Jordan Hill was a lion at the beginning of the season for the Los Angeles Lakers, with nine double-doubles in the month of November. But he went out like a lamb in December, nose-diving across the board.
Hill’s points-per-game dropped from 13.9 to 10.6, and his rebounding fell from 9.7 to 6.1. His minutes also decreased, from 32.3 to 26.4.
Is the former Arizona Wildcat beginning to get exposed as a starting center in the NBA or did he simply experience a momentary winter slump?
As if making a case for the latter scenario, Hill had a bounce-back game Monday night during a road loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Playing without fellow starters Kobe Bryant and Wesley Johnson, the 27-year-old center had his best statistical game of the season, with 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes.
Hill’s effort in Portland contrasted dramatically with his two previous games, in which he shot 1-of-7 and 1-of-5. In fact, on Sunday during a win against the Indiana Pacers, the Lakers starting center didn’t even appear in the fourth quarter, as Carlos Boozer picked up the crunch-time minutes.
The recent slump has attracted the attention of Lakers coach Byron Scott, who commented, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: “The intensity’s not there. I don’t know if he’s tired…it could be the league has kind of figured him out as well.”
Selected as the eighth overall draft pick by the New York Knicks in 2009, Hill’s six-year career has been marked by fits and starts. He was traded to the Houston Rockets midway through his rookie season and traded again to Los Angeles during the 2011-12 season.
His crash-and-burn athletic intensity has led to knee, back and hip injuries, while a parade of head coaches has also contributed to glitches in his development.
Hill had a less-than-successful beginning in New York under Mike D’Antoni, and then played for Kevin McHale in Houston, Mike Brown in Los Angeles, D’Antoni again with the Lakers, and now Scott.
But while progress has been sporadic, Hill’s hard work off the bench last season, accompanied by career highs across the board, earned him a lucrative two-year $18 million contract over the summer, with the second year being a team option.
And with that, at last, came the opportunity for an expanded role.
Scott has been patient, and Hill has been emboldened by a new level of trust, seeking to expand his game beyond his traditional low-post repertoire.
Earlier in the season, Hill commented on his improved mid-range shooting touch, per the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan: “I was shooting the whole time in the off-season. That's all I've been focusing on. I'm getting them to knock down and I feel comfortable about it.”
The Lakers’ starting center had also been the beneficiary of increased opportunities due to the presence of Bryant who missed all but six games last season. Now, with the veteran shooting guard back and drawing double teams, Hill often finds himself relatively unguarded, and the recipient of passes from the Mamba.
When Hill dives to the basket after getting the ball, he’s operating from one of his traditional strengths, converting 70.4 percent of his close-range attempts. But when he fires his flat-footed low-arc shot from 16 feet to the three-point line, his efficiency drops to 33.6 percent, per Basketball-Reference.com.
And while that drop-off would be expected, it is compounded by the increase in volume from mid-range. Hill’s shot attempts from beyond 16 feet have tripled from 11.3 percent of all field goals attempted last season to 34.9 percent through 35 games so far this season.
|Jordan Hill's efficiency from last season to now|
|FG%||%FGA 16>3||%FGM 16>3||%FGM 0-3ft|
At the same time, the 6’10”, 235-pound frontcourt player has also gone through a positional adjustment. Over the past two seasons, he spent only 18 percent of his time at the center position, while this season, he has spent 97 percent of his time manning the pivot.
Lakers management will have to decide whether Hill is up to the task of being their $9 million starting center going forward.
With the trading season in full swing, there are other options. But, due to Hill’s Bird rights, he cannot be dealt without his permission, per Eric Pincus of the LA Times, unless the acquiring team agrees to exercise his team option for next season. Additionally, he is not eligible to be traded until Jan. 15.
Perhaps the game in Portland is a sign that Hill has gotten his second wind and is ready to continue showing the steady progress that was shown earlier in the season.
But as the Lakers look toward their ongoing rebuild for the future, they also can’t afford to ignore the troubling inconsistency that reared its head once again.
Jordan Hill, as the team’s starting center, has started to become exposed.