Perhaps the best of a dozen great defensive plays Roy Hibbert made Wednesday did not actually result in a blocked shot.
Hibbert, the Hornet’ new center, got into the Milwaukee Bucks’ heads with four first-half blocks. So when Greg Monroe, also a former Georgetown big man, drove the baseline in the second half, he was all about Hibbert, not the rim.
Monroe was so careful not to give Hibbert a chance at the block that his reverse layup barely grazed the rim before falling into the Hornets’ possession.
Hibbert isn’t going to total 15 points, nine rebounds and five blocks every game, as he did in this 107-96 season-opening victory. But he is going to impact games in a way the Hornets simply didn’t have last season.
It changes both how opponents have to game plan for the Hornets and also how the Hornet can approach defense.
"He’s just such a big dude!" power forward Marvin Williams said of the 7-2, 270-pound Hibbert. "I’m 6-9, and I’m telling you, he’s huge."
But he’s more than just big. He’s agile, and not nearly as mechanical in his movements as reputed to be. He made six of his nine shots, most at point-blank range. He grabbed in four offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive. He passes well for a big man, as you might expect from a player whose team ran the Princeton offense in college.
That Princeton offense places responsibility on every position – guards, forwards and centers – to keep the ball moving. You could see that training in the way he played Wednesday.
But the real plus in his presence is how it will free other defenders to play more aggressively this season.
"He’s such a security blanket back there," Williams described. "You know if you get beaten, there’s always someone back there to cover for you. It makes you more confident to take chances."
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said the Hornets have to be great from the start defensively to succeed this season, because they don’t have the same offensive firepower of a season ago. Wednesday, they were all that.
The beauty of a Hibbert as goalie is it frees Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nic Batum – all versatile perimeter defenders – to switch who they are guarding. That pretty much neutralized Bucks forward Jabari Parker’s ability to drive to the rim or getting himself fouled much.
The only Buck who particularly hurt the Hornets Wednesday was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who finished with 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting. A 6-11 shooting guard, Antetokounmpo is such an odd matchup problem to overcome.
And even though Antetokounmpo finished with big numbers, Clifford thought Batum helped set the tone for the game with his first-quarter defense.
How would you describe that tone? Bucks coach Jason Kidd put it this way:
"Look at the 50-50 balls – they got them all," Kidd said.
The Hornets looked like a team that relishes hard work. It’s no coincidence this was the first game back for small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who suffered two shoulder injuries requiring surgery last season.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s best NBA "skill" is playing harder than almost anyone else in the league. That was reflected in a 23-point, 14-rebound performance.
Just like Williams said, Kidd-Gilchrist and all the rest can be that much better if the Hibbert we saw Wednesday night is a regular occurrence.
"He changes a lot. He’s a huge target out there (offensively) and defensively, he’s extremely smart," said point guard Kemba Walker. "When he’s going vertical, he brings such a different dynamic to our team."