Jordan Hill is for real.
Earlier in his career, that sentence would have read differently. Jordan Hill is really bad. Jordan Hill is really injury prone. Jordan Hill is the bane of New York Knicks fans' existence.
Four years of criticism behind him, Hill has come on strong in his fifth. Calling him the Los Angeles Lakers' second-best player wouldn't be a stretch because it's presently true.
With Kobe Bryant still working his way back from a ruptured Achilles and Steve Nash showing signs of extensive aging, there are few players on the Lakers roster, if any, playing better than him. Coach Mike D'Antoni has already indicated he might be the team's best player, speaking volumes about how far Hill has come.
But is his stay atop the Lakers' pecking order a temporary one? Yes, and no.
When Kobe returns, he'll instantly become the focus of all things Lakers, and appropriately so. Hill won't hear his praises sung quite as loudly or incur the word "savior" as often. But he'll still be performing at a high level, like he has for most of the season.
Fully aware that we must not make Hill into someone he's not, it's also time to recognize that he's not going anywhere either.
What's So Different?
Riddle me this: What is it about Hill's season that you find so impressive?
His rebounding? Unadulterated energy? His sweet Sideshow Bob-esque haircut?
You're not alone. You're also cheering for a version of Hill we've seen before.
He's grabbing 20.8 percent of all possible rebounds when he's on the court, second to only Dwight Howard amongst players, averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Last year, plagued by injuries and inconsistent playing time, his rebounding rate still stood at 20 percent, the ninth-best mark in the NBA.
Though I'm tempted to go on, I won't. Instead, see for yourself how similar Hill's rebounding rates have been over the years:
Hill's production on the glass this season isn't an outlier in a long line of mediocre rebounding. He's always been a strong board-crasher with an above-average rebounding rate. Nothing's changed.
Hardly anything has changed elsewhere, either. Sure, his 127 offensive rating would drub his previous career high of 113 (if it holds), but the manner in which he's scoring, hasn't changed.
According to NBA.com (subscription required), nearly 73 percent of all of Hill's converted baskets are coming within five feet. Last year, almost 68 percent of his made shots came within the same range. That's a slight uptick, not a dramatic shift in shot selection.
Hill is still shooting fewer than seven times a game, he's still scoring predominantly off second-chance opportunities, and he's still yet to hit his first career three-pointer.
The best way for us to further ensure his 2013-14 campaign is not an aberration is to compare his extrapolated production this season to that of last year:
|Hill Per-36 Minutes|
Not to take anything away from Hill, but these aren't groundbreaking improvements. They're the product of increased playing time and an increased role.
They're Jordan Hill simply continuing to be Jordan Hill.
Here To Stay
Almost 15 percent of the way through the Lakers' season, Hill leads the team in win shares. No one saw that coming.
To be sure, we're talking about his growing importance to the Lakers, not his impressive numbers. His statistics are right in line with what he's done his entire career—hoard rebounds while battling his way to some points and maybe a block here or there.
The most telling of Hill's stats comes from NBA.com's new player-tracking capabilities. Contested rebounding opportunities are defined by the league as "the number of rebounds gathered where an opponent is within 3.5 feet." These are basically boards you have to fight for. And in this category, Hill ranks sixth in the league with 4.5 contested rebounds per game.
Now, he's grabbing 8.4 'bounds a night, meaning that more than 50 percent of his boards are coming under duress—53.6 percent to be exact. That gives him the fifth-highest contested-rebound rate of any player in the league who has appeared in at least 10 games and is averaging 15 or more minutes of action each time.
What we're seeing isn't an atypical shift in skill set—it's more of the same. Hill's playing roughly five minutes more a night, and he's making the most of his increased opportunity. Not by playing above his head or wielding a vastly different play style, but by doing what he's always done, only more so.
"He's a bruiser down there," Steve Blake said following a 24-point, 17-rebound effort from Hill in a Lakers victory over the Detroit Pistons, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan. "He goes out there with reckless abandonment and throws his body around and he's strong. That's just the way he plays and I think he'll continue to do that."
Forever hustling. That's Hill. He'll clean up his teammates' misses; he'll do the dirty work. And we know he'll always continue to do that, because that's what he's always done.
Lasting hustle is all he knows.