In a move many Lakers’ fans have been hoping would come to fruition, Jordan Hill is set to return to the Lakers next season. Reports say Hill will earn a shade under $8 million dollars over the next two seasons, giving the Lakers the second back up big man (after Antawn Jamsison) they needed to complete their front court rotation.
After being acquired in the trade that sent Derek Fisher away, there weren’t many hopes that Hill would be anything more than a placeholder that could provide spot minutes should the Lakers’ reserve big men continue to falter. After nursing an MCL sprain almost immediately after he was acquired, those hopes nearly disappeared entirely. However, as the Lakers reserve bigs continued their up and down play, the hope that Hill would get his chance to play started to become more prevalent. When Hill finally got his shot and was inserted into the lineup he never relinquished his role as the Lakers’ primary back up to Gasol and Bynum.
In those last few regular season games and into the playoffs, Hill showed a knack for attacking the glass, flashed good quickness and instincts in defending the pick and roll, and generally embraced his role as an energy man that would fill in the gaps next to his more skilled front court partner. His hardhat mentality fit perfectly next to both Bynum and Gasol as he consistently attacked the front of the rim on offense (gobbling up offensive rebounds and getting easy baskets in the process) and provided solid secondary help as a rim protector on defense.
HIs game game wasn’t filled with skill, but the Lakers didn’t need it to be. Hill played hard, never ventured too far outside of his skill set, and seemed to provide exactly what the coaches asked of him. The fact that he showed just enough range on his jumper (he can knock down shots out to about 16 feet when he’s set and unguarded) meant he could play off Bynum and his ruggedness around the rim and ability to carve out space made him a nice partner for Pau. He didn’t always play well – what reserve really does? – but when he did, he brought a level of production that had been missing from any reserve big man on the roster.
With Jamison now in the fold, Hill’s minutes and role might be a bit different but his ability to play either PF or C will aid him and the Lakers next season. He’ll give his coaches flexibility in lineup choices and, maybe most importantly, allow the Lakers primary big men to get the rest they’ll need to stay fresher throughout the course of the season. Remember, last season Gasol was 2nd in the NBA in total minutes played and 7th in minutes per game while Bynum’s per game average and total minutes played were the highest in his career. With Hill (and Jamison) in the fold, both Bynum and Pau should get more rest with the hope that they can be fresher and more productive.
Beyond helping to keep his front court partners fresh, the hope is that Hill can continue to improve. With Steve Nash in the fold, Hill should get easier baskets as a screener in the P&R. And, if Bynum continues to improve passing out of double teams, Hill should also get more (and better) touches at the front of the rim against a scrambling defense. If he continues to be active on offense by making smart cuts and moving into the open space allowed to him by a defense that must focus on his more heralded teammates, Hill can become an even more effective garbage man than he was last season. How that translates to nightly production remain to be seen, but the potential for 8-10 points and 6-8 rebounds a game is there simply by continuing to work hard, changing ends aggressively, and keeping his hands ready to make a catch.
Hill’s return isn’t the flashiest of moves, but it certainly bolsters a Laker team that really needed another capable big man to play behind Gasol and Bynum. His contract is not only reasonable in terms of total dollars, but its length allows the Lakers to maintain their long term payroll flexibility by keeping him on the books only through the end of the Kobe, Pau, Ron, and Steve Blake’s contracts. And, by adding another capable bench player, the Lakers have further strengthened their reserves and have taken another step forward in shoring up one of last year’s biggest weaknesses.
All in all, there’s no downside to this type of move for the Lakers. It may not be the type of move that vaults them into contender status, but it certainly gets them closer. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?