Jordan Hill's Health Paramount for Dwight Howard to Thrive with L.A. Lakers

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2012

October 13, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers centers Dwight Howard (right) and Jordan Hill in attendance to watch the Lakers play against the Utah Jazz during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Behind every great center, there's a great backup—or at least that's what you hope for.

Rarely is that actually the case, but this season's iteration of the Los Angeles Lakers is anything but typical.

While the organization's star power has garnered plenty of attention, its depth is every bit as indispensable to a lengthy postseason push.

Last season, the Lakers had neither their current abundance of star power nor a second unit capable of holding its own for any sustained period of time.

Though Los Angeles' improvement in both areas remains entirely untested, there's certainly reason to believe it's in far better position to fend off the likes of the Thunder and Spurs—so long as this club remains healthy, of course.

Although less heralded than this summer's notable acquisitions, a healthy Jordan Hill is more important than you might think.

Fortunately, he should be back in action soon enough, according to the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan

Reserve center-forward Jordan Hill said he would miss the rest of the exhibition season but planned to be available for the season opener.

He sustained a herniated disk in his back last week and said he was relatively pain-free Tuesday.

Good news, yes, but key to L.A.'s championship ambitions?

Here's the thing about Hill. He's not just another guy who can spot Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol 20 or so minutes a game—though his ability to do so certainly won't hurt.

He's also an insurance policy, some peace of mind for Howard and head coach Mike Brown alike.

Sure, Howard's rehabilitation has gone as well as could have been expected, but availability shouldn't be confused with a license to run the star center ragged from Day 1.

That would probably be true under any other circumstance, but it's all the more pertinent given Dwight's situation.

In the event he experiences any pain in the season's early stages, the Lakers will have to sit him immediately. They really don't have a choice in the matter. 

The absolute worst-case scenario would be Howard hiding that kind of pain on account of pressure to play, and having Hill around should alleviate that kind of pressure.

Invariably, Howard won't want to take himself out of games, but at least he knows he can.

It's also important for the Lakers to ease Howard back into action. Should he grow fatigued early on, it could affect the way he moves and potentially spur an entirely unrelated injury.

Without Hill, though, Los Angeles wouldn't have an especially easy time playing it safe with Dwight. 

The best solution in that scenario involves moving Pau Gasol from the power forward spot to center, an adjustment that has a ripple effect throughout the Lakers' rotation. Without Pau at the 4, tweener-types like Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark have to pick up the slack.

Outside of Gasol, the only real option in the middle is rookie Robert Sacre, a 23-year-old seven-footer out of Gonzaga.

It should go without saying that the Lakers need their first and second options at center to remain healthy. If the second option comes through, it could very well be key to ensuring that the first option does the same.

So yes, the prospect of getting Hill back in time for the season opener should be every bit as momentous as Howard's return. 

Lakers fans should also take some solace in the fact that, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Hill "entered training camp in excellent shape and has been impressive in his secondary role to the Lakers' starry frontline."

Hill's numbers with the Lakers last season won't stand out. He averaged just 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds, but it's worth noting that includes only seven games worth of action and just 11.7 minutes of action per contest.

Los Angeles doesn't need him to score—even in a world where Howard's out of the lineup. More than anything, the team just needs his size, explosiveness and rebounding. Those are the things a smaller lineup won't offer.

With at least some guarantee that the Lakers won't implode in the case of a setback with his injury, Howard can take things one step at a time, ensuring his team makes the most of his dominant presence in the short-term and long-term future.