George Hill absorbed a lot of criticism last season, both fairly and unfairly. In terms of production, the guard had his worst statistical season as a professional.
Hill averaged a paltry 11.6 points per 36 minutes, easily the lowest of his career. His also posted career lows, per 36, across the board in terms of shot attempts, free throw attempts, and usage rate.
These numbers sum up how Hill’s lackluster season was both due to design and passivity.
He was relegated to a spectator role at times as Paul George became the offense’s centerpiece and Lance Stephenson turned into the team’s most dynamic player with the ball in his hands. This was something that happened naturally and then became the game plan.
But Hill also compounded how little impact he had by being submissive. He was overly content standing around; rather than attacking consistently when opportunities presented themselves, he gave the ball up too willingly.
For long stretches, he stopped playing with the confident aggression that had made him such a fan — and Popovich — favorite earlier in his career. In comparison to point guards of recent Pacers past, Hill became less Jarrett Jack, and more Earl Watson.
I mean, it wasn’t that bad.
The degree to which Hill was criticized by fans was comical.
Honestly, we didn’t even write about his struggles all that much last season. When the team was dominant early on, Hill’s issues seemed trivial. And when the team became its collapse, Hill’s issues were something like the fifteenth largest factor.
The one major George Hill breakdown I did — on the eve of the playoffs, urging the need for him to be more aggressive — concluded thusly: “[Hill] can’t just stand there fiddling away in the corner why Rome burns.”
Despite that criticism, Hill still picked his spots at times throughout the year, and had made many positive contributions. His career-high 37 points against Portland cannot be ignored, and that game was simply him doing for 40 minutes what he usually would only do for 5 per night.
The real problem, more than anything technical or in terms of decision making, was just that he didn’t look like George Hill out there most of the time; the downgrade was subtle even while the drop in production was glaring (see chart).
The numbers back up the fact that he wasn’t so much worse last year as he was just less present; his shooting percentages in Indiana have been uncannily consistent: 44.2%, 44.3%, and 44.2% over the past three seasons, respectively (including 36.7%, 36.8%, and 36.5% from 3-point range).
Hill knows that he needs to be more aggressive next season as well as anyone.
And that’s why he is busting his ass this summer. Scott Agness recently spoke with Hill for Vigilant Sports about what sounds like a grueling offseason regiment.
After a disappointing 2013-14 season for Hill, perhaps his toughest as a pro, he trimmed his list of activities, stayed in Indiana, and locked in on what he needed to do.
“It’s been hell,” Hill said candidly this month during a 15-minute conversation as kids at his basketball camp paused for lunch. “I’ve been kicked out of the gym a couple of times because I’ve been in there too much. Just staying in the gym, getting my body right to put on a little pounds, just getting my shot back right, working on ball handling, pick-and-rolls and things like that. Just trying to become a better player.”
Much of what he has worked on is movement shooting — off the bounce, finishing at the rims, and floaters. It’s mostly work to fine-tune and be more consistent rather than adding new elements.
“He’s doing it all,” said coach Frank Vogel. “He’s doing stuff in the morning with Yoga and some other stuff like that, and then he’s shooting for an hour and a half, and then he’s lifting. It’s a very, very extensive offseason routine, one that stacks up against any I’ve seen since I’ve been a coach. And usually when that happens, the guy comes out and has a great year.”
More on Hill’s summer:
With his close friend and carpool mate, Paul George, suffering a broken leg, and Lance Stephenson signing with Charlotte, more will be asked and needed from Hill this upcoming season.
“I think he wants to be a strong point for this team,” Vogel said. “… I just think he wants to bring everything he possibly can to the table.”
Hill has sat down for hours with longtime assistant coach Dan Burke to study tape of opposing guards. They would break it down, see why the guards were successful and tools to defend them. (The team is finishing the installation of a new video software system, which should improve the picture quality, ease, and functionality. They are also switching to Apple Computers. That has Vogel excited.)
One of Hill’s biggest takeaways from his time on [Tim] Duncan’s team was his work ethic. Duncan was the first guy in, last one out everyday and worked harder than anyone. And he had a firm grasp of the basic fundamentals. Hill is now exhibiting some of those traits.
“The best summer that I’ve ever seen him had, in terms of work ethic,” Vogel said of Hill with a big grin. “He’s over the top right now with the hours that he’s putting in, the commitment, the movement shooting that he’s doing.
“He’s working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work, and that started the day after the season ended.”
George took a few vacations, and made his annual appearance in China with PEAK. But Indy is where he’s spent the majority of the summer.
“I just wanted a consistent gym to get into with consistent guys that can train me, and can rebound (for me),” Hill explained. “Knowing when I go to Texas – South Padre Island and San Antonio — sometimes you don’t have a rebounder or the gyms to get into. Just staying down here this whole summer so I know that I have the Pacers’ weight lifting coach, I have the Pacers’ interns to rebound, I have the coaches here knowing my game the whole year and knowing what I need to work on.”
Hill said his weight is fluctuating between 190 and 195 pounds. He hopes to weigh in at about 200 pounds and maintain it during the season.
200 pounds? Ha. I struggle to believe he has ever even hit 190. This guy is skinny as all get out. Still, his commitment sounds real, and hitting the weights hard should pay off, strength-wise, even if his genetics prevent him from keeping on much weight.
And after all this, Pacers fans can still complain about the output next season if they aren’t satisfied. But it will be hard to argue that Hill isn’t doing everything in his power to help make up for the loss of his two more-prominent perimeter mates.
(Note: This article was updated after original publication to include a video of George Hill training this summer. The video was created by a company that did not influence or sponsor the creation of this post.)