One of the more pressing questions coach Mike D’Antoni faced early in the season was figuring out a set rotation. Through the first eight games, the Lakers used five different starting units, while 11 players averaged at least 15 minutes. Against New Orleans, the coaching staff once again shook up the lineup again, inserting Jordan Hill at the starting four spot.
“We switched up the lineup to get a little more energy in there,” D’Antoni said pregame. “He brings energy and hopefully we can start off a little (better).”
Hill responded with a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds in his first start to key the Lakers 116-95 win that night. In Sunday’s 114-89 win against Detroit, he posted new career-highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds against a frontcourt that featured 7-footer Andre Drummond, 6-foot-11 Greg Monroe and 6-foot-9 Josh Smith.
“That’s just will and effort,” Wesley Johnson said of Hill’s rebounding ability. “I know that he has a nose for the ball and he definitely doesn’t stop.”
In four starts this year, the Arizona product is averaging 18.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 61.7 percent field goals. According to NBA.com/stats, the 6-foot-10 forward has converted on 69.2 percent of his attempts from eight feet and in. And in a small sample size, Hill is 3 for 6 on jump shots from 16-24 feet, something he’s acknowledged he worked on during the offseason.
“Tremendous,” Kobe Bryant said of Hill’s play thus far. “He really worked hard this summer and got himself into good shape and shed some weight. He has a knack for the ball and is great around the rim. He has a great touch on the low post and a great touch on the perimeter. He’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Aside from his individual statistics, Hill’s play has aided in an improvement on the defensive end for the Lakers. In the last four games, opponents are averaging 98.5 points on 43.0 percent shooting compared to the first eight games where teams put up 106.5 points per game on 46.4 percent field goals. Along with Hill, the continuity in the lineup the last four games has played a key role in the team’s defensive success.
“Playing Jordan Hill gives us a little more length at the four,” D’Antoni said. “And guys are starting to get into rotations and how we do things without thinking so much that it becomes a habit, and that way you can react quicker and they react quicker to the ball and different situations. As a young team, that takes time, but it’s starting to settle in a little bit. Hopefully we can keep on that right path.”
With Bryant’s return on the horizon as he continues to practice with the team, the forward maintains he’ll continue to do what he does best: rebound and bring energy to the court. D’Antoni believes that his recent string of success is not a fluke.
“(He’s) not only (bringing) energy, but he’s averaging (a double-double),” D’Antoni said. “He’s playing at an All-Star level. What he’s doing is remarkable. There’s no reason why he can’t keep that up.”