Philadelphia 76ers: Hiring Roy Hibbert is deceptively brilliant

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

While his NBA career may be over, Roy Hibbert could serve as a quality mentor, and cautionary tale, for Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers’ young bigs.

The Philadelphia 76ers are going all-in on defense in 2019.

That’s right, as the NBA as a whole continues to throttle the space-‘n-space game that made the Golden State Warriors a dynasty, it appears Elton Brand and company have taken a calculated risk to forgo the typical trappings of such a squad in favor of one with big, switchable stoppers on the defensive end of the court.

If you can’t outgun ‘um, why not stop ‘um?

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Don’t get me wrong, this team should still be able to score with ease, as their starting five all seems destined to average at least 10 points a game, but swapping out players like J.J. Redick, T.J. McConnell, and to a lesser degree Jimmy Butler, for the likes of Al Horford, Josh Richardson, and Matisse Thybulle clearly signifies a shift in ideology.

Which is why the team’s decision the hire Roy Hibbert (as per The Athletic’s Shams Charania) as a player development coach is such a stroke of brilliance.

Now two seasons removed from his nine-year tenure in the NBA, Hibbert’s legacy in the league is a bit complicated to say the least.

On one hand, Hibbert almost single-handedly transformed a meddling Indiana Pacers squad into a defensive juggernaut under now-Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, serving as an immovable mountain in the painted area.

That team made the playoffs four straight seasons from 2011-14, advancing all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014.

However, in a lot of ways, Hibbert’s run in Indiana also signified the end of the traditional big man in the NBA.

While initially, Hibbert’s ability to anchor in the paint and block anything that came his way was viewed as a godsend, his lack of traditional athleticism was quickly taken advantage of. As NBA teams started to target more athletic centers with an ability to score outside of the painted area, Hibbert was routinely forced out onto the wings and was consistently embarrassed by even average athletes at the position.

Did he try to evolve his game to fit the modern NBA? Of course, but when you’re that big, that towering, and that, um, unfast, there’s only so much a player can do to reinvent themselves.

Now, who on earth does that also sound like?

Had Hibbert focused on his conditioning when he was 25 and attempted to become more than a Boban Marjanovic-esque novelty, he may still be in the league today, but now, he can serve as a valuable role model for the Sixers’ young big men who still think they are invincible.

Over his nine-year career, Hibbert averaged 3.6 blocks a game in 24.8 minutes of action a night. Over his three-year career, Joel Embiid has only averaged a pair of blocks a game in 30.7 minutes of action a night. If nothing else, Hibbert could impart some of his wisdom onto the big fella as to how to become an even more dominant force around the defensive glass.

Furthermore, while Hibbert was never as effective a scorer on his best day as Embiid has proven to be on his worst, he is much more experienced playing with his back to the basket and could impart some much-needed wisdom to expand JoJo’s bag of tricks in the painted area.

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If nothing else, Elton Brand’s decision to take a chance on Roy Hibbert, a player he competed against dozens of times as a pro, is a very nice gesture to another retired big man looking to start the next chapter of his life, but as the Philadelphia 76ers prepare for a pivotal season of defense-focused basketball, adding a big brother-type for Joel Embiid to lean on can’t hurt.