Over the course of the off-season, I’ve written about the different types of roles players will be expected to fill and how Coach Mike D’Antoni can put them in the position to succeed. I’ve mentioned how important Jordan Hill will be to defense – Hill is the only young, athletic big who can block shots that the Lakers have on the roster. Kaman and Gasol are much more finesse players, and neither have ever been known to be defensive stalwarts, and Robert Sacre is still a very young player, who although is a legitimate 7 footer, needs to learn how to play defense at an NBA level. This leaves Hill with the sole responsibility of being the Lakers rim protector.
Last season, Hill was poised to have a break out year. When Hill was traded to the Lakers, he had a tough time finding and playing time. That changed when the Lakers played a late season overtime game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mike Brown put in Hill and a few other bench players and the Lakers fought back and won the game. From that point on Hill was the primary backup big man. This past season ended before it really began for Hill. He only appeared in 29 games, and missed the rest of the season due to an injury requiring hip surgery. Hill joined the expansive list of Lakers who missed significant time last year, although he did return to appear in 3 meaningless playoff games (meaningless playoff games for the Lakers? Ouch).
On offense, Jordan Hill is a known commodity. He is, and I mean this as a compliment, a garbage man. His most efficient form of scoring comes from offensive rebounds and putbacks. In 2011-12, per SynergySports, he averaged 1 point per possession (PPP) in this situation, which accounted for 36.8% of his offense. In his shortened 2012-13 campaign, he averaged 1.09 PPP in these situations which accounted for 26.9% of his offensive production. His only more efficient offensive plays were cuts and transition buckets.
On defense, there is less known of Hill. Two years ago, Andrew Bynum was the rim protector for the Lakers and last year that role was Dwight Howard’s. Taking a look at Synergy’s numbers from the past two years, we see that Hill is actually a relatively good defender. He isn’t elite at any one aspect, but he also isn’t at the bottom of the league in any aspect. 1.1 PPP is the league average for an offensive players. Last season, in overall defense (112 plays to be exact), Jordan Hill allowed .93 PPP. Looking more in depth, his four most common defensive situations were Isolation, Post Up, Pick & Roll Man, and Spot Up. The most common was Post Up defense, which makes sense for a PF/C, where he allowed 1 PPP. As I mentioned, not elite, but not below league average. In Spot-Up situations (his best defense) he allowed .91 PPP good for 109th in the league. This basically means when a PF is a spot up shooter, Hill makes the shooter uncomfortable with his close outs, or he basically goads the opposing player into taking a lower percentage shot.
These numbers all came from his shortened campaign in 2012-13, so lets take a look at his 2011-12 numbers to see if these numbers are similar. In 119 plays with the Rockets, he averaged .75 PPP on defense. In 59 plays with the Lakers he averaged .71 PPP on defense. Both of these numbers were excellent, with the .75 placing him as the 49th ranked defender and the .71 as the 24th ranked. Now these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Hill isn’t a top 50 defensive player, as most of his numbers came against bench players as opposed to starters. But it does give hope that Hill has the potential to be the anchor the Lakers need. With the Rockets he allowed .74 PPP in post up situations, which accounted for 54.6% of his defensive plays. With the Lakers, he allowed .92 PPP, which is a significant drop off, but still a very solid mark.
Now that we have the information, what can we expect to see on the floor? A large part of what will happen depends on Coach D’Antoni’s decision to either start Hill alongside Pau Gasol or to bring him off the bench and allow Chris Kaman to start. If I had a say in the matter, I would go with Hill to start. Kaman is the superior offensive player, while Hill is the superior defensive player. In the starting lineup, along side Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and whoever starts at the small forward position (my vote was for Wesley Johnson), Hill would compliment the others perfectly. He can shoot a mid-range jumper enough to be an outlet valve, he would be the Lakers best offensive rebounder, and he would allow Pau to not have to take a beating down low trying to defend bigs in the post. Regardless of his role as a starter or bench player, Hill is vital to the Lakers success this season. If he can be the defender he has shown flashes of, the Lakers won’t have such a dismal defensive outlook. If he struggles to take on the defensive load that will be asked of him, the Lakers will have a long season.