Like sands through the hourglass, so are the games (not) started by overpaid players.
Every 2 point, 4 foul Andris Biedrins outing, every Gerald Wallace turnover, every Andrew Bynum haircut — there are countless examples of mis-evaluated NBA players who have signed franchise-breaking contracts (or subjected themselves to franchise-breaking trades), yet failed to perform by almost every conceivable metric*.
With that in mind — why is Roy Hibbert’s name on Bill Simmons’ short-list of the NBA’s worst contracts?
In July, the then 25 year old signed a four year, $58 million contract after a breakout, All Star 2011-2012 season in which Pacers came within two games of reaching the NBA Finals. The contract, which includes a fourth year player option, only extends through Hibbert’s eighth season, when he’ll be just 29 years old.
Within the context of Simmons’ article, Hibbert is listed as a “Category 5: Overpaid But Undeniably Productive Guy”, which would be a fair assessment if he were considered merely productive. It’s a fair assessment if you look at his boxscore. His season average of 10.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game are not the hallmarks of anyone’s idea of an “elite” NBA center, and certainly not if those 10.4 points are coming off .430 shooting.*
But Roy Hibbert isn’t just “productive” player. He’s actually one of the best defensive players in the league, as Simmons’ Grantland colleague Kirk Goldsberry explained in a paper presented at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference (Simmons did link to this paper).
From Goldsberry’s report: “Overall, NBA shooters make 49.7% of their field goal attempts when qualifying interior defender is within 5 feet of the basket; however, this number drops to 38% when either Hibbert or Sanders are within 5 feet”.
To give that statistic a little more context, opposing players shoot only 38.2 percent from close range when Roy Hibbert is standing within 5 feet of the basket. The least efficient team in the NBA from less than 5 feet is the Charlotte Bobcats, and even the lowly Bobcats shoot 52.2 percent from that close to the basket, according to NBA statistics.
Hibbert’s presence on the floor serves as a security blanket for Indiana’s elite perimeter defense — the Pacers hold shooters 34.5 percent from 20-24 feet, the second lowest percentage in the league behind the Chicago Bulls. With the former Georgetown big man on the floor, the Pacers hold opponents’ effective field goal percentage, which takes into account the added value of three point attempts, to .444, per Basketball-Reference.com, which happens to be less than the lowest team eFG% in the league (Again, Charlotte, with .452).
Even offensively, where he’s struggled this season, Hibbert has improved since the All Star break. After notching an ugly .413 in the first 53 games of the season, Hibbert has shot .542, including an 18 point, 7-of-14 effort against the the defense-centric Chicago Bulls.
Finally, here is a list of the last 10 NBA championship teams, along with their Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possession), per Basketball-Reference.com.
- 2011-2012: Miami Heat, 92.5 points per game, 4th ranked defense
- 2010-2011: Dallas Mavericks, 96.0 points per game, 10th ranked defense
- 2009-2010: Los Angeles Lakers, 101.7 points, 12th ranked defense
- 2008-2009: Los Angeles Lakers, 99.3 points per game, 14th ranked defense
- 2007-2008: Boston Celtics, 90.3 points per game, 2nd ranked defense
- 2006-2007: San Antonio Spurs, 90.1 points per game, 1st ranked defense
- 2005-2006: Miami Heat, 96.0 points per game, 13th ranked defense
- 2004-2005: San Antonio Spurs, 88.4 points per game, 1st ranked defense
- 2003-2004: Detroit Pistons, 84.3 points per game, 2nd ranked defense
- 2002-2003: San Antonio Spurs, 90.4 points per game, 3rd ranked defense
As you can see, with the exception of the Lakers and 2005-2006 Heat, every team on this list had a top-10 defense, and many of those squads possessed powerful defensive stoppers (Tyson Chandler, Tim Duncan, LeBron James).
The Indiana Pacers currently field a defense that would be considered the third most effective on the above list, allowing only 89.7 points per 100 possessions from their opponents. If Goldberry’s report is any indication, Roy Hibbert plays a vital role in that defense.
Four years, $58 million? It’s certainly a lot of money, but the Pacers are getting their money’s worth.
*Definitely not the players fault though. As Rashard Lewis once said: “You sign me to a deal, you think I’m going to say, ‘No, I deserve $50 [million] instead of $80 [million]?’ I’m like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ I’m not going to turn it down. You can’t blame the players. If anything, we don’t negotiate the deal. We’ve got agents that negotiate the deals with the team. Y’all need to go talk to the teams and the agents.”
**He does shoot .722 at the stripe this year on 2.3 attempts per game. While that isn’t particularly impressive, it is good enough to eliminate the Hack-a-Shaq strategy many teams deploy against Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and other mediocre free throw shooting centers.