The Lakers’ Dilemma at Center

Darius Soriano —  December 24, 2012

You can never have too many capable big men. You just can’t. Even in a league where teams are skewing small with their lineups, having players who can play in the paint and effectively score baskets close to the rim while limiting the opponent from doing the same is a commodity every team would like to have more of.

The Lakers, however, seem to be testing this theory and are seeing first hand how having multiple players that do their best work close to the rim can, in fact, be an issue.

In Dwight Howard the Lakers have the NBA’s best big man (at least when healthy). In Pau Gasol, they have one of (if not the) most skilled big men in the league. And, in Jordan Hill they have a blue collar reserve who rebounds on both ends and defends the rim well. All three of these players deserve minutes and all three should be a part of the Lakers’ rotation. The only problem is that in Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick and roll attack, all three of these men are Centers. So, the issue becomes how do you find time to play all three over the course of the game when there are only 48 minutes available at the Center position?

The answer, at least initially, is that one of them wouldn’t play. Last week, after the Lakers defeated the Bobcats, Mike D’Antoni said that Hill would be “out of the rotation” for the foreseeable future. He didn’t need to go into his reasoning (and said that it was “to no fault” of Hill) as common sense tells us that with Gasol back and ready to play, there simply wouldn’t be enough minutes for Hill to play. Hill is a fine player, but he’s not as good as the players in front of him on the depth chart and that means he’s the odd man out. It’s not necessarily fair, but life (and minute allocations in the NBA) often aren’t.

A funny thing happened in the Lakers’ next game against the Warriors, however. Dwight Howard was saddled with foul trouble and Pau Gasol simply couldn’t play every single minute that was left on the table at the five with Dwight stuck to the bench. That left D’Antoni a single option. He called Hill’s number and looked on as the reserve big man did what he’s done for most of the games he’s been in a Laker uniform. Hill hustled on both ends, grabbed rebounds (especially offensive ones), and flashed an ever improving offensive game. The results were Hill scoring 14 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in 21 minutes of action with him spurring on the Lakers’ 2nd half comeback via his energy and commitment to dirty work.

Moving forward, a game like Hill’s versus the Warriors only causes more questions. He’s clearly one of the Lakers’ best eight players. This isn’t a knock on any of these guys, but if we ask the question of who deserves minutes between Hill and any one of the Ebanks, Morris, and Duhon trio the answer is going to be Hill. But Hill is playing in a jam packed front court rotation while those other three represent the best options on a think and injury depleted wing. It’s a numbers game and Hill is losing.

Most teams would love to have some of the Lakers’ issues, this one included. Too many capable big men is a luxury, but also presents a dilemma in sorting out minutes and roles.

Down the line we will see if D’Antoni makes more tweaks to his system and to player’s roles to accommodate a player like Hill. There will surely be games that Ron spends more time at PF and that will necessitate filling in the gaps at either PF or C with another player. Maybe that player will be Hill. The Gasol/Hill combo has also proven to be effective this season, so maybe we will get more lineups with that duo up front in certain games. The Dwight/Hill combo hasn’t been as successful, but if they find a synergy together, that could be explored as well.

In the end, however, it seems that something will need to be worked out. Hill has been professional and when his number is called he has been ready to play. His per 36 minute and advanced statistics from this year mirror last season’s when he finally saw consistent minutes in the rotation. He has shown he can make a difference when in the lineup, not only through his effort but through his production. Finding him minutes may be a dilemma, but it’s one that should be solved.

Darius Soriano

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15 responses to The Lakers’ Dilemma at Center

  1. I noticed we can’t use profanity on our posts. But then today I also noticed that things like “no homo” are allowed (in the Dec. 22, “Lakers/Warriors: A turning point(?)” post). There’s no need to let us know you’re not gay, especially when it comes to sports, where grown men slap each other in the butt and fans always use the word “love” to express their fondness for their favorite athletes. Frankly, “no homo” sounds pretty homophobic, and I urge the moderators to include it in their commenting guidelines.

    Just a thought.

  2. What’s “think depleted” mean?

  3. Pretty sure the “k” was a slip of the finger. Probably meant thin.

  4. Are you kidding?
    Give Poppavich or Phil three great big men and they would immediately know what to do with devastating consequences to their opponents.
    D’Antoni is a numbskull if he can’t use all three to good use.
    This last game showed at least that all three can be used to good effect. Both Pau and Dwight can do the horn formation to extreme effectiveness.

  5. Rubenowski,
    I’ve addressed the comments. I didn’t see them before.

  6. James Katt,
    If your solution to playing all 3 guys is more HORNS sets, I can agree to a certain extent. But even if that’s the case, their are still issues to sort out. Ron has been playing well at PF and the Lakers should still look to run a lot of P&R’s with Dwight in the game. Hard to do that if he’s paired with Hill. Also, Phil never had 3 Centers worth playing, so that comparison really doesn’t hold water. I’d add that D’Antoni is a very good coach and calling him names really does nothing to amplify your point. If anything it only serves to discredit it.

  7. Rubenowski,

    While I understand that fear or hatred of homosexual behavior is an issue that causes great suffering for a not insignificant portion of the world’s population, I don’t see how the particular usage in the last comment section qualifies as homophobia or profanity.

    Stating that one is not short does not then imply that one is afraid of or hates short people. As for the use of the term “no-homo” as a profanity, the profane action is to treat the sacred in a base or vulgar manner. It means to bring low and make common that which is high or separate. There is nothing sacred about sexual preference or sexuality. Sex is used to sell products. It is common for us to have multiple sexual partners under multiple circumstances. Porn is readily available and raises the dull and self-involved into celebrities who marry some of our favorite basketball players. Our society does not sanctify sex. How then is it debasing to state that one’s comment should not be confused with an expression of a certain type of sexuality? It isn’t.

