After missing out on multiple chances at free agents the past two summers, the Los Angeles Lakers understood one thing: Perhaps a trade is the only realistic way to improve this disaster.
If you seriously think about it, all the helpful additions Los Angeles has made through the years … revolved around trades. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were brought along via trades with Phoenix and Orlando. You can even go back a bit further, when Pau Gasol was introduced to the team through a trade with Memphis.
Now, before Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss walked back to their office with a complete strikeout, they worked out a deal to improve the starting lineup, while helping out the Indiana Pacers.
Once the July moratorium is over (July 9th), ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that a trade between the Lakers and Pacers will be finalized. Roy Hibbert is the centerpiece of the deal, and his $15.5 million contract will be sent to Los Angeles. This brings immediate relief for both sides, as the Lakers seemed desperate to land a big-name frontcourt player to complement their lineup.
They never had a shot at Kevin Love. Two free agency meetings with LaMarcus Aldridge went awry, and he rejected them for the San Antonio Spurs. Greg Monroe chose Milwaukee over Hollywood, and Robin Lopez wanted to enter Derek Fisher‘s triangle offense rather than join Byron Scott‘s plan.
In return for giving up Hibbert’s contract, Stein and Jeff Zillgitt are reporting that Indiana will likely receive cash considerations and future draft picks. It’s important to realize, however, that nothing is final. Even when the details of the deal emerge, nothing will be incontrovertible until July 9th arrives. Teams can agree to change any details from now until the final paperwork is made, and we could have a completely different agreement by the time it’s considered official.
What It Means for the Lakers
By all accounts, this is the absolute best-case scenario Los Angeles could’ve asked for. After it was known that Aldridge, Love, and DeAndre Jordan would turn away from the Lakers’ brand, on-court situation, and to some degree the unpopularity of playing with Kobe Bryant, the team ran into a big dilemma.
They had previously decided to take a point guard in the loaded 2015 NBA Draft (D’Angelo Russell), ultimately passing on one of the revolutionary big men in most people’s eyes. Then, they compounded it by declining center Jordan Hill‘s $9 million team option, making their former starting center available on the free agency market.
There was a glaring hole at the center position, with Robert Sacre not being suitable for starters’ minutes. It’s safe to assume that will never be something to expect of Sacre.
As a result, the Lakers get the best of both worlds with this acquisition of Roy Hibbert.
Hibbert may have went through some of the most traumatizing ups and downs with his offensive game, the local and national media, and even the Pacers’ front office recently, but his strengths on the court have never disappeared.
That would be his defensive aptitude, combined with his willingness to work hard on the major weakness the Lakers have: Stopping everyone from having a fiesta in the paint.
Since the Pacers started their aggressive run to two straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances, Hibbert has developed one of the most concrete, reliable identities in the league. Regardless of what efforts or contributions you’re getting from him when he touches the ball, he always works extremely hard to make it up on the other end. He’s certainly been one of the two or three best rim-protectors since the 2011-12 season, and the predominant reason Indiana hasn’t ranked lower than 7th in defensive rating since then.
Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel has always been adamant about how much Hibbert has stabilized their defensive gameplan, and Byron Scott should be fortunate to lodge someone of that nature into his defensively-challenged lineup. Los Angeles allowed 110.6 points per 100 possessions last season, which was only better than the Minnesota Timberwolves (112.2). That was with Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer, and Ed Davis trying to patrol the paint.
If you aren’t seeing a major upgrade here already, it must indicate your strongly negative opinion of Hibbert. He’ll have a chance to flip that upside down, without being expected to take a lot of responsibility on offense.
It certainly is a stretch, but if Bryant remains healthy for his last season, and nothing tragic happens to Russell, Julius Randle, or Jordan Clarkson, there’s enough offense there for Hibbert to just fall back into his capable niche. He’s not comfortable being given the keys to an offense, and that won’t happen in Los Angeles.
Hibbert will bring something Los Angeles hasn’t had since Dwight Howard departed: A little bit of fear imprinted into the frontcourt.
Above all things, that’s exactly what Hibbert adds to any roster. Although he is known for his sumptuous shot-blocking numbers and poster moments in the playoffs, it goes well beyond just the amount of rejections he gets.
Instead, it’s about how much he alters player’s decisions when they enter “his house.” Last season, we were able to see teams (sometimes great offensive units) struggle when facing Indiana, despite the Pacers being widely under-manned. Even as players were able to penetrate much easier due to Paul George‘s absence on the wing, they still had a difficult time scoring on Indiana’s big men.
In the restricted area alone, the Pacers allowed their opponents to shoot 56.7 percent, which was the second-lowest efficiency of any defense. Chicago was the only one above, at 56 percent. Hibbert was most responsible for it, especially early on during the year when he looked re-vitalized.
The Lakers struggled immensely in this area, allowing their opponents to shoot 61.9% in the restricted area throughout the season (26th overall). In the paint (not including the restricted area), Los Angeles was even worse. They dipped to 27th overall in “paint defense,” allowing teams to shoot 41.4%.
