Pulse of the NBA

The Sports NetworkNovember 20, 2013 

It's been a long time coming for Jordan Hill to get the playing time he deserved in Los Angeles, but it simply came down to the fact that Lakers' coach Mike D'Antoni undervalued what Hill brought to the table.

I wrote this about the two early last season just a few weeks after D'Antoni replaced the fired Mike Brown:

"Offense is the foremost thought to him (D'Antoni) and everything else is an afterthought. It seems if a player can score the ball, D'Antoni will ignore any other deficiencies. On the flip side, a guy who can rebound and defend, but isn't that good offensively, will get mostly overlooked.

"That's been the case for Lakers' reserve big man Jordan Hill, who has seen his playing time diminish significantly since D'Antoni took over."

Jump to this season and Hill was initially coming off the bench averaging 16 minutes per game over his first eight games.

And once again, I was critical again of D'Antoni's limited use of Hill and wrote the following just a week into the season:

"The Lakers are operating at an obvious handicap right now with the absence of Kobe Bryant, but they also are dealing with a coach who's been clueless in delegating minutes. Most teams' best players usually play about 35 minutes per game, but Mike D'Antoni is only giving Pau Gasol 27 per game. And then there's the case of Jordan Hill, who is a tenacious defender and a guy who loves to crash the boards, especially the offensive glass, yet he's playing just 14.4 minutes per game. "

Finally, it took a 23-point loss at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10 in which the Lakers gave up 47 first-quarter points for D'Antoni to insert Hill into the starting lineup in their next game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

All Hill did was put up 21 points and 11 rebounds, and outplayed Anthony Davis, as the Lakers beat the Pelicans, 113-95.

D'Antoni noted how contagious Hill's play was following the 18-point blowout win.

"I think Jordan Hill being in that first group helped everybody with his energy ... and then everybody picked it up," said the Lakers' coach. "He's a good guy to lean on if you want a jolt of energy."

Hill has now been in the starting lineup for four games and he's clearly been the Lakers' best player.

He's averaging 18.8 points and 12 rebounds per game in just under 31 minutes.

As good as he was in his first start, Hill's best performance came in the Lakers' last game on Sunday in a 114-99 win at home against the Detroit Pistons. Having to deal with Detroit's front line of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith didn't faze Hill the least as he put up career highs of 24 points and 17 rebounds. The team from the Motor City simply got beat by a guy with one of the highest motors in the league.

"It was like playing against a clone of myself," Drummond said of his matchup with Hill. "I stopped moving, and he got the offensive rebounds because he was constantly moving and grinding the whole game.

"He runs around and plays hard. He played a hell of a game."

And maybe he's finally making a believer of his coach.

"He's playing as hard as he can play," D'Antoni said. "He's got talent, and he's getting better. ... I think he's just more confident and more everything -- and more minutes."

Hill's play may actually turn into an epiphany for D'Antoni, in that the game isn't just about scoring and the 3-point shot, but that you need guys that rebound, defend and play really hard.

QUICK DRIBBLES

- The Pacers have opened a lot of eyes with their 9-1 start, tying the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the league, but to be fair, Indiana has had a pretty soft schedule. Only two wins have come against teams who currently have a winning record (Bulls and Grizzlies). The combined records of the teams they've beaten this season is 37-54. I think we'll get a better gauge of how good this Pacers' team really is during the first 10 days of December when they start the month with a five-game road trip in which they face the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, and Thunder, and then return home for a meeting with the Heat.

- Mo Williams has given the Blazers' bench, which was clearly the worst in the league last season, a huge boost. Portland's second unit was last in the NBA in bench scoring last season, putting up just 18.5 points per game. Williams is averaging more than half that total on his own (10.5 ppg), while shooting 47 percent from the field and dishing out 4.9 assists.

- The Charlotte Bobcats had the second worst record in the league last season (21-61) and were next-to-last in opponents' points allowed at 102.7 points per game. Enter new coach Steve Clifford, and his primary goal was improving the team's defense. So far, you have to say mission accomplished. The Bobcats rank fourth in opponents' points allowed at 92.9 points per game, nearly a 10-point improvement from last season. Considering the team's best player, Al Jefferson, has missed eight games, it's quite an accomplishment that the Bobcats sit at 5-6, but it wouldn't have been possible without the big step they've taken on the defensive end.

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