    I have made the point that “no-homo” is neither a hateful, fearful or profane comment on it’s own. I think it was an attempt at humor that missed the mark. If Darius were to edit all clumsy and pointless commentary on this site then perhaps the standards of the comment section would come much closer to what we used to see here when Bill Bridges, The Dude Abides, Chownoir, and others like them were regular contributors. Were the standard of good taste maintained here, I think the comment section would be worth a more careful read then the near daily experience of exasperation. So, Darius, please do edit out the “no homo” comment and while you are at it, please get rid of the rest of the repetitive, meme-driven, ESPN programed, clumsy and slightly offensive comments on this site. Sure, you’ll have no time for work or family, and the comment section will be about 30% the material we have now, but serve my petty desires. Serve me. Serve me!!!

  8. Darius what do you purpose?

  9. I give credit to D’Antoni for putting Hill in right after saying he would not. It was also good to see that Hill was ready and has been working on his game. Since Dwight is still recovering from surgery and Pau is on the wrong side of 30, it makes sense to me to keep all three. All have plus abilities and complement each other. Lastly, the front court should be relatively fresh going into the playoffs.

  10. Are we really at a point where there is a debate as to whether the word “homo” is appropriate to use in a post on a Laker blog?

    The subject of this post is a good one, and worthy of more attention than it seems to have gotten. If Hill is capable of knocking down shots and maintaining this degree of efficiency, the Lakers have the best big man rotation in the league. If our coach cannot make something out of that, then it’s even more likely that Pau will be moved for shooters & permiter athleticism.

  11. “Are we really at a point where there is a debate as to whether the word “homo” is appropriate to use in a post on a Laker blog?”

    Yes. That word is littered throughout the comments section of espn threads, and used in a derogatory and accusatory manner. That is one of the reasons why I don’t participate in that community. Things devolve so quickly.

    I appreciate the level of respect and dialogue that happens here, and even debate. That is what keeps a community healthy.

  12. P. Ami,

    I get that the “no homo” remark was an attempt at humor. My point is just that if profanity is not allowed, maybe remarks like “no homo” shouldn’t be allowed either. I mean no disrespect to those that used the remark. I know they did not mean it to be a bad thing. I just think it’s homophobic. And you can disagree with me on that, that’s fine. But I really don’t want to get into a debate about that on this blog, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I like this blog a lot, and I felt the need to say something about it because it would be unfortunate if we alienated some Laker fans due to ill-advised attempts at humor.

    I get that the moderators have a lot on their plate and I appreciate the work they do. Thanks for acknowledging my comment. :)

  13. In the unlikely event of a vote, I’m happy with the editorial decision. ;-)

  14. I hope nobody took my arguments to be a judgement of the adult sexual preferences of consenting adults, or that I was being derogatory. I was making a comment more on a human, or perhaps a social issue, in which we jump to conclusions. It applies both to how people may view differences in life-style, to how certain words are used in implying stigmas of sexual preference, or on jumping on our 2x championship starting center.

    It just occurred to me. Bomani Jones is a well respected member of the media. I’ve seen him tweet a nickname he has for Pau. He calles him Pausicat. This of course is a play on Pau’s name and pussycat. Pussycat, in this context was implying, not only a submissiveness on Pau’s part but also, one of the more sensitive parts of the female anatomy. So, this is a guy who is, quite cheekily, calling Pau some sort of passive and weak basketball player with a commonly understood metaphor that we associate with femininity. Look, I’m not offended by the use of the word pussycat, in that manner, nor of the genital specific, shortened use of the word. I think the use of the word could be appropriate in so far as a woman is, physically, not as strong as a man. Yet, I think Bomani was also speaking to how Pau can play passively. I know that Bomani is not a misogynist. I’ve read enough of his work to know he respects women, and has taken much of his own strength and sense of success from his mother. It’s just that sometimes we use the terms and tropes left to us without meaning any offense.

    So, on to the the Pausicat. The Lakers are currently #6 in the league in 3PT shooting percentage. I don’t see how that does not go up with Nash now entering the rotation. He is a historically great 3PT shooter and he finds shooters in rhythm with the seams ready to rotate for the shooter’s bounce. I wish the stats proved my point as PHX’s 3PT shooting stats are better this year then last. So, maybe we’ll actually see that what our eyes tell us about Steve Nash is wrong. I don’t think so. We have guys who create space. We have shooters the league has to respect. I just don’t see any team, besides the Clippers, who can match the versatility our team has inside if we have a healthy Pau. I don’t think the Clippers really match us that well. Blake is a beast but LO, Jordan and Turiaf are all limited or inconsistent (LO does scare me though). Pau’s ability to make plays from the circle is only going to get better as the system is better ingrained into his psyche. With Dwight down low, and Ron, Kobe and Nash available (or throw in Meeks or Blake eventually) he just has too many options for facilitating the offense. He is so caught up in trying to facilitate that he is forgetting to take his own open shots sometimes. I don’t think that is going to last. He is too smart to not adjust.

    BTW, we have already seen MD’A make more adjustments, both in game and between games in terms of substitution patters, then Mike Brown ever tried. He is finding the matchups that work while trying to win some games. With 1 game in 6 days, this is as close to a training camp D’Antoni will have this season. Lets see what comes the next few weeks. I don’t think it was realistic for us to think we’d know what this team is going to be until late January anyway.

    Happy Holiday, Warren get ready to comment early tomorrow. We need the win.

  15. here we go…kobe-nash-gasol-metta-howard gogogo!!!