One of the ongoing (and somewhat funny) themes of every NBA offseason is what NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker has termed #musclewatch. This is the phenomenon where NBA players either lose weight or bulk up in an effort of “improving their bodies” to help them in the upcoming season. The most recent Lakers’ example we’ve discussed is rookie Robert Upshaw and his shedding of 20 pounds heading into the training camp.
The more important Lakers’ big man who has worked on his body in an attempt to slim down is Roy Hibbert. In dropping 14 pounds of his own, Hibbert is looking slimmer and hopes that translates to being quicker and being able to be more mobile than he has in recent seasons. Considering the Lakers will likely want to play faster and the fact the Pacers essentially gave him away because they wanted to as well, credit the big man for seeing the writing on the wall.
Besides trying to better combat small ball, however, Hibbert’s improved fitness could help in an even more important way. Over the course of his seven year career, Hibbert has never played 30 minutes a night. He’s bumped up against that threshold twice — 29.8 minutes/game in 2012 and 29.7 minutes/game in 2014 — but he’s never cracked that barrier. Last season he saw his lowest average per game (25.3 minutes) since his 2nd year in the league.
The combination of fatigue and match up issues limiting his time on the floor is not new for Hibbert. Back in April of 2014, Hibbert was benched for most of a game against the Hawks. From the Indy Star’s gamer:
“I considered resting Roy before tonight’s game because he looks worn down; he’s a 7-2 player that’s played every game this year, which is very rare,” Vogel said. “He looks to me to be worn down. He’s giving good effort, but he looks to me to be worn down.”
Besides their view of Hibbert’s fatigue, combining that with the Hawks’ stretching big men of center Pero Antic and power forward Paul Millsap — the pair combined to attempt six of Atlanta’s 27 3-pointers — and they offered that the Big Dawg had to be locked up.
“(Vogel) just made a coaching decision. It wasn’t anything about with Roy,” West said. “It was more about they were a tough cover. We didn’t have much time to prepare for them, you know. He just wanted to give him a chance to rest in that second half.”
Now, to be fair to Hibbert, as Vogel noted this was a game in April and Hibbert had been in the lineup every night to that point. All players wear down over the course of the year, so that should not be held against him.
However, If the Lakers hope to make any noise by rising above the low expectations leveled on them this season, Hibbert will play a major role. But it will be hard for him to have the type of impact the team will need (and what Hibbert wants to provide) if he’s not able to stay on the floor. Whether that’s because of match ups, fatigue, or generally being worn down the results are the same.
Hibbert, again, to his credit, seems to understand this very well. In fact, he started this process earlier this year in February with fitness instructor Gunnar Peterson and continued that work through the summer:
Hibbert started working with Peterson during this year’s All-Star Weekend, and he was so impressed that he bought a house just two blocks from the trainer’s gym entering the summer before he was traded to the Lakers.
“He was my first NBA guy in this summer, and he never missed a workout,” Peterson said. “He dropped a ton of body fat, he got stronger, his movement improved—his head is right.”
Whether this additional work and the results produced lead to Hibbert actually being able to play longer minutes isn’t yet known. It would seem to be a stretch that, in his 8th season, Hibbert would suddenly become a 30+ minute a night player when he has not been that to this point in his career.
However, knowing he’s put himself in the best position to do so is really all he can do. Hopefully that work translates to the floor with an increased minute load.