George Hill’s New Role on the Pacers
When looking at George Hill’s stats this season it’s easy to wonder if something is wrong. His scoring per game is down (10.4 ppg this year compared to 14.2 last season). He’s averaging over an assist less per game as well (3.3 against 4.7). Hill was never considered to be Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo and isn’t even referred to as a point guard by his own team, but still, that’s a noticeable drop.
So, what’s up with the Pacers’ hometown hero? Has he regressed?
The answer: no.
In fact, George’s decreased numbers are all part of the Pacers’ plan. Hill still plays a very important, albeit different role than a season ago. Here’s how he arrived to his new responsibilities and what it means for him and the Pacers going forward.
The first reason for Hill’s lower production is simple: the ball is in his hands less. This season, he’s only using 15.8% of Indiana’s possessions compared to 18.8% in 2012-13, according to NBA.com. The ball has been instead dominated by the Pacers’ pair of stud wing players, Lance Stephenson and Paul George. Stephenson’s usage percentage has grown markedly since last season, from 15.1% to 19.4%, and George has seen a similar bump, going from 23.5% to 28.1%.
This year’s Pacers are relying on Stephenson and George to create for others, and clearly, as shown by Indiana’s play, it’s working. Despite entering the league with a reputation of being a prolific scorer, Stephenson sure can get his teammates involved, evidenced by him currently averaging a career-high 5.2 dimes per night.
Because Stephenson is more of a natural creator than Hill and Paul George is a much a better scorer, the Pacers want the offense to run through them instead of Hill. Because of this Hill’s role in the offense had to change.
George Hill 2.0
The 2013-14 version of Hill can now be categorized as more of a “Three and D” guy, meaning his priority is hitting outside shots and playing lock-down defense.
Hill has long been a reliable three-point shooter (37.4% for his career) and now, more than ever, the Pacers want him dialing it up from deep. Almost half (45%) of his shot attempts have come from beyond the arc, compared to 40.5% a season ago. And when he gets a look at the hoop, Hill makes teams pay, knocking down 38.3% of his threes this season. That number is even better on catch-and-shoot attempts from behind the arc, when he hits 42.6% of his attempts, according to NBA.com’s Sport Vu stats.
Now that Hill has the ball in his hands less often, he is tasked with spacing the floor effectively and getting open so when Stephenson/George drive the lane and draws a double-team, or West/Hibbert are doubled in the post, he is ready to shoot off a kick-out pass — or draw the defender and make the extra pass. That’s why when you look at Hill’s shot chart you will notice the majority of his three-point attempts are from the wings and middle of the floor. This is where Frank Vogel wants him so he can take advantage of his superior long-range accuracy.
George Hill Shooting 2013-14
Now, onto the “D” portion of Hill’s responsibilities. Hill’s defensive rating of 93.2 this year is the best its been since he put on a Pacer uniform — more than three points better than last year’s stellar defensive season.
Is this a product of a better Pacers defense? Sure, but I believe Hill is able to focus more on his defense because of his lessened offensive responsibilities. Besides draining threes, his priority is putting the clamps on opposing point guards, and now that he doesn’t have to exert as much energy on the offensive end of the floor, he is using it to hassle whoever his assignment is for the night. Or, as he put it after shutting down the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, “cut the head off the snake.”
What It Means Going Forward
This transition had to happen, and surely Frank Vogel is glad it did. The ceilings for Stephenson and George are much higher than Hill’s and the Pacers are increasingly dangerous when these two wizards are given more freedom. This isn’t a slight on Hill. Those two are simply more talented — something of which I’m sure even he would agree — and now that they are unlocking their potential, Hill must take on even more of a supporting role than before.
This is something he did in San Antonio under Gregg Popovich, who once referred to Hill as his favorite player. Now, as Indiana has put together a team that has similar talent to those devastating Spurs’ teams, Hill is again taking on more of a supporting role.
But, don’t think for a second that Hill isn’t valuable to the game plan. As the Heat’s recent success has shown, you need more than your two best players to make plays in order to win a championship. The Pacers are counting on Hill’s defense and sharpshooting — not to mention his big-game experience and steady leadership — to help take down the reining champs.
**All stats from NBA.com