Five things to watch in Roy Hibbert’s 2015-16 season

BY MARK MEDINA FOR INSIDE THE LAKERS

 Center Roy Hibbert could experience a resurgence with the Lakers. (Photo by Brad Graverson/Staff)

Below is the fifth in a series looking at five things surrounding each notable player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers center Roy Hibbert.

1. Will Hibbert bounce back from a down year in Indiana? The Lakers became intent on securing an A-list actor. But once that plan fell through, the Lakers settled on an intriguing character full of layers. Hibbert is a two-time All-Star and was once considered one of the league’s best defensive players. But the Indiana Pacers also enthusiastically traded Hibbert for only a second-round draft pick. The Pacers soon reduced Hibbert’s role amid their quest to go quicker and smaller.

Will Hibbert write a comeback story in Los Angeles? He will have the starting center spot, with only Robert Sacre and possibly Robert Upshaw backing him up. The Lakers will need Hibbert’s defensive expertise to bolster a team that finished 29th out of 30 franchises last season in that statistical category. He will have the glare from Byron Scott, Kobe Bryant and the L.A. market shining on him. Hibbert will have plenty of motivation to check off all these boxes before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer.

But even the most talented director, promising actor and compelling script does not always mean the movie will perform well at the box office and elicit strong reviews.

2. How much will Hibbert revamp the Lakers’ defense?

His heartwarming gift for wearing a purple and gold uniform will entail cleaning up a huge mess the Lakers left last season. Then, the Lakers finished 29th out of 30 NBA teams in total defense (105.3), defensive field-goal percentage (46.6) and 26th in fast-break points allowed (15.1). So it makes sense that Lakers coach Byron Scott told Hibbert he only wants him to worry about his defensive role.

That should improve the Lakers’ numbers by default. But to what degree? Hibbert may provide a dependable shot-blocking presence. Yet, that will not ensure a strong defensive team if his teammates rely on him to bail them out of bad rotations. Hibbert may help in organizing the team’s defense. But he lacks the quickness to cover up for every single teammate’s mistakes. Hibbert will likely give the opposing team’s center fits every night. But how much will the Lakers’ perimeter players do their job in stopping those scorers?

3. Can Hibbert adjust his pace?

It may have seemed head-scratching from afar that the Pacers had no interest in retaining a player who once attracted a four-year, $58 million max contract offer so he could not sign with the Portland Trail Blazers. Yet, Hibbert averaged only 25.3 minutes per game, his lowest since his second year in the NBA, because the Pacers had the personnel and intent to play at a faster style. No one will mistake the current Lakers with the Showtime Era. But can Hibbert adjust his accelerator?

On one hand, the Lakers want Hibbert to play at a methodical pace because of factors involving Kobe Bryant’s durability and the team’s aforementioned defensive issues. But the Lakers also have a young core, including point guard D’Angelo Russell, combo guard Jordan Clarkson and power forward Julius Randle. It would be in the Lakers’ interest to tap into that speed to generate easy baskets.

Numerous reports say Hibbert has lost a significant chunk of weight this offseason, which should help the conditioning required from a Scott training camp. But that might just mark one of many steps Hibbert will have to take to keep up with everyone else.

4. How will Hibbert handle Kobe Bryant?

Do not read into the awkward silence Hibbert, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams offered in their introductory press conference after they were asked if Bryant spoke to them since joining the Lakers. Bryant is often out of town during the summer. But will the two work together once they step on the court? Bryant will like Hibbert’s defensive mindset. But numerous reports have said Hibbert became sensitive to criticism during his seven years at Indiana.

Bryant hardly minces words with anyone, and he’s unlikely to change much of his approach in his 20th NBA season. That puts the onus on Hibbert not to take anything Bryant says personally. Still, Hibbert should display his assertiveness and hold Bryant accountable on making sure he plays his role on the defensive end as well.

5. Does Hibbert represent part of the Lakers’ future?

The situation seems win-win. Hibbert wanted to join the Lakers so much that he willingly waived a portion of his trade kicker so the Lakers could absorb his $15.5 million salary. The Lakers landed a low-risk, high-reward asset because Hibbert’s contract expires after this season. And then what?

Will Hibbert play well enough to entice the Lakers to sign him to a long-term deal? Or will the Lakers either look to shop up for an asset leading into the trade deadline, or let him walk next summer to free up cap space on the marquee free agents? Will a productive season entice Hibbert to stay? Or will he look for the most lucrative offer in the open market?

What if Hibbert does not live up to expectations? Can the Lakers find enough interest to trade him? Or will they just stay patient until letting the books clear next summer?

Lots of possibilities can play out with this situation, making it a compelling storyline to monitor throughout the Lakers’ 2015-16 season.

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