Below is the seventh post in a series previewing the storylines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2013-14 season. This post focuses on Lakers backup forward Jordan Hill.
1. Can Hill stay healthy? Hill proved plenty on the Lakers wrong of his value when he first arrived in Los Angeles. At first, Hill was considered nothing more than a chance for the Lakers to relieve cap space after acquiring him from Houston for Derek Fisher. But Hill eventually cemented himself as a reliable rebounder and defender. Yet, the Lakers haven’t fully taken advantage of Hill’s presence because of numerous injuries.
Last season, Hill appeared in only 29 regular-season games before injuring his left hip and needing surgery. The Lakers expected Hill would sit out the entire season, but he rehabbed quickly enough to play in three playoff games. He only averaged 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in 10.3 minutes during that stretch, a far cry from the career-high 6.7 points and career-high 5.7 rebounds he posted in 15.8 minutes per game before injuring his hip. Hill’s spent most of his offseason rehabbing from his hip, but admitted it won’t ever become the same as it once was before having surgery.
That means Hill must take extra precaution in doing whatever treatment and rest necessary to ensure the hip never flares up. All while still staying aggressive on the court. Whether he will do this remains to be seen. He was limited the previous two seasons both with Houston and the Lakers because of an MCL sprain in his right knee. Hill was also hobbled earlier last season from a herniated disk in his back.
2. Will Hill’s outside jumper improve? He mostly focused on that area this offseason in hopes of becoming more of a complete player and possibly becoming a stretch forward in Mike D’Antoni’s system. There’s plenty of debate on whether it’s actually good for D’Antoni to feature Hill more as a jump shooter than a low-post player (it isn’t a good idea). But it definitely won’t hurt if Hill adds more to his game simply so he can become more dangerous offensively.
Hill said he’s addressed that this offseason at his Atlanta residence by taking at least 1,000 shots per day, focusing on his ball handling and receiving pointers from reserve shooting guard Jodie Meeks. Hill took steps prior to last season to improve his shot, but it hasn’t translated. Hoopdata illustrates how Hill’s current success relies more on looks inside. Consider his shooting percentage on shots at the rim (65.2 percent), attempts within three to nine feet (40.7 percent) and shots 16 to 23 feet from the basket (33 percent). Hill shot 50 percent on shots within 10-15 feet, but they’re considered a small sample size. Meanwhile, Hill has never made a three-pointer in his four-year NBA career.
It’s unrealistic to expect Hill suddenly to become an elite outside shooter. But if his shooting accuracy improves, that will yield plenty of trickle-down affects. Hill will have an expanded role and become more of a dependable insurance policy for Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman. It’ll also help stretch the floor, giving easier looks to Gasol and Kaman in the post, Bryant on the wing and the post and the team’s outside shooters on the perimeter.
3. Hill still needs to be an energy guy Still, it’s critical that neither D’Antoni or Hill allow his hope to expand his mid-range shooting to dilute his strengths. That involves grabbing rebounds, diving for looseballs and keeping the defense organized. The Lakers simply don’t have enough of those players that play like Hill, giving him even added value on the team. This wouldn’t just put Hill in the best position to succeed.
Such an approach would also make it easier for D’Antoni to play Hill in various combinations, including playing alongside Gasol or Kaman as both a starter and reserve. When Kaman and Gasol sit out, Hill’s presence would still give the Lakers enough size both to have a post presence and to stretch the floor for the team’s shooters.
4. Hill will be a needed presence on defense The Lakers looked terrible on defense last season, with reasons including Steve Nash’s lack of speed, Bryant’s gambling, Dwight Howard’s diminished athleticism because of offseason back surgery, poor communication and effort. Well, don’t expect the Lakers to improve that much better. Howard and Metta World Peace, the team’s defensive anchors, are gone. The Lakers’ acquisitions in Kaman and Nick Young offer more offense than defense.
Still, Hill will become the main ingredient in offsetting all the potential pitfalls of fielding an offensively talented team littered with old players and fast ones. Hill’s size and hustle will allow him to alter shots. His team mindset should also help improve the team’s communication. The Lakers hired Kurt Rambis to improve this area, but Hill will be the main culprit in determining whether those philosophies actually translate on the court.
5. Hill has to be ready for the unexpected. There’s plenty of scenarios that could change Hill’s role. Gasol might not be fully healthy for training camp, making it necessary for Hill to pick up more minutes in preseason games. D’Antoni will likely shuffle lineup combinations considering Farmar, Young, Kaman and Wesley Johnson are all new to the team, putting Hill’s role as a stretch forward and an energy guy influx. Hill has demonstrated a team mindset during his time with the Lakers thus far. So don’t expect him to throw a fit. But he must be prepared to excel and produce regardless of the varying circumstances.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org