Roy Hibbert maintains modest goals for himself.
"I want to be fundamental like Tim, dominant like Shaq and run like Amar'e," he said.
Yes, he means Duncan, O'Neal and Stoudemire. But if that sounds like some childhood fantasy, consider that Hibbert was speaking in the afterglow of a career-high 26-point outing in the Pacers' win over the Magic on Tuesday. And consider that Orlando big man Dwight Howard scored just 11 against Hibbert after getting into early foul trouble.
So forgive his giddiness.
The 7-foot-2 second-year center is among the young, restless and emerging players in the NBA who are making their mark. Hibbert has scored 21 or more points in three of the Pacers' last four games, boosting his season averages to 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds in 23.5 minutes.
His Duncan-like effort against Howard -- which included eight rebounds, four blocks and three assists -- represented a peak performance that won't become the norm, but at least indicates his potential.
Hibbert's continued development can have a major impact on the Pacers, who have tended to pitch tents around the three-point arc in coach Jim O'Brien's offense. At times, Hibbert still plays like a newborn colt on uncertain legs, but his strength and ability to use both hands around the basket allow the Pacers to go inside-out -- something they are doing more frequently, taking pressure off the perimeter shooters.
Hibbert brings intangibles, too. The Pacers are one of the league's most deadpan teams, rarely displaying more emotion than obligatory, half-hearted high-fives, free of eye contact. Hibbert is a tempest in the Dead Sea, offering displays of unabashed joy when he or his teammates make a big play.
"Sometimes the arena can be a little dead, so you have to bring your own energy," he said.
What do his teammates think?
"They think I'm crazy," he said. "They think I have Tourette's or something. That's just who I am. Hopefully I can change the game at times in terms of being vocal, or being a cheerleader on the sideline."
Here's a look at five other young guys who are becoming game-changers -- with or without their cheerleading skills -- for their teams.
1. Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies. Pau's slimmed-down younger brother was solid as a rookie, but is growing into something special in his second season. At this rate, he's going to nearly justify the trade the Grizzlies made with the Lakers two years ago, when Pau was sent to L.A. and Marc came to Memphis. Marc is averaging 15.3 points on 62 percent shooting and 10 rebounds, and had a streak of 13 double-figure games end on Wednesday. He'll turn 25 on Jan. 29, so he's got plenty of upside still to tap, and yet he's a viable All-Star candidate now. He's also proved to be a heck of a second-round draft pick, which the Lakers made him in 2007.
2. Joakim Noah, C/F, Bulls. With enhanced maturity and more minutes, he's become a dependable double-double guy for the Bulls, averaging 12.2 rebounds (second in the league behind Howard) to go with 10.6 points. His scoring is a bonus, though, because it's his Dennis Rodman-esque energy that will continue to bring him luxury paychecks for years to come. That is, if he can keep his Rodman-esque eccentric tendencies in check. Lately, with all the controversy swirling around the underachieving Bulls and coach Vinny Del Negro, Noah has become a steadying influence. Whatever the Bulls' problems are, Noah isn't one of them.
3. Carl Landry, F, Rockets. As teammates have fallen by the wayside, Landry has continued to rise. The first pick in the second round of the 2007 draft, the undersized power forward is averaging 16.9 points on 57 percent shooting while grabbing 5.8 rebounds in just 26.9 minutes. And he's done it all off the bench, which makes him the leading contender for the Sixth Man Award. Injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady have allowed him -- or forced him, really -- to step up, and he keeps going. He scored a career-high 31 points at Phoenix on Wednesday, and is one of the primary reasons the Rockets have maintained a winning record despite such heavy personnel losses. Landry earned his stripes in December when he lost five teeth after catching an elbow from Dirk Nowitzki and returned two weeks later to hold Nowitzki to 1-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter of a Rockets victory on New Year's Eve.
4. Aaron Brooks, G, Rockets. Everything that was said for Landry -- same goes for Brooks. The third-year point guard has taken over the team's scoring lead (18.4 points) while hitting 39 percent of his three-pointers, paying quite a dividend for a player taken five spots ahead of Landry in 2007. Like Landry, he also scored his career high (34) against the Suns on Wednesday. Sure, he's not the playmaker teams want a point guard to be, averaging 4.9 assists and nearly three turnovers, but the Rockets' lack of perimeter-scoring threats factors into that.
5. Chris Douglas-Roberts, F/G, Nets. OK, maybe you put an asterisk by his name. He plays for the Nets, and somebody has to score for them. And nobody has been a real game-changer for a 3-32 team. Still, 15.8 points on 46 percent shooting (after a rookie season of averaging 4.9 points) can't be ignored. Did we mention he was also a second-round pick? He was taken 40th, even lower than Marc Gasol, Landry and Brooks. His game isn't well-rounded yet -- just 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists -- but he brings a jolt of passion to a hopeless situation. Besides, three-win teams can't be too particular.