The Lakers’ thrilling 118-115 overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors could certainly be the turning point for a disappointing season thus far. Two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash returned to the Lakers lineup last night for the first time since suffering a left leg injury on October 31st. Although Nash’s return made an immediate impact, the reemergence of Lakers F/C Jordan Hill should not go unnoticed.
Hill finally returned to the Lakers bench after sitting out the past three games with back spasms. After center Dwight Howard picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, Hill was given the opportunity to showcase just why the Lakers invested 2 years and $8 million in him this past off-season. This opportunity came even after coach Mike D’Antoni’s recent comments alluded to the fact that Hill may be out of the rotation with forward Metta World Peace moving to the bench. Howard’s foul trouble was all Hill needed to get back into rotation, and he quickly seized the chance.
Hill finished the night with 14 points on 6/9 shooting and 8 rebounds, all in 21 minutes of play. His scoring and rebounds were instrumental off the bench in filling in for Howard, who eventually fouled out late in overtime.
Hill’s energy and ability to keep plays alive have been much of his forte for the past two seasons as a Laker. Although Hill has been in and out of the rotation, along with suffering multiple back injuries, his effort and hustle have been vital in fortifying the Lakers’ bench. Looking ahead, it will be difficult for D’Antoni to leave him on the bench.
With the Lakers down 14 points to the Warriors early in the 4th quarter, Hill was key in getting the Lakers back into the game. The Lakers’ subs of Hill, World Peace and Jodie Meeks contributed heavily to a 12-0 run that cut the deficit to just 2 points at the 6:40 mark. Hill’s energy, especially on the defensive end, was fundamental in stopping the high-powered Warriors’ offense in the 4th quarter. His rebounding on the offensive end (six offensive boards) was also key in giving the Lakers multiple looks on offense.
Why Hill deserves to be in the rotation:
With the Lakers now close to full strength, only reserve PG Steve Blake remains sidelined, we should start to see some consistency in the Lakers rotation. If D’Antoni and the Lakers want to be successful going forward, Hill must become a permanent fixture in that rotation.
Although Hill is not as skilled as the other big-men on the team, such as Howard and Pau Gasol, his relentless energy is unmatched by just about everyone not named Meeks or World Peace. Hill’s energy also creates second-chance opportunities constantly for his teammates. When on the floor, his energy is contagious and brings the Lakers’ defensive aggression up a notch.
Hill has a knack for being in the right spot at the right time. His ball-hawking ability on the offensive glass is important to the Lakers success on that end, especially when someone like Kobe Bryant shoots 16-41 from the field. Hill actually grabbed more offensive rebounds (6) against Golden State than Howard (1) and Gasol (3) had combined. Hill’s offensive rebounding ability is a great asset off the bench, especially when shots from his teammates are not falling.
Hill has clearly been working on improving his mid-range shooting ability this season. His consistency in shooting outside the paint has gradually improved this season. If he is able to consistently hit jump shots from 15-17 feet, he will further improve his prospects of playing consistent minutes alongside Gasol and Howard. D’Antoni’s system calls for a “stretch-four”, which is why World Peace has been relegated to the bench, so if Hill can prove he can make those mid-range jumpers, it will translate to more playing time. Also, when Howard and Bryant are double-teamed, Hill should be open at the high post and must knock down those shots with confidence.
With his improved mid-range, constant energy and 6’10”, 235 lbs frame, Hill has the ability to play both the power forward and center positions. This gives D’Antoni a versatile frontcourt asset and allows Hill to fill in for both Howard and Gasol at the center position. If a foul situation occurs again, like at Golden State, D’Antoni should have no reservations about inserting Hill alongside Gasol, Howard or even World Peace in the front-court.
Nash’s return spells even more opportunities for Hill. Nash’s ability to find players in positions to score should prove beneficial for Hill on offense. Hill normally scores his points off put-backs from offensive rebounds, but with Nash back in the lineup, Hill could actually see some set plays ran for him. Hill is decent in pick-and-roll situations and Nash can make Hill’s slashing opportunities more successful.
The Lakers’ front office clearly loves Jordan Hill and everything he brings off the bench for this team. His youth (25 years old) and excellent length make him a valued asset on this Lakers team. Despite recent reports that the Lakers may be dangling Hill in trade talks, expect Hill to remain a cornerstone of the Lakers bench in the future.
Even though D’Antoni and Hill failed to see eye-to-eye while together in New York, Hill’s always-ready mentality and positive attitude seem to have brought the two closer together. Hill rarely complains about sporadic playing time and seems to always be ready, each and every time his number is called. For D’Antoni, these intangibles should instill great confidence in Hill and hopefully lead to a permanent role in the rotation.