Breaking Down Jordan Hill's Ceiling as LA Lakers Starting Power Forward
Magic Mike is known to embrace the presence of a stretch forward to help space the floor, in hopes of building a more dynamic offensive attack. With the losses of Metta World Peace and Earl Clark, however, the Lakers are no longer equipped to run such an offense.
The way Los Angeles is built now, D'Antoni is going to have to field a more traditional power forward alongside a center within the starting lineup. That power forward could prove to be Pau Gasol, who can realistically start next to the newly signed Chris Kaman.
Since both Kaman and Gasol are sizable enough to man the 5, though, D'Antoni has other options, alternative avenues he may actually be forced to explore.
Should he insert both Kaman and Gasol into the starting five, the Lakers would remain devoid of a true backup center off the bench who can score. At 6'10", Hill is no stranger to playing the part of the primary tower, but he's not considered a scorer. And Robert Sacre, a sophomore, is still a project with an uncertain ceiling.
Pau and Kaman also both have similar skill sets. They're valuable off pick-and-pops and stand seven feet tall. Failure to stagger their minutes could prove redundant.
Kaman seems to understand this. Upon officially being introduced as a member of the Lakers, he made it clear he'll assume whatever role is asked of him, whether it dictate he start or come off the bench.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said of where he plays, as quoted by Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times. "I'm here to do a job and whatever it is, I'll do it."
His willingness to play wherever and whenever allows the Lakers to fiddle around with their interior situation, an opportunity they weren't afforded with Pau and Dwight Howard.
Gasol wasn't amenable to coming off the bench last season, putting D'Antoni and the Lakers in what seemed like an unsolvable pickle.
Pau: "I’ve been a starter my entire career. I’ve been a star starter my entire career, so I want to continue to be a star starter."— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 18, 2013
They now have the ability to play Pau at center—without him riding the pine—where he posted a PER of 22 last season, while bringing their other (primary) seven-footer off the bench.
If D'Antoni and the Lakers ultimately decide Kaman is more valuable off bench, Hill will be tasked with stepping in as the starting 4, a role he may or may not be fit to play.
Through the first four years of his career, Hill is averaging 5.6 points on 4.7 field-goal attempts per game.
The 5.3 shots he put up in his 29 games with the Lakers this past season was a career high, as was the 6.7 points a night he posted.
Accuracy has never been much of an issue, because he is hitting on nearly 50 percent of his shots for his his career (49.4)—he's just not much of an offensive threat in general.
Alongside habitual chuckers Nick Young and Kobe Bryant, scoring doesn't have to be his strong suit. Others will be able to carry the offensive burden. Hill also has the luxury of playing next to Steve Nash, who, when healthy, is still one of the best setup men in the NBA.
What worries me is Jordan Hill's absence of range.
Since entering the league, he has never averaged more than one shot attempt per game outside of nine feet, according to hoopdata.com. For a center like Howard, that's not a problem. Those who man the 5 aren't expected to have an inside-out touch, and that's a big part of the reason most of Hill's minutes have come at the center spot since leaving the New York Knicks.
As a power forward, next to Pau or Kaman, versatility comes at a premium. Hill needs to show he can hit that nine- to 15-foot jumper, so as to allow his low-post comrade adequate space to operate.
Also of concern is his relative inability to create for himself and move off the ball. Typically, you want a power forward, and even center, to be comfortable doing at least one. Last season, Hill struggled in both areas.
Per Synergy Sports (subscription required) Hill converted on just 41.7 percent of his post-up attempts and 38.7 percent of his shots as the "roll man" within pick-and-rolls.
While the Lakers aren't built to run, their offense is expected to consist of heavy pick-and-roll use. Lineups run by Nash always are. The same goes for playing next to a passing-oriented big man like Gasol, who can initiate the process himself.
Taking offensive inclinations into consideration, Kaman himself would be better off at power forward for point-totaling purposes. Hill doesn't have the fortitude or consistency on that side of the ball one looks for in a starting 4.
Especially when that "one" is the Lakers, and they're being guided by an offensive juggernaut in D'Antoni.
Hill isn't an elite defender by any means, but he's a willing one.
Hustle has never been an issue for the big man, who is not-so-deceptively athletic. And at 6'10", he's far from undersized at his position.
