What George Hill Brings to the Pacers


As I type this post, it is unclear whether or not George Hill will take the floor in Game 6 for the Indiana Pacers. The concussion that kept Hill out of Game 5 has potentially much more important consequences than any associated with the outcome of the current Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Knicks. (UPDATE: He will play.)

Still, in the immediacy of the moment, it is hard to suppress the emotional urgency of the question, “Will Hill play?” In that context, it’s worth taking some time to explore what it is that George Hill brings to this squad.

Hill’s importance to this team comes on many different levels. The one most readily apparent to even casual observers is the lack of depth at his position. D.J. Augustin has played some big games in this series, but few would argue that he isn’t a significant step down from Hill at both ends.

Beyond that, Indiana is faced with a choice between using Lance Stephenson, out of position, and Ben Hansbrough. In the 9 minutes Lance played the point in Indiana’s Game 5 loss, the Pacers managed only 74 points per 100 possessions while shooting under 30%. Ben Hansbrough is…well…Ben Hansbrough.

However, those are only the most obvious issues. They probably are not the ones that coach Frank Vogel’s Pacers have the most difficulty overcoming if Hill isn’t out there for them. To understand what Hill means to the Pacers, it helps to understand what his coach thinks a point guard is.

“A lot of people think that if you can handle the ball, you’re a point guard,” Frank Vogel said last November. The context was a discussion about using Lance Stephenson at the point, and it opened up a view into one of Vogel’s core philosophies. “Lance can really handle the basketball. A true point guard is a setup guy with the basketball, but also, you’re an orchestrator of five men.”

From there, the Pacer coach continued to expound on his ideals of a point guard. “You’re the coach on the floor,” Vogel continued. “You’re the leader. You’re not only thinking the game, calling the sets out, but you’re making sure that everybody else is in their spots. You’re initiating the offense, getting it into a flow, and that’s what differentiates between the one and the two.”

Admittedly, some of this is classic coachspeak, but it’s also what Vogel believes. These comments were made in late November, and I was the guy asking the questions. Normally, nothing could be less important than my involvement. In this case, however, I feel the need to disclose this triviality, because it was more than Vogel’s words that have stuck with me over the past few months.

Intuitively, I felt an odd shift in the discussion as Frank Vogel gave voice to those words. For no clear reason, I felt that we were no longer speaking about Lance Stephenson. Somehow, it seemed to me that we were actually speaking about George Hill. Within an explanation that was ostensibly about why Lance “is a 2,” the reasons crystallized why the Indiana Pacers as a franchise — and Frank Vogel as a coach — had committed so thoroughly to George Hill.

Over the past two seasons, the Pacers traded the rights to the impressive Kawhi Leonard, dealt away the promising Darren Collison, and committed $40 million over five years to lock up George Hill in Blue and Gold. They committed to him as their point guard, despite the doubts of many that he wasn’t really a point guard. You can include not only me among those doubters, but George Hill himself. The “hometown hero” has repeatedly expressed how big of an adjustment his new role was.

But the Pacers weren’t looking for the toolbox of a point guard. They were looking for a mind like George Hill. They were looking for his talent, married to the value of the San Antonio experience.

All of the Pacers players have bought into the team’s concept and identity. This is both a credit to the players and the organization. But, the players have different roles within the unit. Paul George and Roy Hibbert are certainly the most visible, and arguably the most talented, but in some ways they are less important than a couple of their teammates: David West and George Hill.

George and Hibbert are both team players, but their best service to the team is in doing “their thing.” They help the Pacers win by doing what they do best.

Hill and West, on the other hand, provide their best service by making sure the team is doing “its thing.” For the Pacers to contend at the highest levels, they must do “what they do.” With the possible exception of David West, no player is more pivotal in maintaining focus on their identity than George Hill.

So, in some (maybe trite) ways, when the Pacers lose George Hill, they lose themselves.

As I finish this post, Pacer P.R. director David Benner has just handed me the announcement that George Hill has been cleared to play in Game 6 by the NBA. But that fact doesn’t make it any less necessary to consider what the player — the man — means to this franchise.