbert’s presence will improve the team’s defense immensely and as a result make the Lakers a better team overall, it might be too optimistic to think it will add enough wins at season’s end to earn a playoff run with the level of competition in the Western Conference as great as it is. However, the improvement should be enough to make their season respectable by remaining competitive in each game and hanging around somewhere the .500 mark which will be refreshing for Lakers’ fans after two disastrous 20 win seasons.
Another positive, with this likely being Lakers’ legend Kobe Bryant’s last season, a respectable season is a far better way for him to ride off into the sunset than what was in store had the team come away completely empty this off-season with Robert Sacre and Tarik Black as the only centers on the roster.