Sunday, October 6th, 2013 at 12:00 pm  |  22 responses

Top 50: Roy Hibbert, no. 25

Overwhelming size and good defensive timing make Hibbert a top-notch big.

by Yaron Weitzman | @YaronWeitzman

Who could ever forget that block?

Carmelo Anthony thought he had a clear path to the basket. That two easy points were about to be his, that a 94-90 lead with five minutes left in the game was about to belong to the Knicks. Perhaps a run and a Game 6 win too, and with that would have came a Game 7 at home in the Garden, and then who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Anthony had caught the ball on the left block and then quickly shed an unbalanced Paul George, who had lunged forward in a failed attempt to swipe at the pass, with a quick dribble to his right and a spin toward the baseline. He planted both his feet, bent his knees and propelled himself off of the Banker’s Life Fieldhouse gym floor up toward the rim. The ball was cradled back slightly over his right shoulder. The play was all but complete.

Except there was Roy Hibbert doing what he had done all series to the Knicks and all season to unsuspecting opponents. The anchor of a Pacers defense that finished last season No. 1 in defensive efficiency, and opponents’ effective field-goal percentage, and opponents’ shooting percentage at the rim, slid to his left and under the basket. The 26-year-old then pulled all 280 pounds of his 7-2 frame straight up—always straight up—off the ground just quickly enough to squeeze his left fingertips between the ball in Anthony’s right hand and the net. The result would live forever in a framed picture that currently—yes, seriously—rests on the wall in the man cave of Hibbert’s home.

What was about to be a four-point Knicks lead quickly turned into a 16-9 run for the Pacers, and an eventual series-sealing Game 6 win. This time the shot was blocked. But it was the simple act of just getting in the way and jumping straight in the air with his hands completely vertical above his head, something that Hibbert turned into an art form last year, that had left Anthony and the Knicks looking completely stunned.

It wasn’t the most emphatic or impressive block you’ll ever see. The ball wasn’t slapped into the stands or toward half court to ignite a fast break. But what it did do is symbolize who Hibbert is, what he contributes to a basketball team, how he can influence a game, and the power that great defenders can—still—have against the Carmelo Anthonys of the game.

“Nobody does that stuff as well as Roy,” said Paul George in a conversation over the summer. “And even those that do, they’re not as disciplined as Roy is in terms of just jumping straight up.

“And having a guy like that behind you, it just makes playing defense so much easier. I can gamble and be aggressive on the ball because I know Roy is behind me protecting the rim. It just really puts me in a comfort zone.”

Hibbert may not be a great scorer (11.9 ppg and an extremely-low-for-a-center 44.8 field-goal percentage last season) or, for that matter, an effective one. He may not posses the quick feet and spry movements to swaddle up opposing guards on the perimeter like Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett do, either. But what Hibbert does do (aside from helping Tom Haverford’s Entertainment 720 literally print its own money), perhaps better than anyone in the NBA save for a healthy Dwight Howard, is take away an opponents’ ability to score easy points.

The Pacers are a team devoid of great scorers. They also came within one win of knocking off the eventual NBA Champs last season and advancing to the Finals. These two statements don’t usually go hand-in-hand.

Playing defense in today’s NBA, where small ball and spread offenses and three-pointers reign, is about making concessions, about giving something away in order to prevent something else. With Hibbert lurking in the paint, the rest of the Pacers’ defenders can stay at home. They can slide over a pick on the perimeter, stay on a weak side shooter when the ball is in the post, close out hard to a three-point shot. The Pacers made the conference finals last year by playing blackjack—by taking away high-percentage shots and allowing low ones (such as mid-range jumpers). This could not be accomplished without a prolific interior defender like Hibbert, without a shot blocker who understands that sometimes just jumping straight up and not actually trying to block the shot is the best strategy to take.

Hibbert may not be the best player on the Pacers, but he’s certainly one of the most important. Being that on a legitimate Finals contender is more than enough to justify this ranking, scoring output be damned.

Where should Roy Hibbert rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
39 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 9
38 Kevin Garnett Nets PF 8
37 Rudy Gay Raptors SF 8
36 Paul Pierce Nets SF 7
35 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 11
34 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 7
33 Al Horford Hawks C 8
32 Andre Iguodala Warriors SF 6
31 Brook Lopez Nets C 7
30 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 6
29 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 6
28 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 10
27 Josh Smith Hawks SF 5
26 Joakim Noah Bulls C 5
25 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 4

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.

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  • Mike Gilbert

    Why does it seem like Roy misses way to many bunnies? If he could just tighten up his FG% he would be a top 20 guy for sure!

    And I love the Noah/Hibbert debate.

  • Mike Gilbert

    IMO Noah and Hibbert are better than Brook Lopez no question.

  • shockexchange

    Roy was ballin’ outta control during the playoffs. He’s going to have every center in the L coming at his neck this season. Can he do it consistently now that he has a bullseye on his back?

