Coming into the season, Jordan Hill was projected to receive a healthy bump in minutes over last year. Because of that and his impressive rebounding rates, Hill was targeted by many, including yours truly, in the mid-to-late rounds of their fantasy drafts as a rebound specialist with the potential to be a solid scorer with good percentages to boot.
Hill started out the season hot and logged big minutes averaging 32.3 minutes, 13.9 points, and 9.7 rebounds in November. That success was, unfortunately, shortlived as he badly regressed in December posting just 10.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 26.3 minutes.
Hill's December woes have also spilled over into January as he's posted 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in 24.4 minutes over his first 7 January games. Should owners be worried about this slump or is it just a matter of time before Hill returns to his early season form?
Let's take a look at what the numbers tell us.
Byron Scott's Mid-season Shake-up Hurt Hill's Production
Not many people expected much from the Lakers this year. Despite the return of Kobe Bryant and the arrival of Jeremy Lin, the team returned most of what was a very bad roster last year, so another season of mediocrity is not surprising. Still, not many expected them to be quite as bad as they were over their first 20 games as they lost 15 of them and gave up over 111 points per game in the process.
Coach Byron Scott, in an attempt to shake things up, announced that he would make some changes to the starting lineup early in December. On December 7th against the New Orleans Pelicans, those changes took place as Ronnie Price replaced Jeremy Lin at point guard and Ed Davis replaced Carlos Boozer in the paint. The Lakers still aren't a very good team, but the changes seem to have, at least marginally, worked.
The Lakers have won 7 of 19 games since the trade which is good for a .368 winning percentage, technically an improvement on the .250 mark they put up in their first 20 games. Also, they've improved their scoring differential from -7.9 to -3.9. While the changes have had an overall positive effect on the team, they've had quite a negative effect on Hill individually.
Before the changes, Hill was putting up 13.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game on 50.9% shooting in 30.5 minutes. After them, Hill is averaging 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds on 43.4% shooting in 25.7 minutes. The drop in minutes and field goal percentage stand out immediately, but what is less apparent is that his rebounding rate has dropped significantly as well. Looking at this split, we see that Hill's regression is two-fold. Not only has there been a decline in his minutes, but he has also been less efficient in the minutes he has gotten.
We'll need to look separately at each problem to see if he can turn either or both around and return to his early season form. Let's start with his minutes.
New Additions, Fading Hopes Crowd Lakers' Frontcourt
Despite the marginal improvement following the insertion of Price and Davis into the starting lineup, the Lakers are still far from a good basketball team and find themselves falling further and further out of the playoff picture. As a result, the team has seemed willing to give everybody on their roster, even Robert Sacre, a shot at increased minutes to see what they can do. Their search for quality players did not stop at the end of their own bench as they claimed Tarik Black off waivers from Houston and gave him some minutes in his first few games with the team.
Ryan Kelly has also received some minutes in his return from injury. That means Hill will now compete with Black and Kelly on top of Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, and Robert Sacre for minutes. Even though they won't all log heavy minutes, in fact Sacre may be cut from the rotation entirely, they all take little chunks and make it so that none of them will likely log heavy minutes. In fact, in the 4 games Black has played with the team, none of these 6 players have seen more than 28 minutes in a game barring Kelly's 37 minute outing against the Magic.
Why would the Lakers do it any other way? At this point, they have a decent idea of what they have in Hill and Davis. Why not give some run to some younger guys to see if they're worth keeping around next year? There certainly could be a trade in the works, but even if Boozer or Ed Davis is traded away and Hill remains, the extra minutes would likely go to the young and unproven rather than a 6th-year veteran. Given the Lakers' recent additions in the frontcourt and their lack of postseason prospects, it's looking unlikely that Hill will receive the heavy dose of minutes he was receiving in November.
