The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.
Spencer Hawes, the improbable center of a grind-it-out team
Spencer Hawes began his NBA career showered in all-too-predictable Brad Miller comparisons, lacking in convincing post moves, and with a persistent tendency to flare out to the perimeter on pick and rolls. "Soft," is as silly a label as you'll find in basketball, but its application to Hawes seemed inevitable; thus is the fate of any jump-shooting big man, and Hawes certainly didn't do much to help his case.
Yet today, that very same player—who had all but been discarded as a castoff of the rebuilding Sacramento Kings—has somehow thrived as the center of the Philadelphia 76ers. Doug Collins' club can make frequent use of Hawes' talents as a fill-the-gap player, but more importantly, he's of legitimate use in a defensive system that can benefit from his size and mobility without being overly dependent on his still unremarkable defensive decision making. Hawes isn't any kind of transformative player, but on a roster so bereft of big men, he's proven valuable in his own way.
With Hawes -- as with most NBA players -- there's an appropriate role out there somewhere. There's a perfect slot, a great systemic fit, ideal chemistry with a certain potential teammate, or a positive relationship with a helpful coach. It's just a matter of redistributing the talent available until players can truly find their most appropriate spots. Hawes isn't necessarily a flawless match for Philadelphia (the Sixers' offense -- as represented by most of their limitations on that end -- lacks the kind of shot creator who could best make use of Hawes' talents), but the Sixers thus far have done quite a bit for him and his reputation, and he in turn has done quite a bit for an underdog team that now holds a 3-1 series lead over the injury-plagued Chicago Bulls.
Jordan Hill's new light
It's hard to say definitively whether Mike Brown was playing his real hand with subtlety or opted for a matchup-inspired shift, but the decision to use new Laker Jordan Hill as the third—and final, really—big in his rotation has turned out to be an inspired one. Hill has rewarded Brown with two double-doubles against the Nuggets thus far: a sturdy 10-point, 10-rebound effort in Game 1, and on Sunday, a fantastic 12-point, 11-rebound performance in which Hill grabbed seven offensive boards.
Both Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy catered to fun notions of stretch bigs for a Laker offense that could use the spacing, but the ultimately more talented and capable Hill has, in an incredibly short time, proven more valuable than either could have been. Hill is comfortably and distantly the Lakers' third big man, but he's a low-usage option who can create opportunities even without the benefit of the occasional drop-off from a Lakers ball-handler.
Hill may never live up to New York's initial, draft-day expectations, and he wasn't a particularly good fit in Houston. But in this kind of role he could prove highly valuable, particularly considering the other limitations of the Laker bench. Hill was a mid-season gift, and though he's come out of nowhere after playing mostly limited minutes for L.A. in just seven regular season games, his steadiness off the bench has already made a pretty remarkable impact on the Lakers' playoff run.
The declining utility of Jodie Meeks
The Philadelphia 76ers were once so comically awful at three-point shooting that the mere inclusion of marksman Jodie Meeks in the starting lineup vaulted Philly toward offensive respectability. Meeks has few other NBA skills beyond his fine work as a spot-up shooter on the perimeter, but the Sixers found such value in that single attribute that Meeks—an otherwise unused player selected in the second round of the 2009 draft—became a particularly relevant member of the team's rotation.
Things have changed since then—so dramatically, apparently, that Philadelphia's offense was actually a point worse per 100 possessions when Meeks was on the floor this season. The Sixers ranked eighth in the league in three-point shooting percentage this year, and though Meeks again led the team in per-game attempts and converted 36 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, that mark reflects more on the steady shooting of Jrue Holiday and the bizarre, long-range improvement of Andre Iguodala than any of Meeks' contributions.
Meeks has become a vestige of a Sixers team past, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Doug Collins' abridged postseason rotation—the vessel that has returned Evan Turner's rising star, and by extension, sentenced Meeks to observe from the bench. Meeks' 25 minutes a night in the regular season have dwindled to meager bits in the playoffs, and while that's unfortunate for the man himself, this is the way of things: role players are useful with a particular team only so long as context allows, and when Philadelphia's three-point shooting began to trend upward, Meeks stood out as a simple and specific solution to a problem the team no longer had.