Who Should the L.A. Lakers Start If Dwight Howard Isn't Ready for Opening Night?

Love PatelContributor IIIOctober 9, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 16:  Nazr Mohammed #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots over Jordan Hill #27 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 16, 2012 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Thunder beat the Lakers 77-75.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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There's no question the L.A. Lakers are a stronger team with Dwight Howard on the roster, but with his ability to start by opening night in question, someone needs to fill in at power forward as Pau Gasol slides over to play center.

The two main options are Jordan Hill and veteran Antawn Jamison. Each is unique in their style and fit in different ways with this Lakers team.

Hill became a viable option especially after showing the kind of production he was capable of within the Lakers system.

He came in through a trade with the Rockets and didn't have much hope of cracking the rotation. After getting playing time one night and turning in a huge performance, he fought his way into the rotation and showed what he's capable of with some time and development, averaging 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds.

With Howard out of the lineup, and Gasol moving into his spot, defense becomes the biggest concern. Jordan Hill immediately becomes the best option. Jamison is known to be a defensive liability, and the Lakers feel the same way according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times.

Hill's athleticism and ability to protect the rim is exactly what the Lakers will need. Granted, it may not be at the level Howard brings, but having some semblance of defense in the frontcourt should help them thrive despite Howard's absence.

Aside from his ability defensively, Hill should get the start because he could eventually become part of the Lakers' future plans. With Pau Gasol's future with the team being uncertain, Hill could be their next primary option to play alongside Howard in the frontcourt.

As a high draft pick that has been bounced around the league a few times, his potential remains untapped and a little bit of consistency could breed faster development and turn him into a key cog in the Lakers' push.

Where Hill falls short is on the offensive side. He's severely limited offensively relative to both Jamison and Gasol.

Jamison, despite his age, is a player that can produce offensively at a high-level on a consistent basis. He's averaged double-digit points per game throughout his career. There isn't much doubt he can maintain that level of production, especially on a Lakers team that has so many options.

The Lakers bench could use that boost more than the starting lineup could. Los Angeles ranked last in bench-scoring last season, with just 20.5 points per game. Granted, most of the top teams aren't that strong on the bench and rank in the lower half for bench scoring, but having that kind of depth never hurts.

While Jamison's age should keep him coming off the bench to begin with, he could provide the scoring boost they've needed since Lamar Odom's departure.

The decision ultimately comes down to defense. Hill's youth, athleticism and defensive ability outweighs what Jamison brings offensively. Hill's defense is a better fit for the starting lineup, which it would severely lack if Gasol was paired with Jamison up front.

So while Howard's injury and absence at the beginning of the season may be a concern, there should be no doubt the Lakers are built to survive any delay in his return.

Both Hill and Jamison fit well within what the Lakers want to do. Their backcourt is locked down with two future Hall-of-Famers, and their frontcourt has the right mix of defense and scoring ability.

The Lakers will definitely make noise in the West, whether Howard can get back for the start of the season or not.