The Los Angeles Lakers will be without Dwight Howard going forward, in case you hadn't heard. This will hurt most on defense, where the team ranked 20th in the league with Howard as its anchor. The Lakers won't be able to replace Howard's presence, but increasing Jordan Hill's role with the team should be the first adjustment Mike D'Antoni makes. His defensive mobility and elite rebounding talents make him a valuable player for the Lakers.
Hill isn't a natural fit in D'Antoni's offensive schemes. He shot just 35 percent from 16-to-23 feet last season, leading to D'Antoni urging him to work on his stroke during the summer. But what he can do for the Lakers defense makes him more valuable than a few percentage ticks from the elbow. His footwork, positioning and rebounding allow him to make a major impact on that end.
Paul has both Pau Gasol and Hill in front of him, blocking both his driving and passing lanes. This forces him to pull the play back, allowing Morris to recover:
But the play isn't over for Hill. He rotates to Jordan, who rolls to the low post, and puts his body on him while keeping Paul in his line of sight. If Paul puts up a shot, Hill's in great position to box Jordan out. Paul eventually re-sets the offense and Jordan sets another screen:
Morris goes over the screen and Hill again positions himself perfectly to stop Paul's drive to the paint.
Hill squares up with Paul, successfully stopping his dribble penetration. Paul is forced to pick up his dribble and put up a shot that Hill easily challenges, resulting in a missed field goal:
Video of the play:
Here's another example of Hill's multiple defensive efforts and rotations resulting in a missed field goal in an early-season game against the Dallas Mavericks:
Hill's athleticism and activity on defense make him an asset to D'Antoni, who otherwise will be leaning on two well-over-their-prime stiff big men in Chris Kaman and Gasol.
Hill also shines on the glass. At first glance, his 5.7 rebounds per game is modest, but he played only 15.8 minutes per game through the 2012-13 season. Crank that up to cover 36 minutes a night, and he's averaging 13 rebounds per game -- better than Howard's league-leading per-36 minute average. Hill rebounded 20 percent of all available rebounds when he was on the floor, slightly higher than Howard's 19.1 percent.
His physicality when boxing out explains his outstanding rebounding numbers. Here, he wards off Kenneth Faried, perhaps the league's best offensive rebounder.
Here's the box out and athletic recovery to the ball for the the defensive rebound:
Limiting second-chance opportunities will be key for the Lakers. Defensive stops will be harder to come by without a three-time Defensive Player of the Year lurking in the paint.
While Hill is not a good shooter, he can find ways to be effective offensively despite that deficiency. Kaman and Gasol don't have the defensive chops that Hill does and will have to make their impact on the offensive side of the floor to justify their minute assignments. But while Hill's strength is defense, he can still carve out value on offense with his rebounding. Those physical boxing out and rebounding instincts come in handy on that end as well.
Hill averaged 2.5 second-chance points in 15.8 minutes per game. That's 0.1 points behind Gasol (33.8 minutes per game) and 1.1 behind Howard (35.8 minutes per game). That's obviously good for the offense. It also helps the Lakers' defense; an offensive rebound is one less chance for a team to attack the Lakers in transition, a particular bugaboo last year.
Here, Metta World Peace launches an off-the-dribble three. Hill waits for the release and immediately boxes Robin Lopez out away from the rim. Lopez tries to recover but instead fouls Hill while he finishes the putback:
There's no reason that Jordan Hill should be limited to playing less than 16 minutes per game for the Lakers this season. They no longer have a stockpile of big men after the departures of Howard, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark this summer. His defense capabilities are not matched by any other Laker big man. His elite rebounding talent will limit second-chance opportunities while also creating extra possessions for the Lakers.
Mike D'Antoni needs to play him.