Roy Hibbert was already living in California when he finally learned his base for the '15-16 would be in Los Angeles. He joins the Los Angeles Lakers as one of the most intriguing pieces of the puzzle Mitch Kupchak and the front office put together over the summer, representing the kind of massive upgrade on defense the team desperately needed. The Lakers allowed 108 points per 100 possessions -- second-worst in the NBA -- and it's going to take more than the individual talent of one player to address this. Taking the wheel of this fixer upper is the perfect challenge for Hibbert, who has an opportunity to define his career on a contract year.
Hibbert's fall from grace with the Indiana Pacers is something he's ready to close the door on, completely focused on being the best defensive player he can be in a new environment. The Golden State Warriors stand as a model for Roy, who slimmed down during the offseason to adjust to the pace of an NBA at 28. "I look at a friend of mine, Andrew Bogut, what he had to sacrifice. Obviously he was the No. 1 pick, played great, could score at a high level in Milwaukee when he first got to Golden State," Hibbert said during his interview with Time Warner Cable SportsNet on media day. "But he was a defensive anchor. He did the small things, the dirty things."
"I see how the NBA's going. I think every team needs an Andrew Bogut type. I feel like I can hopefully be that type here."
To fix a defense as porous as the Lakers' it's going to take time, communication and players all buying into and learning how to play with a unified set of principles. The roster went through huge turnover, leaving little remnants of the franchise-low that was. That could be an advantage, leaving a clean slate to work on. Roy's shot-altering in the paint on his own is a big help, but his ability to anchor the Lakers' entire defense and lead a fundamental shift is where he can make an impact for the franchise.
The biggest change should be about what kind of shots the Lakers force opponents into. The Indiana Pacers molded their philosophy around using Hibbert to control a huge zone around the paint, aggressive perimeter defense, and funneling players into taking long-twos or getting cradled by the giant frame of Roy at the rim. The Pacers allowed opponents to take 2011 total mid-range attempts (29.7 percent of total attempts Indiana) last season, third-highest in the NBA, per NBA.com. Opponents put up just 1621 mid-range attempts (23.8 percent of total attempts against L.A.) against the Lakers, the fourth-lowest total in the NBA. Both teams held opponents to a 39.2 shooting percentage on those attempts, but the Pacers dictating where an opposing offense had to settle on offense is what separated them by such a wide margin.
Let's take a closer look at the defensive shot chart for Indiana while Hibbert was on the floor last season, which paints a clearer picture of how that translates over a large sample size. Notice the massive concentration of low-percentage field goals at the rim, high quantity allowed at mid-range, and limited three-point attempts:
Hibbert will be leaned on to be the focal point of building this kind of defensive strategy for L.A., and that's a role he's well-prepared for. "I tell the guys I'm going to man the paint. I tell the guys take away the three-point line. Run the guys off the three, then make them shoot contested twos," Roy said of the key points he plans on stressing to his teammates.
"You run them off the three, you bring them to me, I try to make them shoot a contested jumpshot or a layup, which is a low-percentage shot. Then what we want to make them basically do is take those long-twos, which is statistically where the NBA is going."
That kind of strategy works because Roy's great defensive positioning and IQ. When an opponent gets by a closing-out Lakers defender on the perimeter, Hibbert can clean that kind of mistake up on his own, like he does here against Kyrie Irving:
It's going to take more than a bullet point list to build this kind of system, but Hibbert looks forward to shaping the team. It's clear he wants to foster a culture that communicates openly, which should be a big help for unfamiliar teammates and young players. "I'm always going to make sure I do a good job of talking. If I'm not, I always tell guys to let me know if I need to do whatever I need to do. Constructive criticism goes a long way."
"You have to hope, and know, that your teammates are going to have your back. I'm going to have my teammates' backs, and I know that on the backside they're going to have mine as well."
The Lakers had a grocery list of needs to build a competitive roster. and a defensive anchor arguably ranked second behind retaining their lottery pick. It's a new beginning for and with Hibbert, but it projects to be a great situation to re-establish his talents. Yes, Roy will have his work cut out for him, but it's the perfect opportunity to prove he can be the center of a franchise's defensive revival.