Player development can be a bit of a nebulous concept. There are definite goals, but only simplified concepts of how to go about achieving them. If a player needs to work on their jumper, they're expected to put up hundreds of shots. If a player underwhelms on the glass, they have to hit the weight room. And while many understand the importance of coaching, watching film and working on micro-level skills. But rarely is there a clear view of what, precisely, goes into that kind of training -- the deep backstage work that goes on prior to even practice or shootaround.
As a result, the incredible amount of maintenance that goes into being a professional athlete is often taken for granted. It's not as simple as showing up for practice, playing in games, hitting the club and repeating as the schedule dictates. There's a constant grind of physical and mental exercise, particularly among those most dedicated to their craft.
That upkeep is much more difficult for some than others. Over at Grantland, Brett Koremenos offers a look at the current routine of Roy Hibbert, a player for whom even making the NBA was not easy. It might seem like all seven-footers with even a mild basketball inclination are ushered into the pros, but that couldn't be further from the truth in Hibbert's case. When he first arrived at Georgetown, Hibbert couldn't do a single push-up or even a single, weightless squat. He had to earn every bit of mobility that he currently has, largely by working on applicable weight and resistance training that's even less glamorous than you might imagine. From Koremenos' piece:
It is those boring, uninspiring exercises that are secretly fueling Hibbert’s improvement as an athlete. By focusing heavily on mobility and stability, Hibbert isn't just improving his strength and power, he's lessening the chance of being hit by nagging injuries -- assuming he stays diligent with his in-season maintenance lifting.
“It’s not going to be the A-roll when people are looking to make a training video,” says [Hibbert's offseason trainer Mike] Robertson, when talking about exercises like the ones in the montage above. "It’s the stuff that I know as a performance coach will translate to him moving and feeling better on the court.”
… But mindlessly lifting otherworldly amounts of weight, while much more fun to watch, write, and talk about, doesn’t properly prepare an athlete for an upcoming season, especially a uniquely tall one -- even by NBA standards -- in Hibbert. Doing some of the same things that Robertson does even with his everyday clients may seem dull, but it’s actually far more vital to the Pacer big man’s athletic development.
“I don’t want him to do things that look cool in the weight room, but don’t transfer over when he goes out onto the court,” says Robertson.
You can follow the link through to see Hibbert going through some of the exercises in question. While lying on the ground, he contorts his lower body into a stretch to widen his range of motion. He -- almost motionlessly -- engages in a series of exercises to strengthen his adductor hip muscles. On his back with his legs withdrawn, Hibbert engages his core and holds a steady position. He takes turns slowly lifting each leg, twists to toss a medicine ball and does a very basic, kneeling pulldown.
Before he puts up shots in the gym, loads up free weights for heavy lifting or takes a seat in the film room, Hibbert begins his offseason reset with this kind of carefully layered physical work. Most of these exercises require little to no equipment, and aren't impressive at a glance. Yet they're essential as a baseline for Hibbert's regimen, and allow a lumbering giant to push on the limits of his natural athleticism. Those stretches and exercises make every run down the floor a bit less taxing on his mammoth frame, and ease a bit of the wear that comes with every lateral shuffle. They're, in part, responsible for Hibbert and the Pacers' success, as only recently has he been able to stretch his minutes to game-changing levels by way of easier movement and better conditioning. Hibbert likely couldn't anchor the Pacers defense as consistently if not for this kind of foundation. It's subtle and simple, but it makes all the difference.