Heading into the season, there was a hope that Roy Hibbert would be a viable — even if only short term — solution to the Lakers’ problems at the Center position. After losing Ed Davis to FA and allowing the Jordan Hill era to expire, the Lakers’ hole in the pivot needed filling. After an unsuccessful run at LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe, the Lakers pulled what looked to be a rabbit out of their hat with the trade for former all-star and defensive anchor from the Pacers.
I won’t rehash every detail of what I wrote when the Lakers acquired Hibbert, but suffice to say I liked the move. His history told the story of a big man with real and measurable defensive impact who also had positive qualities the team could use offensively (as well as familiarity with the Princeton Offense). He wasn’t the perfect player, but that’s why he was available for a future protected 2nd round pick.
Now, let’s go on a bit of a tangent. Below are statistical profiles of the four Lakers who have spent time manning the middle – note all counting statics are per/36 minutes:
- Player A: 8.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 8.1 PER
- Player B: 12.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, .9 blocks, 12.5 PER
- Player C: 12.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 18.3 PER
- Player D: 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 11.8 PER
None of these players are world beaters, though the PER of player C implies efficient play. All three are low usage guys so that is not a consideration here. Note I did not include any on/off stats since the minutes distribution is highly skewed towards two of the four players, making the sample too small to really come to conclusions about how much impact — positive or negative — those other guys might have if the sample grew.
With that out of the way, can you guess who’s who? Here they are:
- Player A is Robert Sacre
- Player B is Tarik Black
- Player C is Brandon Bass
- Player D is Roy Hibbert
I do not write this to jump on Hibbert’s back or to trash him. Hibbert’s been a good soldier this year, saying the right things, playing hard, blocking some shots, and, by all accounts, being a positive influence on the young players. I have nothing against him, but his numbers on the court imply a player who is not playing well enough to have secure rotation spot.
The other takeaway here is that Tarik Black likely needs more playing time and, if we’re being fair, it should probably come at the expense of Hibbert. Last season Black posted similar numbers — per/36 he had averages of 11.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, and .7 blocks — though with a higher PER (14.7). Black just turned 24 years old in November and is young enough to be part of the “core” Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak talk about, should he prove to be a viable player in this league.
But he has to play to prove what he is or isn’t. Black has only played 115 minutes this season. Of the four players above, that is the lowest and is over 900 fewer minutes than Hibbert. I understand why Hibbert was given the role he was when the season began. I also understand “veteran status” and all that he’d accomplished before coming to the Lakers. Again, you can read the post I wrote when he was acquired for how I felt about the trade.
Halfway through the season, however, we have a better view of where the team is, how individual players are performing, and can better recognize potential changes in looking towards the rest of the year.
Black has his warts — he is undersized, has limited utility offensively due to his still developing jumper and post game, and can be foul prone. Unlike Hibbert (and Bass), Black still offers mistakes of inexperience, too. Maybe a rotation isn’t sniffed out early enough or he doesn’t quite get the subtleties of position defense with angles and timing. There will be tradeoffs for inserting him in the lineup because of these limitations.
But Black also does have some strengths and knows how to utilize them. He is strong, seems to understand how to use his low center of gravity to generate leverage, possesses good hands, is reasonably athletic, has a great motor, and good feet. He can move well enough to show and recover in the pick and roll and has enough juice in his tank to make those types of rotations and still chase out of area rebounds.
And, maybe most importantly, he is a maturing dive man in the P&R who goes to the front of the rim, hands ready, looking to finish with power at the basket. This trait, more than any other, is useful to this particular Laker team, especially D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson who use a lot of possessions in the P&R, but do so without a classic roll man. Their development is paramount to the team’s future (especially Russell’s), so pairing them with bigs who complement their skill set in a play they like to run makes sense.
In a lot of ways, I do not envy Byron Scott. As we have discussed all season, this roster was constructed with multiple and at times conflicting goals. The mix of veterans who are used to playing and young players who also need minutes to develop was always going to require a balancing act which is possible to achieve in theory, but much harder to make happen in actual practice.
Inserting Black into the lineup will mean further shifting the pendulum away from a veteran (either Bass or, as I am suggesting, Hibbert) and towards a younger player. But, with the trajectory of the Lakers’ season what it is, I really do not think this should be contemplated much more. Black needs to play and it’s about time he gets his chance.