I know I wasn’t the only one that was in a slight depression (okay, it was a major depression) because of the Lakers’ failures in the first couple days of free agency. They missed on LaMarcus Aldridge, they missed on DeAndre Jordan, and then failed to sign Robin Lopez and other mid-level free agents.
Despite the swing and misses, the front office managed to turn what looked to be a disastrous free agency period, into one that was actually….. pretty damn good. Though that’s definitely the opposite of what you’ll hear from the national media.
The first move, and biggest move both figuratively and literally, they made was acquiring Roy Hibbert for a second-round pick.
The number one thing the Lakers needed after drafting D’Angelo Russell was a center that could protect the rim. Let’s be real, the Lakers don’t have good perimeter defenders. I’m not really sure they have one above average or even average perimeter defender on the roster. Opposing teams aren’t going to have much trouble getting into the paint against the Lakers. So, really, the only way L.A. had a shot to not be absolutely terrible on defense was to get a rim-protector that could at least make it tough for opposing players to finish. And that’s exactly what Hibbert does. Hibbert uses his length and defensive instincts to block and alter shots near the rim.
Last season, opponents only shot 42.4% at the rim against Hibbert. Only three qualifying players in the league had a better mark than that: Rudy Gobert, Serge Ibaka, and Andrew Bogut. That’s some elite company he’s in.
I’m posting Hibbert’s defensive chart to the right, and you can really see how much he impacts the offense of the opposing team. The blue areas are areas where teams shot below league average when Hibbert was on the floor. There are a lot of blue areas. And obviously the most noticeable area is near the rim, where teams only shot 44%.
Obviously context is important too. The Lakers’ perimeter defenders and defensive schemes are not going to be good as what the Pacers had this past season. As a result, it would be a little unreasonable to expect these figures to stay the same as Hibbert transitions to Hollywood. But let’s compare his numbers to the players that the Lakers had protecting the rim last year:
These numbers are putrid, and it’s fair to say that the Lakers’ defensive field goal percentages will improve from what they were last year. How significant the improvement will be remains to be seen, but most importantly, there will be improvement. Hibbert will give the Lakers’ defense some semblance of structure and credibility; something they really haven’t had since Dwight Howard left.
Okay, so we know Hibbert will help protect the rim, and thus improve the Lakers’ defense, but what about the offensive end? Even though Hibbert is 7’2″ and 290 lbs, he doesn’t clog the paint or hurt a team’s spacing nearly as much as you think he would.
When you take a look at his offensive shot chart, you can see that he has a respectable mid-range game. He is especially effective from that right elbow, which coincidentally enough, is an area that is emphasized in Byron Scott’s offense. So he should be a natural fit in that sense.
Roy’s low-post game is decent. Last season, he averaged 0.86 points per possession on post-up attempts. That was good for the 56th percentile, and a better mark than what Tim Duncan, and Dwight Howard (34th percentile LOL) put up. While you wouldn’t want to give him a ton of post-up opportunities, he can be competent down there when needed.
However, even though Roy has a solid mid-range game for his position and a decent post game, it’s noticeable that he’s a really poor finisher around the rim. According to Basketball Reference, Hibbert only had 27 dunks last season. For reference, Ed Davis had 80 (!!!) and Jordan Hill had 42. It’s incredible to think that a guy of Hibbert’s stature gets so few dunks.
Maybe it’s because Hibbert isn’t as aggressive around the rim as he could be, but perhaps it’s not all Roy’s fault. With Lance gone, Paul George missing almost the whole season, and George Hill simply not being a great passer, the Pacers really didn’t have anyone that could generate easy baskets for Hibbert. The hope is that with better distributors around him like Russell, Clarkson, and Kobe, perhaps he can get cleaner looks around the rim raise his efficiency.
Another thing that is concerning, is he’s not a great pick-and-roll big man. His mid-range game allows his to space the floor a little bit and serve as a nice outlet in the pick-and-pop. But because he’s not a great finisher, and not very mobile, it really limits him as a pick-and-roll finisher. Obviously that’s not ideal when Russell and Clarkson, who thrive in the pick-and-roll, will be using Hibbert as the screener quite often.
Something else that’s been discussed recently about Hibbert is if he fits into the Lakers’ plans to be an uptempo team or not. He’s certainly not an ideal fit to be on a run-and-gun team because he moves like he has a suit of armor on, but he shouldn’t hold the team back too much if that’s what they plan to do.
One team I looked at to compare the Lakers to when it comes to pace is the 2008-2009 Phoenix Suns. That team had a 36-year old Shaq playing 30 minutes per game, yet they managed to play at the 4th fastest pace in the league and had the second best offensive rating in the league.
The Lakers don’t have a prime Steve Nash or the Seven Seconds or Less philosophy, so we can’t expect the Lakers to have the same type of results as Phoenix. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. The Lakers’ numbers won’t be as good, but that Phoenix team showed that it is possible to play an uptempo style even if you have a lumbering center playing major minutes.
All in all, the acquisition of Roy Hibbert for such a small cost is a move that should not be overlooked. Hibbert is not an incredible player by any means. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard, or grab 15 rebounds per game, but he gives the Lakers a legitimate defensive anchor in the middle. One that will deter shots at the rim and make things easier for the players around him.
Most importantly, the Hibbert acquisition makes the Lakers a better basketball team.