Indianapolis Star Pacers beat writer Mike Wells has broken the news. The Indiana Pacers have decided to match the four-year, $58 million offer sheet All-Star center Roy Hibbert signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, an expected but still significant move. Significant because it denies the Blazers a chance at a terrific big man who is still developing. Significant because the Indiana Pacers are hardly a big-market team rolling in the dough. Significant because, as of Monday, Hibbert hasn't even officially signed the offer sheet Indiana is due to match.
Significant because this is what you do to a big man as good as Hibbert. Let the market define the terms of negotiation, and even if they extend all the way to a max contract, you keep that guy in the fold. Roy Hibbert is an All-Star center, and you pay whatever you have to in order to keep that guy on your team. Sometimes hoops be simple, yo.
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This attitude stands even if Hibbert was passed over by coaches in making last February's All-Star team. A 7-footer with offensive skills and a sometimes-dominant defensive presence is to be paid significantly more than their power forward or perimeter colleagues. Centers really do have to be locked down for that amount of cash, because the NBA will forever be the league mostly full of teams looking for that oft-referenced "big man that can score and defend." You know the one. The guy that the last talk radio caller just brought up, irrespective of specificity or execution in how to acquire such a magical man such as this.
Hibbert's not a typical franchise guy, and his presence alone isn't going to lead the Pacers to a title. This isn't the point. His position is so hard to fill, with proper center size so hard to come by, that a max deal will be appropriate even if Roy falls short of making the All-Star team over the next four years. And though Hibbert's production jumped significantly in his fourth season during 2011-12, you hardly get the feeling that he's a contract-year wonder. Roy's a good dude. This will keep up.
What he's kept down, since his promising rookie year in 2008-09, is the fouls. Hibbert averaged 7.7 for every 36 minutes he played that season, and this has been pared down to just 3.6 per 36 minutes in 2011-12; while retaining the defensive balance that helped the Pacers make the top 10 in defensive efficiency despite some less than stellar foot-movers surrounding Roy. His rebounding continues to rise, year to year, as he becomes more functional offensively. And his stamina is improving to a point where you could see the 7-2 big man average well over 30 ticks a night.
What also intrigues me is the potential for Hibbert as a passer, picking off teammates and helping a Pacer offense that sometimes struggles to find easy shots despite its seventh overall offensive ranking. It's true that former coach Jim O'Brien underutilized Hibbert, though to be fair Hibbert was still developing and earning his minutes under Obie's tenure. What the ex-Pacer coach did do was smartly try and establish Roy as a high post passer, so much that he actually put together a 13.5 percent assist rate during his second season — meaning that 13 percent of the possessions he used up ended in an assist for Roy. That's a fantastic mark for a center, though it has dipped over the last two seasons.
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With coach Frank Vogel's first proper training camp ahead of this team, and a confident Hibbert in the fold (Roy hasn't complained publicly about the prospect of Indiana matching Portland's offer, unlike Hornets guard Eric Gordon), the Pacers have a good chance to dive into previously unseen and potentially offense-shifting aspects of Hibbert's game. There is room to grow, here.
And Hibbert will be compensated for that growth. And because he's a center, and he's quite good, he'll be compensated quite well. And we're quite pleased with that.
Sound thinking, Indiana. Now, let us buy beer on Sundays, OK?
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