Even so, Hill hasn't established himself as stopper. Opposing power forwards posted a 17.4 PER against him last season, according to 82games.com. The year before that, he yielded a combined average of 29.8 during his time with the Lakers (32.9) and Houston Rockets (26.7).
Many of his struggles can be traced back to the constantly evolving nature of the power forward position.
Stretch forwards are on the verge of becoming the standard, if they aren't already. Not only is Hill not a stretch 4 himself, he's not nimble enough to defend them nightly.
Opponents hit on just 43.2 percent of their field-goal attempts against him last season (via Synergy), and that was with him splitting time between center and power forward. How's he going to fare when guarding the 4 almost exclusively?
Against teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, who tend to run with two traditional bigs, this won't be much of a problem. When facing any number of outfits that value floor spacing (much like D'Antoni does himself), it will be.
Once we venture into the territory of tasking Hill with defending off the dribble or closing out spot-up shooters all the time, it gets murky.
Defending post-ups isn't viewed as a specialty of his either. Players hit on 50 percent of their shots in those situations last season (via Synergy), and Hill has never been much of a swatter (0.6 per game for his career).
Push coming to shove, you'd rather him be your guy in the post against conventional power forwards, if only because he's more accustomed to it. He's then also closer to the rim, for rebounding purposes, which is where he excels.
Speaking of glass-crashing...
Bringing down boards is what Hill does best.
For the 2012-13 campaign, his 20.3 offensive rebounding rate ranked first among all players who appeared in at least 20 games. He was also the only player (minimum 20 games) to post an average of at least six offensive rebounds per 36 minutes.
Hill only appeared in 29 games himself, so the small sample size does impede his credibility.
His career numbers do not.
Of all active players who have played in at least 100 games, Hill has the seventh highest offensive rebounding percentage (14.2) and is one of only nine players to eclipse 14 percent total.
I focus on his offensive rebounding only because teams that house both Kobe and Young are going to miss a lot of shots. Someone needs to be under the rim, waiting to clean them up.
That's where Hill's true value lies, in his aggression on the glass. He grabbed almost as many offensive boards (2.8) as defensive ones (2.9) last season and will bring that same desire to the power forward slot next year.
Though he doesn't fit D'Antoni's ideal stretch-forward mold, Magic Mike can't be too turned off by the prospect of having a glass hoarder for when Kobe and Young (Young especially) go on an erratic tear.
Does that ultimately make him enough?
As stated previously, Hill isn't the perfect power forward for the Lakers. Like Pau, he's best suited at center, where he has an athletic and tactical edge, and where he registered a 22.4 PER, compared to the 16.4 at power forward.
But he's all they have to work with if Los Angeles wishes to separate Pau and Kaman as much as possible, or just add some instant firepower off the bench.
Think of his ceiling as being similarly as high to that of Kenneth Faried's of the Denver Nuggets. He's athletic (though not as explosive as the Manimal) and a dedicated rebounder, but he's limited offensively and still has some kinks to work out on the defensive end.
Hill is never going to be a 20 and 10 guy, and his per-36 minute averages of 15.2 points and 13 rebounds last season are bolstered by his limited playing time (15.8 minutes a night) and availability (29 games).
Offense is going to come easy for these Lakers, though. D'Antoni-coached teams always find a way to score, no matter who's on them (see his time in New York). It just so happens the Lakers have a number of point-totaling machines in Kobe, Young, Nash and even Pau. Problem solved.
Defense is going to be a problem. Few players on the roster are considered staunch defenders, and Hill just isn't one of them.
Equally as pressing a matter is the rebounding dilemma. The Lakers aren't bursting with size, so Hill's prowess in that aspect of the game will be a hot commodity.
Who should start at power forward for the Lakers?
Successfully integrating him into the lineup will be Los Angeles' equivalent of covering up the various deficiencies of a poorer-than-poor man's Faried. That's Hill's ceiling. If he can work well on the break or improve his pick-and-roll execution with Nash, it can be elevated slightly.
No matter what, the Lakers know they're getting a devoted and, when healthy, energetic player in Hill, who will do the dirty work, chase down loose balls and push himself to his limits every night.
They just can't expect to get any more than that.
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