Through the turmoil the Los Angeles Lakers have experienced this season, one of their largest struggles has been the lack of execution at the center position.
Last year, Dwight Howard ensured the Lakers wouldn’t be one of the two worst defenses in the league, with his rim protection and athletic ability to cover the opposition’s best big men.
Now, with three centers on the roster for Los Angeles, a theme this year has been the uncertainty of just who should start under the rim.
None have received the respect or praise of being formidable options at the center position, even after their best performances.
Since his arrival in Los Angeles with a trade involving longtime Laker Derek Fisher, Jordan Hill has actually grown on fans of the purple and gold. His hard work, aggressiveness on the boards, and athletic body frame have allowed the Lakers to compete against some of the better frontcourts the league has to offer.
Thus far into 2013-14, Hill has averaged 9.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game on 57 percent shooting. Granted, Hill attempts just 6.7 shots per contest, that level of efficiency is rather impressive for someone that is receiving an upgrade in minutes. Through the first four years of his year out of Arizona, Hill hasn’t logged more than 16.2 minutes per game in a season. For Mike D’Antoni this year, he’s up to 20.7 per night. And that’s still not enough, in most people’s opinion (including my own).
Chris Kaman, who found himself out of the rotation for 14 games this season due to D’Antoni keep him benched and battling nagging injuries, is undoubtedly the best shooter of the three options. Kaman has been around the league for 10 years, and wasn’t taking the loss of minutes very well. In last week’s loss at Utah, Kaman gave the Lakers 30 solid minutes, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He was unable to follow it up, however, after a mild ankle injury limited him to just 10 minutes against Milwaukee on New Years Eve.
While it’s not the offensive end that D’Antoni used to determine a current starter, it’s hard to ignore the impressive shooting performances both Kaman and Hill can have illustrated compared to the inexperienced Robert Sacre:
Jordan Hill (field goals)
- less than 5 feet from basket: 89-of-135 (65.9 percent)
- 10-14 feet from basket: 4-of-15 (26.7 percent)
- 15-19 feet from basket: 8-0f-18 (44.4 percent)
Chris Kaman (field goals)
- Less than 5 feet: 32-of-55 (58.2 percent)
- 10-14 feet: 11-of-30 (36.7 percent)
- 15-19 feet: 16-of-33 (48.5 percent)
Robert Sacre (field goals)
- Less than 5 feet: 12-of-23 (52.2 percent)
- 10-14 feet: 2-of-5 (40 percent)
- 15-19 feet: 2-of-7 (28.6 percent)
Despite the lack of firepower it gives the Lakers to have Sacre on the floor, Mike D’Antoni has decided to go with Sacre in the starting lineup at the center position. He announced on Friday that Sacre would start next to Pau Gasol in the frontcourt in the Jan. 3 matchup against the Utah Jazz.
His reasoning or thought process on the decision?
Mike D’Antoni on why he’s going big w/ Sacre and Pau: “There is no thought process.” He then said he did it to improve defense
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) January 4, 2014
Defensively, the two top options for the Lakers are Sacre and Hill. That excludes Kaman, and there’s a reason why. He isn’t as mobile as he used to be and not nearly as athletic to hold his own against the top centers in the game. Sacre is a 7-footer that has the body of a strong defender, but not disciplined to make the right decisions in key moments.
Jordan Hill, on the other hand, is the best rebounder of the bunch, and has the desire to play with force on every possession. If foul trouble could be contained with his style of play, it’s almost a lock that the Lakers need to have him playing larger minutes, and moving into a permanent starting role at center.
When Kobe Bryant addressed Jordan Hill this past offseason, he told him “You have to become a better mid-range shooter.” Hill still isn’t fully comfortable unless it’s near the rim, but D’Antoni should stick to the player that gives him the most energy every trip up the floor. For now, the answer is Hill, especially for the fast-paced offense we have known D’Antoni to run.