Anytime the Los Angeles Lakers acquire a center, the tendency is bring up the glorious history of those who played the position. Wilt followed Mikan; Kareem, Wilt; Shaq, Kareem; Dwight, Sh- .... never mind. Those players all felt immediate pressure because of their own prodigious talent and the circumstance in which they came to the Lakers.
For whatever reason, though, Roy Hibbert did not have those expectations heaped upon him from the start, though his impact has been immediate. Hibbert is known for being huge, lumbering and special on defense. Thing is: he's leading with the small things.
In a moment that stood out in the Lakers' first preseason game, Hibbert slid over as a Jazz player drove to the basket. Behind him, Jordan Clarkson didn't rotate down to help the helper and as a result, Hibbert's man scored on an and-one. Last year, Carlos Boozer might've just screamed "AND ONE" uselessly, and Clarkson wouldn't have been held immediately accountable. This year, with Roy around, the opposite was the case.
Roy turned around and scolded Clarkson, telling the second-year guard where he needed to be at that moment. That kind of on-court accountability has been all but absent outside of Kobe Bryant's teachings. This interaction was front and center, and has happened at least a few times thus far. Words can be empty, but when it's Hibbert -- known most for his defensive technique and IQ -- those words mean just a little more. He's leading by example.
Hibbert also rushed to Julius Randle's defense when he got into a tussle with Trevor Booker. Randle, by all intents and purposes a rookie in his own right, might not have the on-court reputation needed to challenge a veteran like Booker. So, in stepped Hibbert, who got slapped in the head for his trouble. If you think that went unnoticed, though, you're dead wrong. If Hibbert is going to be a leader on this team, standing up for a player whom he mentors is almost immeasurable.
Next time Hibbert criticizes Randle, the latter can take said criticism because he knows it's coming from someone who legitimately cares not only about the growth of the team he's on, but for him as an individual. It can't be overstated how crucial this is for everyone involved's growth.
Hibbert's impact defensively will continue to be a trend, but his offensive abilities have surprised as well. Byron Scott's Princeton is the kind you can find explained on YouTube. It involves big men standing atop the key and requires those in that role to make plays occasionally, and from multiple spots on the court. With Lakers centers in recent memory, this would be disastrous. Roy, however, has been a breath of fresh air with decision-making and passing. Sunday night, albeit against an inferior opponent, Hibbert's five assists were as notable as the 16 rebounds he grabbed.
This was just magical:
Think of it like this: The last year or so playing in Indiana with a target for criticism on his back might very well have worn down Hibbert. It'd be impossible not to. It's been written before, but when a franchise gives up something to get you from a franchise that's basically given up on you, the reaction can go a couple ways. Hibbert could mope and feel sorry for himself, or use it as motivation in his next destination. To this point -- and again it's insanely early to make blanket statements about anyone -- Roy has chosen the latter reaction, and to everyone's benefit.
The Lakers' iconic centers listed at the beginning of this article might have been vastly more talented and made their way to the Lakers with infinitely more hype. Most of them (with one very obvious exception) lived up to said hoopla. Hibbert's arrival came after the Lakers struck out on another big name. It's a fair argument that Roy fits this roster better than LaMarcus Aldridge would have, not just by playing style but in terms of where each players' career is right now.
Aldridge only needs a title to cement a Hall of Fame legacy. The San Antonio Spurs offered that opportunity more immediately than do the Lakers. Hibbert, like the organization he's playing for, is trying to revitalize his career and the narrative that surrounds him. The Lakers offer that opportunity and more, and thus far, Roy seems incredibly intent on taking full advantage. This giant is doing so via the little things.