Time and time again, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni buries Jordan Hill on his depth chart because he doesn’t fit the so-called stretch four position that calls for a forward that can shoot and space the floor.
But time and time again, Hill makes D’Antoni slightly change his sentiments by providing endless hustle plays on defense and rebounding.
Hill sat until the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 91-85 loss Friday to the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center. Once Hill entered the floor, he posted five points and four rebounds for nearly an entire period. That prompted D’Antoni to suggest after Saturday’s practice that Hill will have a larger role as he figures out his front court depth chart because of his “great energy.”
“That would be the obvious,” D’Antoni said. “But if you talk to everybody else, they’ll say what about me? What about me? We have a lot of guys. That’s what happens. You have a lot of guys unhappy. I might have to get to the point where two of them are ticked off at me and eight of them love me.”
Hill has appeared remarkably efficient, entering the Lakers’ game Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center averaging 6.3 points on 69.2 percent shooting and 6.3 rebounds in only 14 minutes of play. But with the Lakers losing their past two games, D’Antoni sounded more open in providing more clarity in a bloated front-court position.
Unlike last season, D’Antoni’s not changing the role for Pau Gasol, who’s averaging a team-leading 15.7 points on 46.2 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds partly because he’s featured more at center. Shawne Williams has continue to start at power forward despite averaging two points on 20 percent shooting. Wesley Johnson has become a dependable defender, including holding Blake Griffin scoreless in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ season-opening win against the Clippers. Chris Kaman posted two double-digit efforts in his first week back since suffering a week-long stomach ailment, but he posted only four points against the Spurs.
Hill’s only challenge involves convincing D’Antoni somehow to play him.
“It’s not my decision how many minutes I get. I just want to go out there and produce when I’m out there with those minutes,” Hill said. “[D’Antoni] will do what he feels is best for how the game goes. Whenever he calls my name, I’ll continue to do what I do.”
Hill’s navigated this issue plenty of times.
He opened his career with the New York Knicks under D’Antoni in a somewhat precarious position. After averaging only four points in 25 minutes through 24 games in New York at the beginning of the 2008-9 season, Hill was then traded to the Houston Rockets with Jared Jefferies before the trade deadline as part of a three-team deal that resulted in the Rockets’ Tracy McGrady going to the Knicks. Last season, D’Antoni sat Hill for three consecutive games in favor of Antawn Jamison’s scoring, but soon changed his sentiments. But Hill eventually suffered a season-ending hip injury in early January that required surgery and sidelined him for 53 games.
Hill has reported his hip to feel fully healthy. But he’s still trying to figure out how to crack D’Antoni’s rotation consistently.
“It’s frustrating definitely,” Hill said. “But I just stay ready. That’s all I can do. It’ll come. I’ll stay ready.”
Underneath Hill’s frustration, he outlined in pretty clear terms that he will stay ready by providing the game he prefers. He devoted plenty of his offseason to work on his mid-range jumper after both D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant separately encouraged him to do so. But he has developed a niche with the Lakers for the past 2 1/2 seasons for his never-ending energy.
“I’m trying to focus on what I do best, rebounds, putbacks, defending and running hte floor,” Hill said. “When my shot’s open, I’m going to take it. Whenever i feel like it’s a good shot for us, I’ll take it. But I’m not trying to focus on that. The main reason is we have shooters out there. I’ll do the tough guy role basically.”
Assuming Hill plays of course.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com