(Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Aggressive George Hill Is the Hero Gotham Needs Right Now

In the 2013 playoffs, the Pacers were 10-1 when George Hill scored 14 or more points. When he scored 13 or fewer, they went 1-6. Numbers can be used to validate virtually any opinion, but that’s about as cut-and-dry as it comes.

Of course, the current Pacers aren’t last season’s Pacers.

Lance Stephenson was still a novelty back then rather than a reliable cog of the offense who needs the ball in his hands. And Paul George hadn’t reached the level of confidence that he eventually would during the Miami series.

Still, the fact remains that Indiana is a better team when it’s point guard is involved. No, they don’t need his numbers in the same way they did last year, but they need him to be more present than he has been of late.

All season, people have been raking Hill over the coals for his lack of output. They have a case. His per-36-minute scoring and field-goal attempts were both career lows this season, and his assist rate has plummeted from 23.4% last year to just 17.2% this season. Even his turnover rate ticked up a bit (from 10.7% last year to 11.7% this season).

Simply put, he is neither producing himself nor setting up others in a way we have come to expect.

Some of this is definitely due to poor play — or, perhaps more accurately, a lack of engagement. Particularly as the season has waned, he has often seemed to be content just drifting along the perimeter, uninvolved and disinterested in carving out places within the offense to be aggressive.

It isn’t a good look for him. At all. And it really doesn’t look like him.

We must be fair though. The other side of the coin is that this is partly just due to a natural transition of the offense out of his hands and into those of Stephenson and Paul George. There are few plays run for Hill, and he often finds his only purpose within a possession to be the pack mule who carries the ball up the court just to give it away and go stand on the wing or in the corner. He isn’t exactly Mario Chalmers — and PG and Lance are by no means LeBron and Dwyane Wade — but like the Heat, the Pacers are at their best when their uber-athletic wings are creating havoc.

Thus, some of Hill’s apparent passivity is by design. For example, here is some video showing the way in which George initiates the offense, seemingly, about half the time he brings the ball up the court.

Dribble it up, pass and head to the weakside. He does it over and over again.

Then there are all the other times when Stephenson or Paul George bring it up. In those instances, Hill may never be a primary player in a set, let alone get the rock at all.

Still, he has become too accustomed to this lot in life. It has affected his mentality and left him unable to take advantage of opportunities when they do arise. When he does catch a swing pass, all too often he isn’t ready to attack.

At his best, on the other hand, he accepts his new role as caretaker but stays coiled up and ready to pounce while actively seeking out spots to make an impact.

These two plays are great examples of him finding ways to contribute even though he is mostly an onlooker to the action.

Of course, he isn’t just a spectator. He still runs plenty of high pick and rolls, often with David West. And in the playoffs, he needs to make the most of these actions as well.

He himself will admit that he isn’t a “true” point guard, but he has a great understanding of space (certainly better than Paul George) and can use his dribble to create good angles of attack. Gregg Popovich taught him plenty of Jedi tricks. He knows how and when to probe into the middle of the court, and when he does so aggressively — forcing the defense to react and pay attention to him as a threat rather than just meekly throwing swing passes like some Floor General Eeyore — good things happen so often for the Pacers.

Look at how his activity does wonders here. He makes the entire set.

After being unable to advance into the lane after the initial pick-and-roll with Luis Scola, he tosses it out to the Argentine. But he immediately realizes that there is no catch-and-shoot chance for his teammate so he rushes back to get the ball, and quickly gets the offense moving again with another pick and roll.

This one is more dangerous to the Bobcats, and he draws more attention. Scola’s defender (Josh McRoberts) has to cut off his penetration, and isn’t able to recover quickly. Hill gets the ball back to Scola in a much better position to shoot. (Note the shot clock, too. Hill has successfully hit a pick-and-pop guy twice on a possession and 12 seconds still remain.)

Because Hill got so deep into Charlotte territory, the ‘Cats are now scrambling, with Lance Stephenson’s man rushing to prevent a Scola jumper. One more pass to the left wing and Lance has a wide-open 3.

This is just great, simple offense, and it’s all predicated on Hill understanding how to move the defense and find the open man. He didn’t get an assist here, but he’s the reason Indiana got 3 points.