  • Dagger

    The problem with the ranking so far is that the rationale for a player’s placement appears to be inconsistent. How do we evaluate the worth of offense versus defense? Are we focused on skill or production? How much does efficiency matter? How much does winning matter?

    For example: if defense is as important for ranking players as this write up suggests, why are Lillard and Lawson ranked so high? Especially when they are inefficient scorers? Another example: if contributing to a winning organization matters, okay, I get why Noah is ranked so high. But why is Cousins ranked as high as he is? And how does it make any sense for Hortford to be ranked beneath those guys?

    As far as I can remember, SLAM usually gets it about right until the top 15 or so, and then things get controversial (although that’s often part of the fun). This year is different. The placement of Lillard, Hortford and Lawson in particular is baffling to me, and should be baffling to anyone who pays attention to the NBA.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Very well said.

  • MackAtttack

    I had him on my fantasy team last year and watched in horror as Hibbert piled up brick after brick. He probably led the league in missed 4-footers.

  • spit hot fiyah

    agreed. i think part of it is that a lot of writers get stuck writing about a player that might be higher or lower than what they themselves had put him. and then they have to come up with a way to rationalize it. and different writers use different approaches, therefor the differences in valuing players.

    “Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.”

    that definition is open to so many interpretations, maybe on purpose. but i agree that the valuation is very flawed and it makes the list less credible.

  • Tim Powers

    I would have put Hibbert at 33, just way too high, and I think I’d still take Gasol over him, so make that 34.

  • 3Chainz

    You wrote a lot but didn’t make much sense. Sounds like your basically saying the rankings should be based on one facet of the game rather than the total. I’d take Hibbert over Horford (not sure who HorTford is) based on Hibberts 2014 ceiling and his defense being better than Hortford strength, which is his offense.

    I’d NEVER use “PER” or “efficiency” like stat gets (who really don’t know the players) do to judge a game. If you are a true NBA fan and you think Horford is better than Noah, Hibbert or Cousins, you need to step into the times and watch games in HD. You have to use the eye test and try to judge the same as GOOD scouts do.

    If i’m correct even the coaches voted Hibbert and Noah into the All star game over Horford for 2012/13. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Horfords garbage but lately Hibbert and Noah have played better and I don’t see that changing anytime soon……

  • Dagger

    Nowhere did I write that I support ranking players based on one facet of their games. Instead, it would be nice to have some kind of consistency in how different elements of their games are valued in these rankings.

    Why do you think Hibbert and Noah were voted into the all star game ahead of Horford (as if that seals their superiority)? Because they’re on better teams, period. If you watch basketball in HD, you’ll know that team success does not make one player better than another player on a mediocre team.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Horford had a slow start, you know getting over the injury. Just watching in any definition would have been sufficient to see he was better in the 2nd half. Again, actually watching all teams. Not just the ones on ESPN (Pacers & Bulls).
    Really, show me how Hibbert & Noah were better for the last 40+ games? Sh*t, just try and prove Hibbert was better in their series against Atlanta if you really did watch?
    What’s that?
    You didn’t?
    Oh, ok.

  • 3Chainz

    I never said the all star games (which the coaches voted) seals superiority. I do believe by the coaches voting does help. I’d trust a NBA coaches insight versus a internet blogger any day of the week when it comes down to basketball.

    Of course team success does have a impact on one player being viewed as better than another at the same position. But, I don’t think is the only aspect of the rankings. This is exactly why I’m saying focus on projections and the eye test. If i’m correct you questioned the rankings. You brought up the inconsistencies while questioning how to evaluate offense vs defense, PER, winning etc.

    I think …. well I’m hoping these rankings take all things except PER into account. Every player has flaws/ weaknesses regardless of how the media tries to glorify these guys. All I’m saying is don’t over think. Look at how much of a impact Hibbert makes on the Pacers…. would you honestly trade Hibbert and Horford and still consider the Pacers top 3 in the East?

  • 3Chainz

    I don’t even have cable LMMFAO!! Had y’all fooled didn’t I??

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk


  • Shifty

    You know that there is more then one writer writing up all these. The collective vote their top players and writers are assigned to do the write ups. Meaning if you wanted consistency then you should ask slam to vote which writer they choose and let him/her do all 50 players. Otherwise just take it as it is and accept that some of these people who are writing didn’t vote for this player to be at this position and have to write about them and why they are here.

  • AddingVelocityDontTellMe

    Hibbert will be more athletic this year. Maybe a 3/4 or 1inch more on his vertical will get those bunnies in.

  • Dagger

    Oh, I get that. And I love these rankings. But it would be cool if the writers conferred before compiling them to discuss how different aspects of the game could be weighted. Even if that didn’t happen, you’d still expect more consistency in the final player placement.

    Either way: it’s boring to take anything “like it is” on SLAM. In my opinion, the discussion makes this site.

  • LakeShow

    Appropriate spot. He is higher on my list, but people don’t rate him as high as I do so this spot is understandable.

    If you don’t believe in Hibbert, this year will be the year you do.

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