When the Los Angeles Lakers received Jordan Hill for Derek Fisher and a 2012 first-round draft pick at the 2012 NBA trade deadline, many Lakers fans, including myself, were confused as to who this young player was, and why he was worth the heavy price of fan favorite and locker room leader Fisher.
I was skeptical that Hill, who up to that point had failed to find a permanent team since he was drafted in 2009 by the New York Knicks, would shine in the bright lights of Hollywood, where the expectations were always higher than the norm. Since the Lakers have acquired Hill, I have been pleasantly surprised by his hustle and rebounding (especially on the offensive end) abilities and have high hopes that he will blossom into an elite big man.
Before declaring for the ’09 draft, Hill played for the Arizona Wildcats, where he averaged 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds his senior year and won numerous awards (including first-team All-Conference and All-Defensive team honors). He impressed many NBA scouts with his physical presence in the paint, versatility and dependable mid-range jumper. Analysts lauded him as a top-5 pick before he was actually drafted eighth by the Knicks.
In New York, Hill played sparingly under Coach Mike D’Antoni (who coaches him in Los Angeles now), mainly due to the presence of Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries and Al Harrington, proven big men who were given more playing time because of their veteran status. In 2010, Hill was traded to the Houston Rockets as part of a three-team deal that saw Tracy McGrady step into the spotlight of Madison Square Garden. As a Rocket, Hill exhibited flashes of brilliance and dominance, which earned him a place in Houston’s starting line-up 11 times that season. However, the Rockets clearly didn’t think of Hill as a valuable asset as he was traded to the Lakers in 2012 after the Lakers signed guard Ramon Sessions and were looking to unload the 37-year-old Fisher to the Rockets.
After arriving in Los Angeles and donning the purple and gold, Hill played in 19 games for the remainder of the 2012 season, including 12 playoff games. While his numbers weren’t off the charts, he averaged five points and five rebounds a game, his non-statistical contributions were enormous. His hustle and effort, especially on the defensive end, impressed many Lakers fans, including the front office executives who offered Hill a two-year, $8 million contract at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season.
The following season, despite the Lakers struggles to adjust to a new roster and develop chemistry, Hill still played with determination and grit, averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in just 15.8 minutes of play a game. While those numbers aren’t anything extraordinary, Hill’s rebounds-per-minute average was among the league’s best, leading many to dwell on the potential Hill had if he played more minutes per game. Unfortunately, a hip injury sustained against the Denver Nuggets required Hill to have season-ending surgery, and while he made a brief appearance in the Lakers brief trip to the playoffs that year, he didn’t make much of an impact as he was still recovering.
If Hill can play with the same effort he has demonstrated to Lakers fans over the last year and a half and if Hill plays more minutes, I think Lakers fans should expect a long overdue breakout season from the long-haired power forward from Arizona.