The job description Mike D’Antoni provided for Jordan Hill represents a perfect case study on both a player’s evolution and a coach’s perception of him.
Four years ago, D’Antoni found so little use for Hill as the New York Knicks’ eighth overall draft pick that he hardly played his rookie season before getting shipped to the Houston Rockets. Nearly a year ago, D’Antoni sat Hill for three consecutive games because he saw no value in how he’d fit into a offense predicated on outside shooters until his endlessly valuable and defense convinced him otherwise. During this offseason, both D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant both instructed Hill to work on his mid-range game, an order the Lakers forward took to heart by taking between 600-700 shots per day at his Atlanta residence.
D’Antoni remains undecided whether Hill will start at power forward alongside Pau Gasol or if he will come off the bench. But D’Antoni remains adamant that Hill can become an effective mid-range shooter without diluting his effectiveness as an energy player in rebounding and on defense.
“One doesn’t mean he can’t do the other,” D’Antoni said. “If you’re shooting it, you’re not getting the rebound. When he’s not shooting it, he’ll get the rebound. It’ll just make him a better player.”
But will he?
In one breath, D’Antoni praised Hill’s shooting in training camp and even his outside shooting last season despite going only 33 percent from shots within 16-23 feet. In another breath, D’Antoni described Hill as “a little rusty” and “a little tired.”
Meanwhile, Hill believes the work he put in this offseason has already paid off. He also predicted it will become a useful tool for a team’s frontline that features plenty of versatility with Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, two players with dependable post-moves and mid-range jumpers.
“I’m not looking to be a scorer as much as they are,” Hill said. “I’m going to still do what I’ve been doing since I got here, rebounding and defending. A lot of energy running the floor. It feels good to be out there. Now I can knock down 15-17 foot shots. We just got to keep it going.”
As much as D’Antoni and Hill want him to expand his game, though, he could have more responsibility to shore up the Lakers’ defense.
The Lakers didn’t excel in that area, finishing 21th overall, for reasons ranging from Steve Nash’s lack of speed, Kobe Bryant’s gambling, Dwight Howard’s diminished athleticism stemmed from offseason back surgery, poor communication and effort. But Howard’s departure to Houston and the Lakers waiving Metta World Peace in a cost-cutting measure leaves the Lakers without their two most talented defenders.
“It’s definitely a challenge for us,” Hill said. “We got guys who are athletic and young guys like myself. We just got to help each other out. That was our problem last season. Everybody wasn’t on the same page on the defensive end. This year we have to buckle down and do what we got to do.”
Still, D’Antoni hedged his praise on whether the Lakers will lean on Hill to offset the absences from Howard and World Peace .
“That’ll depend on him,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll evaluate that. We have a lot of guys competing right now and he’s one of them. The more and better he plays, the more of a role he’ll have.”
And if all goes according to plan, Hill’s role will include seemingly everything, ranging from defense, rebounding and hitting mid-range jumpers. That marks a far jump
“It’s up in the air,” Hill said with a sigh. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just out here producing and getting better.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org