2013--14 RECORD: 27--55 (5TH IN PACIFIC) COACH: BYRON SCOTT (1ST SEASON WITH LAKERS)
Jordan Hill is not a household name, except in those households with a League Pass subscription and a fondness for highly active role players. Last season he averaged more than 20 minutes for the first time in his five years—a mark he barely eclipsed (20.8) for the last-place Lakers. True to form, however, the eighth pick in 2009 made the most of his playing time. With a quick first step to create space for his righthanded hook and with hard cuts to the rim for pick-and-roll finishes, the 6'10", 235-pound Hill shot a career-high 54.9%. His all-out style and athleticism also elevated him to third in offensive rebounding percentage and eighth in rebounding rate.
Hill, 27, was not brought back on a two-year, $18 million contract to fulfill the same job in the same limited minutes. The departures of Pau Gasol (to Chicago) and Chris Kaman (to Portland) leave Hill as the Lakers' top option at center. (Their only 7-footer, Robert Sacre, the 60th and final pick in 2012, averaged 16.8 minutes and started 13 games in '13--14.) Last season Hill put up 16.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. Now he'll need to sustain that production over a larger nightly workload—while regularly guarding bigger players and providing constant help to one of the league's worst defensive rosters. Hill can't be expected to save the Lakers' season, but he should respond to the increase in responsibility with his best year.
6.8 PPG; 5.7 APG; 38.3 FG%; 33.3 3FG%
13.8 PPG; 6.3 APG; 4.3 RPG; 42.5 FG%
9.1 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 42.5 FG%; 36.9 3FG%
13.7 PPG; 8.3 RPG; 1.6 APG; 45.6 FG%
9.7 PPG; 7.4 RPG; 0.9 BPG; 54.9 FG%
12.5 PPG; 4.1 APG; 44.6 FG%; 35.8 3FG%
17.9 PPG; 2.6 RPG; 43.5 FG%; 38.6 3FG%
Bryant returns from two major injuries to excellent form, and a patchwork roster jells.
Kobe is far from his best, Nash can't stay healthy, and Randle struggles to adjust to the NBA game.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE LAKERS
I would never count out Kobe Bryant, but he rejoins to a team with so many question marks. They're so fragile that if something goes wrong, the whole thing could go downhill fast.... Byron Scott is talking a lot about defense, but they don't have impact defenders. That tells you he's hoping for defense.... Jeremy Lin plays with such good pace, and pressures the defense, but he still struggles to make reads in the half-court. To be effective, he needs the ball, so having him come off the bench is the best fit because Kobe will have the ball with the starters. That makes Steve Nash's health so important.... Rookie Julius Randle can help as a post scorer, especially against second-unit bigs. But how much will he play with Carlos Boozer in front of him? ... Chicago did a great job of covering for Boozer's defensive limitations. He's an O.K. team defender, but you feel comfortable attacking him and beating him down the floor in transition. He's not a rim protector or a five. Who will fill that role? Jordan Hill? ... I like Hill off the bench but not as a starting center. He's an effort guy who rebounds and finishes in transition, but he's been doing that against backups, and now they're paying a premium for it.... Ed Davis should be an ideal third big man. I don't know what has kept him from getting consistent minutes or why no one pursued him. [L.A. signed him to a minimum deal.] ... They might be establishing their identity just as Nick Young comes back [in about six weeks from right-thumb surgery]. His return could throw them for a loop because he shoots a ton.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Bryant played six games in 2013--14.