Many have covered what Roy Hibbert brings defensively. His understanding and implementation of the “Verticality” rule is easily his greatest attribute and is probably the manner in which he’ll improve the team from last season. The reverse can be said about Hibbert’s influence on team rebounding, which is what I’m looking forward to watching most this season.
The Lakers have desperately clung to the idea of recapturing the Showtime era. Ironically, adding a player most see as a plodding giant might actually be the best way to take a step toward such a playing style.
A common criticism lobbed Hibbert’s way typically concerns his rebounding rate. In terms of what we see in the box score, Hibbert’s rebounding is pretty disappointing. Someone his size should be absolutely prolific in that facet of the game, but he isn’t. For his entire career, Hibbert’s averaged only 6.8 rebounds per game. His per 36 minutes are better (9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes), but he’s never displayed an ability to consistently stay on the court for so many minutes, given his conditioning and foul rates.
When understanding what Hibbert brings to the table, though, you have to take a deeper look at his team’s rebounding while he’s on the floor. While he may not necessarily grab every rebound in his vicinity, Hibbert’s value comes in his ability to block opponents out, allowing his teammates to sweep in for the rebounds. Hibbert’s Pacers grabbed 44.7% of the available rebounds while he was on the court last season, good enough for fourth in the NBA. If that trend continues when the games start this season, the Lakers would be in position to greatly improve their pace.
Someone like Kevin Love goes about starting fast breaks by grabbing the rebound himself and outletting the ball with one of his famous Wes Unseld-ian passes, clearing entire basketball courts effortlessly. Love is easier to credit for rebounding statistics, as it’s his box score that gets stuffed with all kinds of incredible rebound totals. However, he and Hibbert are different means to the same end; Hibbert’s impact simply requires a slightly more nuanced examination.
My ideal starting five for this season would feature D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle and Hibbert. Each of those guys listed are more than capable of starting a fast break immediately upon grabbing a board. Theoretically, the Lakers would actually benefit if Hibbert isn’t the one grabbing rebounds. So long as he creates rebounding lanes for his running mates, the pace and style at which the Lakers play would greatly improve.
Look at the Lakers’ roster. It’s littered with players who would benefit from a more open, transition-based system. The more time they spend in the half-court, the more we’re forced to watch the Princeton offense that handcuffed a gift Summer League team. Those quotes from players describing the frustrating time spent learning the system came from playing just too slowly.
Granted, they were given hardly any time at all to implement the strategy and judging based off a handful of exhibition games is beyond ridiculous, but spending more time in transition will suit this young group at least at first, as they work to understand Byron Scott’s chosen offense.
Now, Hibbert’s boxing out can help to greatly improve pace, but it’ll have to be a roster-wide effort. All the bigs will have to adjust to rebounding with tempo in mind. The league’s best fast break starters grab the rebound and turn to find the outlet in one fluid motion. Watching Tarik Black in the summer league, it was maddening as he tucked the ball close to his body as the defense got back before he finally found a guard to get the ball to. If the Lakers hope to play with anything resembling pace, this cannot continue. The same will be true of Hibbert (and Bass, etc) when he is the one corralling the ball.
Part of the onus falls on the guard on the court as well. If the big who gets the rebound isn’t capable of dribbling down the court themselves, it’s up to either of the guards (especially considering most of the guards on the Lakers roster are combo wings) to circle back around to collect the outlet and start the break. If some kind of combination of the last two paragraphs take place, combined with Hibbert’s ability to box out and allow teammates capable of going coast to coast grab boards, the Lakers should theoretically play something near a top-10 pace in the NBA.
When you think uptempo, Hibbert’s methodical-bordering-on-glacial gait doesn’t exactly come immediately to mind, but, in his own way, he might ignite a transition back to transition basketbal.