Here’s another similar example.

The Pacers again get 3 points due to the fact that Hill let’s things develop naturally and doesn’t disengage after the initial action proves fruitless. He probes, resets, and — here’s the key part — doesn’t just cut away to let the others try to salvage something. He takes ownership of the possession, and stays on David West’s hip, encouraging him to give back the ball so they can give it another go.

Memphis has a tough defense to crack, and Mike Conley “ices” the second attempt at a screen and roll. Hill doesn’t force anything (as Paul George so often does). He just goes with it, drawing both defenders and making the simple (though behind-the-back) pass back to West. Zach Randolph is a bit out of sorts the whole possession, and West is finally able to catch Z-Bo off guard. Hill stays well spaced, gets the ball back yet again, then — again — doesn’t force it. Instead he just turns and fires a nice pass to an open Lance on the kick out.

This is nothing fancy; just great two-man game stuff between two veterans who have a good connection and know how to do the subtle stuff that can outfox even an excellent defense.

In the past, when Indiana has struggled to score, Hill/West screen rolls have always been a bit of a safety net. They don’t seem to use it as much of late, however, or at least it doesn’t seem to yield productive results. And that’s to the team’s detriment.

If Hill behaves like he did on this possession more often, we should see a return to the Hill/West pick-and-roll as a go-to set. Frank Vogel would be wise to rely on it more in the playoffs. When they both first arrived — and Vogel was still learning how to create NBA offense — it was always a favorite. Well, now that the team can’t find a rhythm, the coach should feed his players comfort food.

Let’s look at a few more examples of good, aggressive Hill in action.

Nothing much to this one: Just staying engaged, and not letting the Celtics off the hook with this Rajon Rondo mismatch on Evan Turner. But rather than try to force the re-post, he realizes that Rondo is distracted so he can just get all the way to the rim by himself. Simple. In the flow of the offense. Effective.

I love this one. Hill never intended to penetrate. He was just setting up the defense better so that West had more room to work after he pitched it to David. It worked wonders, as Jermaine O’Neal sags too far into the paint, and Klay Thompson cheats off of Stephenson (on the right wing/corner) too far.

Lance knows what to do — rim run — and Hibbert throws in a great seal on the Golden State big to make the whole thing super easy. Four guys working together to create points. Sure, it took some crappy Warriors’ defense, but the Pacers exploit it wonderfully with just a few nuanced fundamentals. This is Indiana offense at its best.

And how about this play — if you want to call it that. More so, we’re just looking at some good ol’ fashioned aggressive George Hill, doing his thing while freelancing. This is how he established himself in the league. He needs to remember that.

But while such freelancing is great too see, Hill doesn’t need to create everything out of nothing. Given all the threats in the Pacers’ offense these days, he may not have a ton of sets called for him, but there are some, and he needs to do a better job of being ready to attack when his number is called.

Here are three great examples

It has been a relatively boring season offensively for George Hill. Fans are underwhelmed by the numbers. Understandably. But Hill’s contributions have never been about the numbers. He has simply been the guy who can give them whatever they need.

This season, they thought they needed someone to walk the ball up and give it to their budding superstar scorer on the wing. Or to hand it off to the walking entertainment center that is Lance Stephenson.

As we got deeper and deeper into the season, however, the Pacers discovered — all too ugly — that success built through those means was illusory.

Now they need to go back to basics. Whether or not they can before it’s too late is the main question that will be answered in the postseason. And somehow, I feel like Hill is the best one to help them move back in that direction.

To do so, first and foremost they need him to stop hibernating on the weak side waiting for the catch-and-shoot opportunity he might get twice a quarter. They need him to use his best-on-team understanding of timing and space to do force subtle reactions from the defense. They need him to make more decisions and actively put the ball where it needs to go rather than just passively swinging it to someone else and hoping they know what to do with it.

Because too often, that guy on the receiving end doesn’t make anything advantageous happen. These clips, and two previous years of evidence — particularly in last year’s playoffs — have showed us that George Hill can do just that.

They need him to.

He can’t just stand there fiddling away in the corner why Rome burns.

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