Jordan Hill Is Proving to Be Definitive X-Factor for Los Angeles Lakers

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Jordan Hill Is Proving to Be Definitive X-Factor for Los Angeles Lakers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I've been a fan of Jordan Hill ever since he first donned the Purple and Gold in the spring of 2012—and not just because I'm a lifelong Angeleno who grew up with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Though, to be sure, I probably wouldn't know or care all that much about Hill's on-court exploits if not for the details of my own biography.

But there have been plenty of Lakers who've come before Hill (and some since) that have drawn more ire than praise for their play from the team's legion of fans. Kwame Brown comes to mind. So, too, does Dwight Howard.

Hill may not be as big or as strong as Brown was, or as athletic or as singularly beastly as was Dwight, but he doesn't need to be, because, for the Lakers, he's much more than that.

He's LA's "X-factor."

To be sure, that term gets tossed around far too loosely every time someone unexpectedly steps into the spotlight. That's already been the case on numerous occasions for the Lakers just nine games into the 2013-14 NBA season.

You could say that Jordan Farmar was an "X-factor" when he orchestrated the 76-point bonanza off LA's bench in a season-opening shocker over the Los Angeles Clippers. You could argue that Steve Blake was an "X-factor" in helping the Lakers exact revenge against Howard's Houston Rockets.

 

You could include Xavier Henry as an "X-factor," if only because his name starts with an "X."

And, because he occasionally does things like this:

 

(Did I just go out of my way to include a clip of that dunk? Better question: who wouldn't?!)

But, as far as I can tell, a true "X-factor" isn't someone who puts up big numbers on some nights and recedes into the shadows on others. Rather, it's someone who impacts the flow of every game in which he plays, who gives his team a boost in any way he can, regardless of how many minutes he's granted or how often he touches the ball.

In that case, Hill fits the description perfectly.

He's the consummate energy guy. As Mike D'Antoni, who'd previously coached Hill with the New York Knicks, recently said of his fiery forward (via Melissa Rohlin of The Los Angeles Times):

"He's a good guy to lean on if you want a jolt of energy."

Hill won't wow you with his skill—the occasional mid-range jumper aside—but he's always liable to catch your eye with his sheer, indomitable will, as he did during his first start of the season against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday.

The University of Arizona product scored a career- and game-high 21 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and chipped in two assists, two steals and a block in 26 minutes. He hustled after loose balls, hounded Anthony Davis on the defensive end and inspired the Lakers' all-around effort with his energy and intensity across every inch of the court.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The result? A 116-95 blowout of the visiting Pellies, who'd handled the Lakers in New Orleans just days earlier.

To many, Hill's big night was surprising, if not downright flabbergasting. How is it that a guy who came in averaging 6.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game could go off for 20 and 10?

Simply put, because Hill has always made the most of his minutes. For his career, Hill has logged nearly 14 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes, according to Basketball Reference.

Trouble is, he's yet to have the opportunity shine consistently. He's never played more than 72 games in a given season, nor has he ever averaged more than 16 minutes a night.

This season, though, could be the exception Hill's always needed. He used his 18 minutes—12 of which came in the fourth quarter—in the first game of the campaign to stuff the stat sheet with 12 points, eight boards (seven on the offensive end), two assists, a steal and a block. The next night, Hill ripped down seven more rebounds, though his scoring (two points) was depressed by a lack of touches (two shots).

Hill contributed nearly across the board in his return to Houston, tallying six points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks while working opposite the giant pairing of Howard and Omer Asik. The night after that, he collected a season-high 13 caroms in the Crescent City.

I could go on and on with Hill's game-to-game contributions, but the point is the same: The guy squeezes every last drop out of the minutes he earns.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

According to Basketball Reference, Hill currently ranks third in the NBA in total rebounding percentage (i.e. the share of misses grabbed by a given player when he's on the floor), behind only Dwight Howard and Kevin Love, who have played hot potato with the league's rebounding crown so far this season.

But if Hill (7.1 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game) played as much as Howard (14.9 rebounds in 36.1 minutes) and Love (15 rebounds in 36.8 minutes) do , the Lakers' latest starter at power forward may well be in that mix, too.

Though, in some ways, he already is. According to NBA.com, Hill's 4.3 contested rebounds per game are the 13th-most in the league to date. All 12 of the players ranked ahead of him average at least 30 minutes a night.

If not for Dallas Mavericks big man DeJuan Blair, Hill would lead the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage. Blair, though, has played slightly more (20.6 minutes per game) than has Hill to this point.

Like any "X-factor" worth his salt, Hill knows his strengths and he sticks to them. That goes for his offensive game as well. He's taken just five shots outside of the paint so far this season.

NBA.com/stats

 

Not that his "simple" shot selection has diminished or should diminish the value of his contributions. His field goal percentage (.617) is the fourth-best in basketball right now, behind fellow inside specialists Andre Drummond, John Henson and Markieff Morris.

But as impressive as Hill's efficiency numbers are, they only tell a sliver of the story. They're made possible by the same boundless spirit that permeates everything that Hill does on the court. As he said after his awe-inspiring evening against the Pelicans (via The Associated Press):

"We've just got to do this every night, because we're not good enough to take any plays off. We've got to have that energy every time we step on the floor. That's what I try to bring whenever I'm there. I don't care if I'm starting."

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In that respect, Hill is not only the perfect personification of the Lakers right now, but also exactly what they need to stay afloat amidst the uncertainty surrounding Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

He's right: The Lakers aren't good enough to coast along on talent alone anymore. Hill's never really had that luxury for himself, either, at least since leaving the high school ranks for his three seasons in Tucson. He plays with his pedal to the proverbial metal at all times because he has to, because if he doesn't, he's just another big body in a league full of them.

Likewise, the Lakers, at this very moment, are just another ragtag bunch of misfits, castoffs and role players, unless they play with effort and passion from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Not surprisingly then, they're just as likely to sneak out upsets over star-studded opponents or build up big leads against middling teams (i.e. the Pelicans and the Atlanta Hawks) as they are to fall flat and get blown out, particularly on the road.

Hill probably won't be able to change that all on his own. It's tough for any player, even one of Hill's activity level, to dominate a game without the ability to handle and shoot the ball on the perimeter or bully his opponent in the low post.

What he can do, though, and what he has done is lend the Lakers a spark. He's the one who can light a fire under LA's collective rear end, not so much with his words as with his deeds.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

That's exactly what the Lakers need right now. In the absence of a true on-court leader, they need a bona fide "X-factor" around whom to mold their identity. Said Mike D'Antoni (via The LA Times):

"I thought it was up for grabs. I had no idea who would do it."

He should have some idea, now that Jordan Hill has shown himself to be the best man for the job.

 

Find me on Twitter, where I regularly rant about Jordan Hill, among other things.

 

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