Rim-protection was needed, and it sure made Byron Scott appear to be a terrible defensive coach just because he didn’t have the right assets.
Beyond the percentages, though, Hibbert brought an underrated aspect defensively. Forcing opponents into misses is important, but what’s even better is making them think twice about even attacking the paint. Thus, the Pacers should appreciate the fear that Hibbert brought, as they only allowed opponents to take 25.1 attempts per game in the restricted area. Only five teams were better in that regard, and it certainly wasn’t the Lakers (29.2 per game, the second-most).
Individually, the addition of Hibbert helps on so many levels. Not many centers in the NBA can accurately claim they were better protectors last season.
Defending a player at the rim (within five feet of the basket, and within five feet of the offensive player), Hibbert’s defensive work was superb:
- Pau Gasol — 10.3 attempts per game, opponents shot 48%
- Gorgui Dieng — 10.2 attempts per game, opponents shot 55.8%
- Nerlens Noel — 9.5 attempts per game, opponents shot 45.4%
- Tyson Chandler — 9.5 attempts per game, opponents shot 50.9%
- Serge Ibaka — 9.3 attempts per game, opponents shot 40.8%
- Tim Duncan — 9.1 attempts per game, opponents shot 46.9%
- Andre Drummond — 8.9 attempts per game, opponents shot 48%
- DeAndre Jordan — 8.7 attempts per game, opponents shot 48.5%
- Hassan Whiteside — 8.3 attempts per game, opponents shot 46.5%
- Rudy Gobert — 8.3 attempts per game, opponents shot 40.4%
- Roy Hibbert — 7.6 attempts per game, opponents shot 42.6%
- Andrew Bogut — 7.2 attempts per game, opponents shot 41.4%
- Anthony Davis — 7.1 attempts per game, opponents shot 48.6%
For the sake of the argument of top defensive big men, I left out quite a few guys that allowed a lot more contests at the rim than Hibbert. The focus here should be on the combination between the attempts allowed per game, and the defensive percentage.
By virtue of forcing players into re-thinking shots near the rim and making life difficult, Hibbert, Andrew Bogut, Rudy Gobert, and Serge Ibaka are the leaders here.
During Ibaka’s 64 games, he caused a lot of close misses, but more guys actually tested him on a nightly basis. Gobert brought the most peril on defense, with the lowest percentage of the bunch.
However, Hibbert stands out the greatest. More players were hesitant on bringing the ball inside, as he allowed a bit fewer shot attempts inside than the rest above.
This sets up nicely for Los Angeles, especially since Jordan Hill allowed his attackers to shoot above 55% in those scenarios.
Low Risk, Semi-high reward
When you first start to dissect the deal, it sounds absurd that Los Angeles would want to take on $15.5 million for someone that isn’t as great of a rebounder or post-scorer as people want.
But, it’s important to recognize that Hibbert’s contract is just lasting one more year, as it expires after the 2015-16 season. That means a couple things for the Lakers:
The first option is that Los Angeles can test out Hibbert for one season and not re-sign him if it doesn’t work out. Cap space is going to sky-rocket through the ozone layer next summer, and they’d be happy with “borrowing” Hibbert’s production for a season just to see where they can land in the grueling West.
Then, it would make them very appealing to free agents next summer, after guys see Kobe’s contract coming off the books, and a sensational rookie season from D’Angelo Russell. It’s all dependent on how well the Lakers play this upcoming season, and there is some belief that free agents would have more desire to go to Hollywood if Kobe is no longer in the picture and a talented young core is already in place, with Mitch Kupchak having money to throw around.
The second option is also appealing to the Lakers.
If Hibbert comes through effectively, giving the team exactly what it needs moving forward, they could re-sign Hibbert at a discount next season. It’s extremely doubtful that teams will be willing to give Hibbert a major contract next year, considering more teams are looking for small-ball options and better offensive talents.
Thus, if the Lakers like what they see next season from Hibbert, and if the feeling is mutual, they could re-sign him for either his same price tag this season ($15.5 million) or a bit lower. It’s understandable that Hibbert would want to test the market and cash-in on the most money he can with the cap rising, but he may love the fit with Los Angeles enough to re-sign.
At his current skill-level, I’m not believing Hibbert is worth more than his current contract entails, so it’ll be fully on him to prove whether or not he brings $15 million value to a team.
One of the only downsides to this deal is the fact that Los Angeles has a higher chance of losing their draft pick in 2016. Philadelphia owns the rights to their 2016 first-round pick IF it falls outside the top three (pick protection rules). This trade obviously makes the Lakers a bit better, meaning they could win more games and lose some probability of getting a top three selection.
But, for the sake of the Lakers brand and culture, it’s probably a good thing if they choose to be more competitive right away. With Hibbert on hand after July 9th, it makes them a little less feeble on a nightly basis.
**All statistical support credited to NBA.com/Stats**