Since coming over to the Los Angeles Lakers in the March 2012 trade involving Derek Fisher, Jordan Hill has been a nice surprise to the organization. Now, they'll need him to be more than a super-sub.
It's time for the former Arizona Wildcat to step up and be a part of the Lakers' starting rotation in 2013-14, but whether or not the coaching staff and/or his body allow him that opportunity is still in question.
Hill does so many things well, that it's worth looking at precisely why the Lakers would be best served to have him on the floor at the opening tip at the four spot and give him starter's minutes if he's up for the task physically coming off hip surgery.
Here's a look at five reasons head coach Mike D'Antoni should consider it:
For anyone who hasn't noticed, Hill excels at on-ball defense and gives incredible effort on that end of the floor (Drew Garrison over at Silver Screen and Roll did this outstanding piece that breaks down just how good he is at it). At the NBA level, so much of a player's effectiveness on defense is about athleticism and desire as opposed to coaching -- especially when it comes to defending the ball.
The good news for L.A. is that defending the bal-lhandler is something he does better than anyone in the Lakers' frontcourt (possibly even the entire team), and it's worth noting that Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol are both relatively weak in that area being north of age 30. For a team that gave up 106.6 points per 100 possessions in 2012-13, the Lakers' focus needs to be on how to better manage their lack of athleticism and effectiveness in transition.
One way to do that is to give your most athletic big man, who's proven to pride himself on stopping opponents inside and out, an opportunity to do it for a sustained period of time from the start of the game.
Hill's earned it. The Lakers desperately need to improve at getting stops, and he's been their most consistent stopper. It's a natural progression for him and the team.
Extra possessions and, more importantly, limiting opponents' extra possessions is one of the most important, yet consistently overlooked fundamentals in basketball. Now that the league's 2012-13 rebounding leader has left town, Hill can step in and shine even more in this area as a starter. Dwight Howard averaged 12.4 rebounds per contest in his lone season with the Lakers, which was tops in the NBA. His per-minute production was 12.5 per 36 minutes.
Incredibly, Jordan Hill was a more efficient rebounder than Howard last year with a monstrous 13.0 boards per 36 minutes. The caveat is, of course, the fact that he did his damage mostly at 100 percent health and is now coming off hip surgery. It stands to reason that his production could suffer as a result, but if he can get anywhere close to that number, the Lakers will gain more possessions.
That's a critical aspect of winning close games, and the Lakers figure to be in a lot of them next year. Lakers legend James Worthy once said Hill "eats glass" via a Time Warner Cable SportsNet telecast last season, and the numbers back up that claim.
The Lakers need to let him keep eating.
3. Gasol can play center
Gasol is a hybrid big man who can play either the power forward or center position, but he had a host of problems fitting in as a forward in D'Antoni's system as he got the ball out of his comfort zone more often than not and shot a career-worst 47 percent from the field. That was largely due to the fact he got the ball in the high post more often rather than in the paint, where he's effective as both a scorer and passer.
The Lakers didn't see a lot of the vintage Gasol, because Howard took up valuable real estate due to his offensive limitations (he spurned the pick-and-roll, too) and need to be within close proximity to the basket.
Hill at the four spot would allow Gasol to play primarily at center, though when Gasol and Kaman are on the floor together, Pau would likely slide down to power forward. To start the game, however, Gasol could get into a rhythm early by scoring and setting up the shooters on the wings.
Interestingly enough, one of those spot-up shooters could actually include Hill, which leads to the next point...
4. He's improving his outside shot
When the Lakers broke for the summer, D'Antoni and Hill had a noteworthy exchange:
Via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
"He (D'Antoni) talked about what I need to work on for this coming summer," Hill told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "My jump shot -- he definitely wanted me to work on my outside jumper."
To fit comfortably in D'Antoni's system, regardless of position, the ability to shoot from mid-to-long range is key at every position. Hill wants to take that a step further and become a stretch four who can keep defenses honest by knocking down mid-range shots with consistency as well as the occasional look from long range. Doing so would solidify his place in the rotation and make him valuable as a starter since he already rebounds and defends well and can score in the low post.
Whether or not he actually improves his jumper is yet to be determined, but when comparing him to one of the league's best stretch power forwards in Ryan Anderson, he's got his work cut out for him:
Jordan Hill 2012-13:
FG%, 16 ft. - < 3-point range: 34 percent (16-46)
All jump shots: 33 percent (25-75)
3-point FG%: 0 (0-2)
Ryan Anderson 2012-13:
FG%, 16 ft. - < 3-point range: 46 percent (74-160)
All jump shots: 37 percent (332-880)
3-point FG%: 38 percent (213-557)
Obviously, comparing him to a player who finished second to Stephen Curry in 3-pointers made is a little unfair to Hill, but it shows where the bar is set in terms of prototypical fours who can knock down perimeter shots. Hill has a long way to go in order to reach that status, but given the talent around him, he only needs to bump up that mid range number in order to function more productively within the framework of the Lakers' offense. He'll spend more time pounding the offensive glass than a player like Anderson, which in turn will mitigate his inability to be an elite 3-point shooter.
5. The intangibles
Sometimes, one has to go beyond analytics to look at a player's effectiveness, relying on the eye test for evaluation. Hill passes that with flying colors because he brings athleticism and energy to a team devoid of such in recent years. He's a young, hungry player still out to prove he belongs in the NBA, and he's willing to do the dirty work and fill up the stat sheet in ways other than scoring to prove it.
In fact, scoring has been something the Lakers have done consistently well over the past three seasons. Since winning the NBA title in 2010, they've finished in the top half of the league in offense and ranked as high as sixth in 2012-13 with an average of 102.2 points per game.
The things Hill does better than anyone on his team are the areas where the Lakers need to improve the most in order to compete in 2013-14.
In short, he'll defend (L.A. was 22nd in points allowed with 101.0 per game in 2012-13) and pound the defensive glass (the Lakers gave up the 19th-most offensive rebounds last year) relentlessly.
If he can stay healthy enough to log starter's minutes and hold up while doing so, then the Lakers will be a better basketball team for it.
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