HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — For Chris Kaman, what goes around is coming around, meaning he could be sitting down, a lot.
When Kaman returned to Dallas earlier this month as a newly minted member of a barely recognizable Los Angeles Lakers team, the loose-lipped veteran center decided to vent. He had pent-up anger toward Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle after the pair had their differences during Kaman’s lone season in Big D.
Kaman started 52 of the 66 games he played, but he averaged a career-low 20.7 mpg and his playing time often fluctuated. During the Lakers Nov. 5 shootaround in Dallas, Kaman ripped Carlisle for playing games with players and he scoffed at Carlisle’s use of him: “They’re going to play me five minutes a game? That’s not going to work.”
Then came Sunday night and the Lakers’ 114-99 win over the Detroit Pistons. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who Kaman lauded that day in Dallas for being more appealing to players, played Kaman a season-low five minutes — 5 minutes, 24 seconds to be exact.
It could become more of a trend than a blip for Kaman, who is averaging only 17.3 mpg anyway under D’Antoni, less than he played in Dallas. On a makeshift Lakers roster still void of Kobe Bryant and thin on the back line, Kaman, 31, hoped to play a bunch alongside four-time All-Star Pau Gasol. But physical, high-intensity power forward Jordan Hill is beginning to claim that spot as his own. In his fourth consecutive start Sunday, the 26-year-old Hill turned in a career game against the massive front line of the Pistons with 24 points and 17 rebounds in almost 36 minutes.
Hill has logged more than 30 minutes in his last three starts. He’s posted three double-doubles, averaging 18.8 ppg and 12.0 rpg with 16 offensive boards, in the four starts. He’s shot better than 50 percent from the floor and is 17-for-19 from the free throw line as a starter after going 6-for-17 as a reserve. He has seven blocked shots and five turnovers, and is a plus-21.
Before D’Antoni inserted him into the starting lineup, the muscular, 6-foot-10, 235-pound Hill was averaging 6.3 ppg and 6.6 rpg in 16.1 mpg. He had scored in double figures once, 12 points in the season opener, and had one double-digit rebound game. On Sunday, Hill made a career-best 11 shots on 16 attempts, killing the Pistons in the paint.
Afterward, highly regarded Pistons center Andre Drummond liked what he saw from the hard-charging Hill: “He runs around, rebounds and plays hard, so it was like playing a clone of myself.”
Kaman and Hill obviously bring decidedly different styles. Hill punishes inside and a scraps for everything. He delivers the hustle plays a team like the Lakers, especially without Bryant, must have to win games. On many nights, L.A. will be outmanned by more talented teams and often the difference between winning and losing will come down to elbow grease.
The 7-foot Kaman, on a one-year, $3.2 million deal with the Lakers, is more finesse and can extend out of the paint with a good mid-range jumper. He’s not a superb defender, but will get his share of blocks and rebounds. Hill, though, adds a fierceness and routinely launches his body to secure rebounds or loose balls, or what are often referred to as 50/50 balls, plays that are up for grabs and will either end the opponent’s possession or prolong his team’s possession.
Hill’s offensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of offensive rebounds a player gets while on the floor) is 18.1 percent compared to 8.3 percent for Kaman. Hill grabs 61.5 percent of his team’s offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. Kaman gets to 34.6 percent. Hill has nearly doubled Kaman this season in second-chance points and points in the paint.
“He’s a bruiser down there,” Lakers point guard Steve Blake told the the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
Hill hasn’t had a stellar start to his career. The former Arizona Wildcat is on his third team in now his fifth season. Drafted eighth overall in 2009 by the Knicks, New York traded him later that season to Houston. He didn’t earn much more playing time with the Rockets, who traded him to the Lakers in March 2012 for Derek Fisher and a 2014 first-round draft pick.
Hill showed flashes early last season, but was lost for the season after 29 games to a hip injury that required surgery.
Only now are the Lakers starting to see what Hill might be. That’s great news for L.A. Perhaps bad news for Kaman.