New Lineup, Drifting From Basket Contributed To Efficiency Regression
After the lineup shuffle, Hill not only lost minutes. He also saw his FG% drop from 50.9% to 43.4% and his rebounds per 36 minute rate drop from 11.0 to 9.0. Most of that reduction in rebounding came on the offensive end as he was grabbing 4.7 offensive boards per 36 in November and just 2.7 per 36 in December. On the shooting side, most of that decrease in efficiency comes from his jump shot which accounts for about 58% of his total shots on the court. In November, he shot 33.3% on jumpers, a meager rate, but decent in comparison to his December rate of 25.6%. To get a better understanding of the jumpers that Hill takes, let's look at some shot charts.
Compare this plot of his November jump shots to this plot of his December jump shots.
Note how the November plot is clustered right at the top of the key. Compare that to how much more spread out his December plot is. Instead of getting shots from straight on, he's getting more shots from the left wing area and from slightly further out. Keep in mind that there was a major change in personnel between these two plots as well.
In November, 19 of Hill's 39 (49%) assisted field goals were assisted by Jeremy Lin. In December, just 5 of his 49 assisted field goals (10%) were assisted by Lin while 30 of his 49 (61%) were assisted by Kobe Bryant or Ronnie Price. It's possible that the drop in field goal percentage after December 7th was a result of Hill adjusting to the new types of shots he was receiving playing off of Bryant and Price.
The January plot closely resembles the December one which seems to strengthen the argument that Hill gets different kinds of shots playing off of Price and Bryant, who have assisted 21 of his field goals this month, rather than Lin, who has assisted 0. What's promising for Hill owners is that he seems to be getting used to these new shots and has increased his shooting percentage on jump shots to 38.1%.
We must keep in mind that the sample size is still small in January, but this at least provides hope that we can see his field goal percentage rise again.
In addition to getting slightly different kinds of shots, Hill's shots have been slowly drifting away from the basket throughout the year as well. In November, Hill took about 42% of his shots within 5 feet, 20% between 5 and 14 feet, and 36% from outside 15 feet. Please note that these numbers are approximate and may not add up to 100% due to rounding on both my part and the part of nba.com. In December, 38% were within 5 feet, 24% between 5 and 14, and 37% 15 and up. So far in January, those numbers are 33%, 21%, and 46% respectively. Slowly, but surely, we've seen Hill's proportion of shots taken within 5 feet drop 10% and his proportion of shots taken 15 or more feet away increase 10%.
Recall that I said most of the drop in his rebounding rate was due to a decrease in offensive rebounds. These two are likely correlated because if Hill is playing further away from the basket, it would make sense that he wouldn't be able to get in good position for offensive rebounds as often. Another consequence of drifting away from the rim is that Hill got fouled and got to the line less often in December. He got to the line 2.3 times per 36 minutes in December compared to 4.3 times per 36 in November.
While he's increased his free throw attempts in January to 3.8 per 36, he still has yet to reach the heights of his November numbers nor has he been able to increase his offensive rebounding rate which sits at just 3.0 per 36 in January. Until Hill starts playing closer to the rim, we won't see him grab offensive rebounds or get to the line as often as he did in the earlier part of the year.
I think the drop in minutes is for real and will stick. I have him at 25 minutes per game for the rest of the season. I think he will pull his shooting percentage up a little bit as he gets used to playing with Price, but he won't get to where he was earlier in the year and certainly won't touch what he did last year because he's taking shots further and further away from the basket.
I'm thinking that he makes an adjustment and starts crashing the offensive glass a little more because that was his M.O. coming into this season, so I've given him a bit of a bump there over his recent production. Everything else is in line with his season-to-date per minute rates. The projected 9-cat line looks like this:
Jordan Hill's projected overall 9-cat ROS line
It's looking like November was a flash in the pan for Hill. As the Lakers drift into the high lottery this year, it's hard to see them giving big minutes to any of their frontcourt players from this point on. While his efficiency will increase over what he did in December, his change in play style on the offensive end will keep him from matching his offensive rebounding rate and field goal percentage from last season and early this season.
He still has value in deeper leagues, but he won't be the breakout guy that we hoped he would.
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