Below is the third in a series previewing the story lines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers center Jordan Hill.
1. Will Jordan Hill feel more comfortable under Lakers coach Byron Scott? For all the career highs Jordan Hill posted in points (9.7), shooting percentage (54.9 percent), rebounds (7.4) and minutes (20.8) last season, he never seemed to enjoy playing for former coach Mike D’Antoni. The reasons included Hill’s fluctuating minutes and feeling underutilized in a system that puts a strong emphasis on floor spacing and outside shooting. There was a sense Hill believed that D’Antoni’s fast-paced system came at the expense of the team’s defense.
Hill won’t have D’Antoni as a crutch to blame for any struggles this season. Scott has already penciled Hill in as his tentative starting center. Scott has raved about Hill’s paint presence and has said he will put a high emphasis on defense. Scott’s offensive system does not put the same demands as D’Antoni does in having shooters to can outside jumpers and space the floor. So on paper, it appears Hill will have more of a comfortable working relationship with Scott than D’Antoni. But Hill will have to play the games first.
2. Will Hill’s effort stay consistent? A discrepancy emerged between the games Hill averaged at least 20 minutes per game (40) and the ones he averaged 15 minutes or fewer per contest (20). But for all the frustration Hill felt about his role under D’Antoni, there were practical reasons why Hill’s playing time fluctuated. He missed eight consecutive games in March because of a right leg injury. Hill’s energy level also often dropped once he logged more playing time. So as much as Hill prided himself on being an “energy guy,” he still has to prove he can fulfill that description consistently.
Plenty of solutions could emerge. Hill may feel more effective if he plays in shorter spurts. He could save energy by showing more awareness on the team offense and defense instead of using his hustle to offset those weaknesses. Hill may have spent part of this offseason improving on his conditioning and mobility. Any team improvement could also entice Hill to hustle more instead of feeling deflated.
3. Will Hill offer the Lakers needed rim protection? It seems a given that Hill will gobble up rebounds and score off of putbacks. What appears more uncertain entails whether Hill becomes effective enough defensively to compensate for a team that lacks a supporting cast. Oh, Hill will bruise in the paint and hustle to block shots. But with a frontline that features a consistently poor defender (Carlos Boozer), an erratic wingman (Wesley Johnson), a roaming scorer (Kobe Bryant) and a point guard lacking foot speed (Steve Nash), Hill could wind up on an island.
Of course, plenty of responsibility falls on the Lakers to provide Hill reinforcements. But Hill will have to prepare for times where the team’s defensive performance depends on him. Hill will also have to stay vocal in ensuring his teammates stay organized. That appears a heavy task considering Hill’s hustle last season hardly made a difference in preventing the Lakers from finishing 29th in points allowed (109.2), 24th in defensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 30th in fast-break points allowed (16.7).
4. Will Hill morph into a complete player?
It seems unlikely that Scott will ask Hill to work on his mid-range jumper with the same emphasis D’Antoni put on it. But it would help Hill to improve that skillset. He may never become a stretch forward, but having a dependable shot will help expand game. Hill has yet to show many encouraging signs he can do that.
According to NBA.com, Hill only 16 of 41 (39.02 percent) when he shot from above the free throw line. The majority of Hill’s production happened in the paint where he went 226 of 371 (60.92 percent) from the field. That means the Lakers are better suited putting Hill in better positions to succeed instead of showing his limitations. But for Hill’s long-term future, he would benefit from rounding out his game.
5. Will the Lakers trade Hill before the trade deadline? The Lakers signed Hill to a two-year, $18 million deal this offseason, a surprising development considering the team wanted to stay lean with their spending on role players. But the move still did not hurt the Lakers’ financial flexibility. Instead, the signing may have helped it. The Lakers have a team option on Hill’s last year, making him an attractive asset heading into the deadline both because of his expiring contract and potential.
That’s why it seems inevitable that Hill will become the subject of plenty of trade chatter, both real and imagined. This gives the Lakers even more incentive to play Hill and allow him to develop. The more opportunities he receives, the higher his value. The higher his value, the greater the chances the Lakers could receive something in return.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at email@example.com