Hill has small hill to climb to achieve proper focus from the startby Javier Morales on Jul. 09, 2010, under Sports
LAS VEGAS — This city is famous for hangovers and that applied to the way Houston’s Jordan Hill began his first game of the 2010 NBA Summer League here Friday afternoon.
Hill, a 6-foot-10 center from Arizona, was extremely sluggish from the start in Houston’s 100-82 win over Phoenix at the Cox Pavilion. He was so out of sync that he had more fouls (four) than points and rebounds combined (one) toward the end of the first quarter.
“His focus and recognition needs to improve,” said Houston assistant coach Jack Sikma, a seven-time NBA All-star center who can write a book on proper footwork for a center. “The lack of focus and recognition shows up mostly on the defensive end.
“When you are defensive big, you really have to be ahead of the play and react.”
Hill, who visibly looked in a rut, picked up three fouls in a minute-span in the first quarter with either a reach-in call or a block attempt that was too late to develop. Hill picked up his fourth foul on another late attempted blocked shot attempt with 2:49 left in the first quarter (players are not disqualified here for fouls because of the scrimmage premise).
That’s when Sikma, who led the NBA in defensive rebounding twice during his illustrious career, pulled Hill aside during the ensuing timeout and gave him instruction and how to gain proper position defensively along the baseline.
“He told me to move my feet, move my feet … and stay ready when I need to shift to the help-side defensively,” Hill said. “I always lag on my man when he is on strong side and I don’t get quick enough to the help side. I have to get there quicker. I tried to focus on that in the second half and I did a better job.”
Former UA teammate Chase Budinger, now playing alongside Hill with the Rockets, also provided Hill input on the bench after the timeout.
“There are certain plays I try to bring back to his memory,” said Budinger, who struggled most of the game, scoring 10 points on 5 of 14 shooting from the field. “I know that he can roll toward the basket. I was looking for him and he didn’t roll at the right time. Stuff like that.
“I’ve learned that when you are on the bench, you keep communicating with your players.”
The learning process is the key in Hill’s development. The promising aspect of his game Friday was his immediate turnaround in the third quarter. He made 4 of 5 field-goal attempts, scored eight points and pulled down three aggressive rebounds in roughly eight minutes in the quarter.
“We’re happy with Jordan’s skill set at his position,” Sikma said. “There are times when he lost a little focus but he was able to regain it. Offensively, we are happy with his efficiency at the low post. We are actually encouraging him to attack some more.
“It’s a step-by-step process. The main thing for him is consistency and the way you become consistent is through the focus and recognition that’s necessary to be ahead of the play.”
Houston is playing Hill almost exclusively at the post in the summer league because of the acquisition of first-round draft pick Patrick Patterson, who is more suited for the power forward position. Furthermore, Sikma said the Rockets need a reliable backup to Yao Ming, who is working out after missing all of last season with a broken foot.
“We see Jordan as a 4 or a 5 (power forward or center),” Sikma said. “He needs to work on his range a little. We don’t want him to turn into an 18-foot jump shooter. He has length on the post, a good touch and if he gets bumped a little bit, he can make the shot.
“He’s not tied to the 5, but he’ll play mostly for us this week at that position to see how he can help us behind Yao.”
Hill chuckled when I asked him if he’s had that opportunity to work out against Ming, who stands 8 inches taller than Hill at 7-6.
“Oh yeah, and man, it’s a good thing,” said Hill, who finished with 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, one steal and only six fouls.
“Yao is the biggest guy I’ve worked out against. He’s a really good player, an all-star. So, basically, yeah working out with him has helped me a lot.”
Working out against Ming’s size and physicality is a benefit for Hill, who is listed at 235 pounds and could stand to gain another 10 to 15. When push came to shove in the second half against Phoenix’s aggressive post player Gani Lawal, a rookie from Georgia Tech, Hill became alert and more of a force around the basket.
“Maybe the key is to make somebody bang on him to wake him a little bit and make things happen,” Sikma said with a laugh. “The second half he improved a great deal. We’re talking young players here. If they can make adjustments within a game, that’s a positive.”
Hill has matured enough to realize he must become a self-starter.
“I love banging and playing physical,” he said. “But at the times when the other team is not physical, I still have to play on top. That’s where I have to improve the most, especially on the defensive end.”