Jordan Hill has been diagnosed with a herniated disk in his back and will sit out at least a week when he will be reevaluated. If you read Hill’s twitter account, you’d know that he’s not that concerned though this is something to monitor as the preseason advances.
In Sunday’s preseason opener, Hill showed why the Lakers coaches are so high on him heading into the season. While his rebounding numbers weren’t up to his normal standard, he played solid defense and flashed an expanding offensive game that included a nice mid-range jumper. It’s too early to tell if the jumper will be a steady part of his game moving forward, but it was certainly nice to see him shoot it with confidence and without hesitation.
Beyond any growth in his game, though, having Hill ready to play consistent minutes once the season begins is sort of a big deal.
First of all, while it’s still early in camp, Mike Brown has started out playing Antawn Jamison exclusively at small forward. This leaves Hill as the only viable PF on the roster beyond Pau Gasol (no offense, Earl Clark). Hill will be expected to back up both big man spots this season but with Pau able to slide up and play some center, having Hill as a full time reserve at PF is seemingly more important than whatever minutes he can play in the pivot (especially if Robert Sacre can make the team and provide some spot minutes there).
Second of all, Hill remains the only Laker big (besides Howard and Pau) that can play the type of defense that Mike Brown requires while also doing enough work on the glass that the team’s board work doesn’t suffer. Hill has relatively quick feet for a man his size and his athleticism allows him to move around the court well enough that he can hedge, recover, challenge shots, and hit the glass all on a single possession. When you combine that work with his efforts on the offensive glass, the Lakers have an ideal third big man. Sure, the team could piecemeal players together to try and duplicate what Hill provides but having him available is a much easier solution.
At this point, it’s too early to say what will happen with Hill long term and, thus, still too early to make any long term roster decisions based off this injury. Adding a veteran PF like Kenyon Martin sounds like a good idea in the short term but would seem wasteful on a variety of levels. This is especially true in terms of using up any more of the Lakers’ mini mid-level exception or in guaranteeing a contract when the team already has some difficult decisions to make at the bottom of their roster regarding young players who have shown some promise. Even for a team in “win now” mode, roster decisions must have more long term thought behind them than what’s needed over the next week (or even the next month).
For now, then, we wait and we hope. We should know more in a week and can reevaluate where the team stands at that point. We must also sit tight and hope that this issue ins’t recurring as the season advances. Backs can be tricky that way and ensuring his long term availability is surely at the top of the Lakers’ wants right now.
Hill may not be the most important Laker but as stated above he has value and when the dominoes do start to fall that can change the equation quickly.