New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire, left, defends Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert during the second half of Game 3 in Indianapolis, Saturday, May 11. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
The NBA today looks at seven-footers who can put the ball on the deck, step out 20-25 feet and shoot jumpers, and even lead the break and drop a dime. It has been long past since a seven-footer was required to park his rump down low, demand the ball and post up, show some back-to-the-basket moves, wrestle inside to grab a rebound and turn it into gold.
True big men are dying.
Since Dirk Nowitzki revolutionized the game by being seven feet tall with the handles and deft shooting touch of a guard, the art of paint play has become stagnant. Another prime example is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s superstar forward Kevin Durant, who is easily standing at seven feet despite his listed height with a gwapo jumpshot and sick dribbling skills to go with.
Tim Duncan is the last true big man of the post-Jordan era who bristled with the meanest hulks to man the paint: Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Vlade Divac, Shawn Kemp. You could make a case for Kevin Garnett but even before Dirk, he was the seven-foot guy who can handle the ball like a guard, swish nice-looking jumpshots and go inside with his incredible length. “Combo Big Men,” as I like to call ‘em.
Right now? Apart from Duncan, I can see only five big guys who are distinguishable as true big men: Atlanta’s Al Horford, Chicago’s Joakim Noah, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, Golden State’s Andrew Bogut (when healthy) and Memphis’ Marc Gasol. But that’s just me, and maybe “experts” out there would like me to reconsider. But here’s my thing: I like them big men who punish people down low, holding their positions when posting up (ooops not you Dwight Howard), flashing their elbows to grab rebounds and not by outjumping their man (sorry Blake, DJ), getting good box out positions and protecting their paint.
Roy Hibbert I have found wanting, especially when he goes on a neutral spree wherein he just looks plain disinterested from the game, unengaged, not utilizing his height and heft to prove to the NBA that he is the one shining hope of the Center position and not get outplayed by some guy with long hair and a toothy grin. But in these year’s Playoffs, Hibbert has taken a page out of his All-Star and proving to all that Indiana, with their tower online, is a punisher out there.
Long have I implored Hibbert, the Indiana Pacers’ 7’2” slotman, to play to his height and skill. Do I see him coming into his own just like what Paul George did in last year’s edition? Perhaps. Do I see him a constant double-double threat, with at least 15 points and 10 boards plus a block or two, today? Yes I do. Is he consistent? It’s getting there. He has been 85 percent consistent on offense and 100 percent consistent on defense. Boy are we tracking up.
“Gimme the ball!” I heard that over the TV as ESPN aired Game 3 of the Pacers-Knicks series. It came from Hibbert. And he was battling Tyson Chandler, one of the NBA’s elite in terms of defending the rim, getting good position. I was like, really?!
But he demanded again, and George Hill rewarded him with a nice post feed. Roy initially pounded to his left, which Chandler negated, stepping up to block the path. What happened after? Oh he did not force it. After going to the Tim Duncan School of Workouts in the offseason, Hibbert pulled up a surprise. He countered it. By spinning back to his right, his path became unencumbered by Chandler’s lack of presence having committed to his initial move, he took the time to gather the ball as he spun, and launched a pretty baby hook for the bang and a bucket as T-Chan recovered.
That’s Post Play 101 right there folks.
Professor Hibbert used that, to my remembrance, thrice. He even employed a half-spin and drop step in the second half for another pretty hook. It was not clumsy. It was graceful. It was downright nasty beautiful.
His positioning? He would make Howard look like a pogo stick who relies on his athleticism more on skills. He held his own against a nasty bruiser in T-Chan. He doesn’t get pushed around easily out of the paint. When he parks his ass down there, it stays there or they foul trying.
But how about on defense? This is where Hibbert really has improved by leaps and bounds. He doesn’t bite that easily into drives as his teammates funnel their guy to him. He goes arms up, and if the opportunity to block is there, he’ll take it. Otherwise, he’ll just challenge. He goes up vertically, avoiding early foul trouble while still playing honest defense and great help-side defense.
Rebounding? Oh he got lots of those, but not without some terrific interference from Lance Stephenson and Paul George who are more than eating up their share. Twelve was the final count and for a 7’2” guy, that is average and not shabby. Still needs work, yes, but a student of the game can be content about that. For now.
For continued success, Frank Vogel should utilize Hibbert more and employ a David West-Hibbert high-low play. That should generate offense for the Pacers when they experience droughts because of excessive chucking of threes and jumpers. And come think of it, that kind of combo is hard to stop since West is a legit baller who can either go in to clog things up or out to free up Hibbert’s post play.
Light up the Tower, Indiana.
Light it up and let me enjoy the rest of the show.
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