By: Dennis "dSource" Guillermo
After signing a four-year, $58 million max deal with the Indiana Pacers (who matched the contract offered by the Blazers in the offseason), 7’2” All-Star center Roy Hibbert is a testament of hard work and perseverance. The once awkward and lanky kid from Queens, New York, has definitely made the most out of his potential through his incessant desire and dedication to get better at every facet of his game. In more ways than one, the childhood Pokemon fanatic can definitely say he has “leveled up”.
But with signing a fat, life-changing contract such as the one Hibbert did comes the larger-than-life expectations, which can lead to even larger pressure on the 25-year-old. Hibbert is far from the project that the Pacers hoped to cash in on when they took him with the 17th pick of the 2008 draft, and now that he is the Pacers’ highest-paid player, his every move will be the subject of criticism and he will likely hear more about his struggles, which every player is bound to go through in a season, rather than the encouraging “half glass full” reviews he garnered while playing under his rookie contract.
But if there was anyone who puts the most pressure on the fan-favorite Hibbert (he has his own cheering section called Area 55 at the Banker’s Life Fieldhouse), that person would be himself. I can still remember an interview I did with Hibbert back in 2010 when I asked him what he attributed his improved performance to at the time, as he posted career-best numbers through a two-week stretch. Instead of admiring his work, Hibbert uncomfortably shied away from the compliments and insisted he had a long way to go and was nowhere near where he wanted to be, while giving me a look as if I had just asked a ridiculous question.
"Roy puts a lot of pressure on himself every year," Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said about his star center, and continued, “but he can't change himself too much. I don't think it will be a problem."
It’s perhaps that same self-deprecation that goes hand-in-hand with his self-motivation that will carry Hibbert through whatever adversity he faces. After all, he’s already set the bar higher for himself than anyone else, so all he really has to do is to continue on with his pace and keep working.
"It wasn't about the money," Hibbert stated when asked about his new contract. "It was the fact that in the back of my mind I want to be with the Pacers, but at the same time I think back to the draft class and there were a few people ahead of me and I thought I'm better than those guys. What I was given this summer was a statement for my hard work," he added.
Another thing Hibbert has going for him with the Pacers is the fact that he will have plenty of help to shoulder the load (and responsibility) of winning games. Though without a superstar, the Pacers are loaded with talent with arguably the league’s deepest roster. And by adding rookie power forward Miles Plumlee and offseason acquisition Ian Mahinmi to an already tough and rugged front court with guys like veteran David West and Tyler Hansbrough, Hibbert will have plenty of support down in the paint. “We just need him to be steady,” West said regarding Hibbert, who averaged 12.8 points, 8.8 boards and 2 blocks per game last season (all career-high numbers) and was named the reserved center on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Though matching Portland’s offer and making Hibbert a max contract player may not have been the hardest of moves to make for the Pacers, they are certainly banking on their franchise center to continue the steady improvements and strides he has made through his young four-year NBA career onto the next four years of his contract. Hibbert is in a great system and situation with supportive and selfless teammates and coaches that truly believe in each other. It’s not as if he wouldn’t have had to deal with any less pressure trying to erase the ghost of another center from Indiana named Greg Oden – whose career in Portland never even had the chance to take off due to injuries after they selected him first overall in the 2007 draft – had the Pacers opted not to match the contract Hibbert signed with the Blazers.
And with the looks of it, Hibbert’s contract hasn’t changed him one bit, as a report by the Indy Cornrows blog on the team’s formal scrimmage last Friday suggests.
“Roy Hibbert did his thing in the post. Real aggressive, talking a lot. Had two real nice catches and finishes at the rim, on in transition against blanket coverage by Sam Young. Big fella also put a nice move on D West from the foul line and hit a running left-hander.”
Hibbert’s hard work has definitely paid off for him – handsomely. The Pacers hope he continues to put in that same hard work, and that it yields the same results for them. Hibbert has barely scratched his surface. The Pacers are banking on his continued success to help carry them to the next level, and have shown their willingness in investing and “breaking the bank” in doing so.
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