The Los Angeles Lakers are searching for positives in the midst of a lost season. Although Jordan Hill hasn’t received big minutes under head coach Mike D’Antoni, he’s made a strong case to be brought back via free agency.
After missing eight consecutive games to start the month of March—due to a combination of DNP-CDs and knee soreness, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin—Hill has performed admirably in his return to the playing rotation.
In a two-game span, the 26-year-old is averaging 18.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per contest while converting 59.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. That includes a career-best 28-point outburst against the Orlando Magic—in which the interior presence grabbed 13 rebounds and got to the free-throw line 13 times (cashing 10 of them).
Lakerland only has three players with guaranteed contracts for 2014-15: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre, per ShamSports. Even when accounting for a high lottery pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Lakers management still has plenty of roster spots to fill this summer.
Hill may fit into LA’s future plans—and the money factor will help decide that moving forward—but general manager Mitch Kupchak would be foolish not to pursue the young big man when his contract expires.
Hill struggled to carve a niche in the NBA as a rookie with the New York Knicks. After getting drafted eighth overall in 2009, the University of Arizona product played just 10.5 minutes per game in 24 appearances before getting dealt to the Houston Rockets in a three-team trade.
He spent the majority of his rookie campaign in D’Antoni’s doghouse, but improved across the board statistically in Houston with added opportunity.
|Jordan Hill's 2009-10 Stats (Rookie Year)|
|New York Knicks||24||10.5||44.6||4.0||2.5||0.3||0.4|
Hill has matured and played much better during his second stint under D’Antoni, but he’s still getting allotted less than 20 minutes per game despite posting a player efficiency rating of 18.33—second on the team behind four-time All-Star Pau Gasol (19.64).
He’s also averaging career highs of 8.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 54.3 percent field-goal shooting. But again, D’Antoni has refused to give the talented big man more court time to evaluate his potential ceiling.
Instead, the Lakers coach has put stock in his uptempo, floor-spacing system that worked so well with the Phoenix Suns.
“You just have to weigh the difference of playing two big guys, traditional, like everybody plays or spreading the floor and running a little faster and getting more 3-point shots up,” D’Antoni said in November, per ESPN’s McMenamin. “If we’re really good at the other one, then obviously you play the two bigs a little less.”
Provided that the offensive guru is firmly planted on the coaching hot seat, and may be gone at season’s end, re-signing Hill makes perfect sense for the purple and gold.
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith, speaking on ESPN’s First Take (h/t Lakers Nation’s Corey Hansford), said Mike D’s odds of returning are nonexistent.
“I had a source tell me last night [that] Mike D’Antoni is gone at the end of the season. He won’t be there […] I’m just telling you, that’s the word coming out of L.A.”
That echoes a report from Sean Deveney of Sporting News, who cited sources that said Bryant has “no interest” in playing for the current coach next season.
Hill hasn’t been utilized nearly as much as he should have been during 2013-14. If a new coach will patrol the sidelines in 2014-15, Kupchak should have no qualms retaining the five-year pro.
As Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal wrote in an article about the Association’s best rebounders, “Picking up an offensive board keeps a possession alive, giving a team yet another chance to produce those all-important points.”
Even with limited minutes, Hill has made a huge impact for the Lakers in that category.
His offensive rebounding rate—a percentage estimate of missed shots a player has grabbed during his time on the floor—sits at an impressive 14.1 percent, per ESPN. That positions him sixth in the entire NBA among qualified players—trailing only Andre Drummond, Reggie Evans, Nazr Mohammed, Steven Adams and Aron Baynes.
In fact, 2.6 of Hill’s 7.1 rebounds per contest have come on the offensive end of the floor. Those hustle plays often translate to easy second-chance buckets for the interior force grabbing the rebounds, or for teammates who get another crack at an offensive possession.
Cleaning the glass on defense as a means of getting stops and halting scoring opportunities for opponents is vital. Players who can make an impact on both ends of the court, however, are truly hot commodities.
Hill has an uncanny ability to attack the offensive glass, which is a skill that can’t be understated.
Youth/Prowess as a Starter
Because the Lakers have invested more than $33.2 million in Bryant and Nash—who will be 36 and 40 years old in 2014-15, respectively—LA needs to acquire young players as a means of balancing out aging veterans.
Bringing back two-time champion Pau Gasol is still an option—especially if the Lakers decide to change coaches—but he’ll be 34 years old in July. That doesn’t make him a viable long-term building block.
Hill, meanwhile, will turn 27 in July. He’s considerably younger than the Spaniard, a factor that gives him added long-term value if he can build on a career year.
The Lakers will undoubtedly add youth through the draft, but that can’t be seen as a trump card for the front office.
Even while playing through adversity under a coach who clearly values a specific system over a player’s skill set, Hill has posted a career year. If nothing else, that speaks to his integrity as a professional.
Hill has shown flashes of brilliance when given enough playing time to put his talents on display. In 23.7 minutes per game as a starter (20 games), he's averaging 11.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and one block per contest, according to NBA.com.
He's also been more aggressive on the offensive glass—ripping down 3.2 boards on that end when he's part of the starting five.
The Lakers would kick themselves if they were forced to see him thrive in another situation. As long as his body holds up and withstands a bigger workload, there's reason to believe he'd be an above-average starting forward in the Association.
With plenty of roster spots to fill, and Sacre as the only frontcourt player under contract, re-signing Hill should be a top priority in the offseason.