How Jordan Hill Can Bounce Back with LA Lakers This Season

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistSeptember 29, 2013

December 26, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) before the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.   The Nuggets won 126-114.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Despite playing in just 29 games last season, it’s very clear that Jordan Hill is a vital, indispensable piece of the puzzle known as the Los Angeles Lakers.

The 6’10” forward had hip surgery in January and returned for the final three beatings that L.A. received at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite last season's issues, Lakers head trainer Gary Vitti has told Mike Trudell of that Hill “should be fully functional by the start of the season," so the team can breathe easy about his health—for now.

What is a red flag, though, is the amount of playing time Hill received when he was healthy—just 15.8 minutes per game in 2013. Mike D’Antoni coached Hill briefly during his rookie season on the New York Knicks and only gave him 10.5 minutes a night.


Huge Bump in Playing Time

Mar 21, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) warms up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Lakers defeated the Mavericks 109-93. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Next season, Hill’s minute total needs to skyrocket if D’Antoni wants to keep his job. The four-year veteran will bring relentless energy, consistent rebounding and frontcourt offense outside of Pau Gasol every night, and he might even be worthy of a spot in the starting lineup because of his immense upside.

While Chris Kaman, who signed with Los Angeles to fill the void left by the departure of Dwight Howard, is dependable, he isn’t a game changer.

And after seeing how the D12/Gasol combination created such a huge cluster in the paint last season, D’Antoni might be inclined to give Hill, who can stretch the defense with an improving mid-range jumper, the nod.

Another reason why Hill would be able to start alongside Gasol is his athleticism. The Lakers want to play fast this season, especially after the acquisitions of Wesley Johnson and Nick Young, and that’s what D’Antoni is comfortable doing.

Hill is worlds ahead of Kaman as far as athleticism goes, and he also connected on 66.7 percent of his transition opportunities last season, according to Synergy Sports.

But even if he doesn't start, Los Angeles needs Hill on the floor as much as possible.


Improved Jumper

ESPN projects about eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes next season for the Arizona graduate, but with his skill set, Hill has the capability to average a double-double.

He attacks the glass with reckless abandon (13 rebounds per 36 minutes in 2013), so it’s not hard to imagine 10 boards a night from the big man. But double-digit points?

Nov 24, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) warms up before the game between the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

According to D’Antoni, yes.

Hill told Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles that his coach instructed him to work on his outside jumper over the summer. An improved jump shot from Hill—who connected on about 50 percent of his attempts, albeit close ones, last season—would do wonders for D’Antoni’s offense. Hill said:

We got Pau Gasol that can focus on the paint and we got Chris Kaman that can focus on the block. So I just want to be a stretch 4. Just try to spread the floor a little bit, just show a little range. I’ve been working on it the whole summer, trying to focus on that, on my 3-ball. It got a lot better. I’m just ready to put it all together and showcase it.

May 10, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill (27) with the ball during the second half of game six in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.  The Nuggets won 11
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

No one is asking Hill to become the next Ray Allen. But if he can develop a mid-range game similar to that of Kevin Garnett, he will no longer be competing for minutes with Gasol—he’ll play alongside Pau as a complement.

Hill will definitely need more minutes in order to thrive next season, and improving his jump shot is the best way to earn that increased playing time.


Maintain Pristine Health

Even if Hill turns into the second coming of Reggie Miller, it won’t matter if he isn’t healthy.

And for most of his career, staying on the court has been a big problem. According to Basketball Reference, he’s played in just 187 out of a possible 312 games in his four years in the NBA.

As for right now, however, Hill says that he’s ready to go, per ESPN.

November 9, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) looks on as center Jordan Hill (27) stretches his neck after he was fouled in the first half of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-U
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Hill told McMenamin later in the interview:

I feel great. I feel good on [the hip]. I’m walking around with no pain. I’m jumping, I’m strong. I’m doing spin moves. I’m doing everything right now that involves my hip, and no problems.

While aspirations to play in all 82 games next season are a little far-fetched, the Lakers can’t afford to lose Hill for huge chunks of the year.

Hill’s presence on the court is vital to the team’s offensive spacing, which is essentially what D’Antoni’s offense revolves around. That improved jumper will give Gasol more room to work in the paint and allow Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to penetrate and slash to the rim or kick it out to Young at the three-point line.

But none of that will matter if Hill ends up on the sidelines with another injury.

If he sees more minutes, showcases an improved jump shot and stays healthy this year, Hill will be an enormous part of the Lakers' 2013-14 season.