Player Preview: George Hill, Changing Roles Again

(Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports) /

Since he joined the Indiana Pacers three years ago, George Hill’s role has been in flux. He spent most of his first season as the sixth man and backup to Darren Collison before usurping the tedious waterbug and finishing the 2011 season as the starter.

That offseason, the Pacers rewarded him with his current five-year, $40-million contract, committing to Hill as their starting point guard. The next season, he rewarded Indiana as a primary scoring option, setting career highs in points (14.2) and assists per game (4.7) while thriving with David West as a pick-and-pop partner.

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Last season brought another adjustment, and it proved to be Hill’s most difficult yet. With the emergences of Paul George and Lance Stephenson as wing creators, Hill was suddenly the last perimeter option for Frank Vogel. And with both West and Roy Hibbert in need of post touches, Hill feel to the team’s fifth scoring option. He struggled to pick his spots, and his aggressiveness (or lack thereof) became an issue. Coach Vogel encouraged Hill to be assertive, harping on how much better the team was when he creates, but his troubles persisted, and his per-36 point and assist numbers both fell by more than 25%, per NBA Stats.

This training camp, Vogel’s “We need George Hill” message has taken on a new sense of urgency. With PG sidelined by his infamous broken leg and Lance now doing his thing out in Charlotte, the Pacers need Hill to be more assertive than ever, as expressed by the coach’s comments in this piece by Jeff Caplan.

"“[Hill]’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot… most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”"

Once again, Hill finds himself in a new role, and based on what Vogel is saying, expect the new George Hill to look a lot like the old George Hill.

That will start with simply having the ball in his hands more again.

As last season wore on, Hill became an increasingly extreme version of a caretaker point guard, often doing nothing but initiating the offense before relocating to a spot and standing there for 15 second. Of the top 25 players in passes per game according to SportVU, Hill was 19th in the league at 56.9, right between Isaiah Thomas and Ty Lawson. The difference was that those players average 13.0 and 18.2 assist opportunities per game, respectively; Hill’s opportunities were just 7.3, closer to the likes of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love than any of his fellow point guards.

With Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles and Solomon Hill as the other main perimeter options for Indiana this year, there’s going to be a lot less deferring on Hill’s part. He’ll once again be the primary ball handler, back to seeking out his own shot as much as setting up his teammates. Last year, Hill’s number of unassisted field goals — meaning, those he created himself — fell to 128 from; 213 the prior season. Indiana’s needs him to lift that total.

While he’s never been relentless driver to the rim, Hill has never been afraid of the lane either. He’s a careful prodder — last year, becoming a prober — with a nifty, effective floater from 10 feet in and strong finishing numbers at the rim. That repertoire, combined with his three-point shot, made Hill an ideally suited partner for David West in the two-man game a few years ago. It wasn’t uncommon to see West set a ball-screen for Hill, then re-screen, then re-screen again if they liked the look. The pair’s patience made it a dependable staple for Indiana.

Once again, Hill finds himself in a new role, and based on what Vogel is saying, expect the new George Hill to look a lot like the old George Hill.

Unfortunately, thanks to preseason basketball, West is now sidelined with a badly sprained ankle, meaning Hill’s responsibility will grow a little more.

If West misses time, it will be a big blow to the team, but it’s also a blow to Hill’s individual game. He will have to get used to three new starting teammates in his surrounding cast, including a new pick-and-roll partner in Luis Scola. Skill-set-wise, a threesome of Stuckey, Miles, and Scola looks like a poor man’s version of Pacers’ pre-breakout trio of Stephenson/George/West from two years ago — a VERY poor man’s version.

In that sense, Hill’s used to working with a slasher, a shooter and a mid-range big man, and his versatility will help fill the leftover gaps in the Pacers’ offense. Stuckey’s ability to take the ball to the hoop will take some of the load off Hill, but he’ll be counted on to be the primary playmaker for the offense, straddling the line between swishing and dishing depending on what the Pacers need from him on any given night. The old George Hill did that super-effectively in 2013, when he led the team in true shooting and effective FG percentages, offensive rating and assists. That would be a great place to start for the new George Hill.

At this point, Hill is obviously used to new roles. However, the circumstances surrounding this year’s change are much more negative than his team-first roles on successful clubs in the past. He’ll be playing on the least-talented team of his career and shouldering the bulk of the offensive responsibility — the exact opposite of last year..

Once Stephenson walked, Indiana was already counting on Hill to bounce back this season; that need became paramount after George’s injury. In what will be a transitional season for the Pacers every day, they’re looking for silver linings, and a good season from Hill would be at the top of that list, especially with three years and $24 million left on his contract.

It would be a huge boost to Indiana’s present and future if Hill can live up to his “Indiana George” nickname in a very big way.

– Adam Lukach (follow @lucheezy)

Relevant GIF

George Hill
George Hill /

If you plan to follow the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers, you’ll need a sense of humor. Laugh so you don’t cry. And what’s funnier than Archer? Nothing. Nothing is the answer.

Key 2013-14 Stats

  • 10.3 points per game
  • 3.5 assists per game
  • 51.9% eFG%
  • 36.5% shooting from 3-point range

One Key Question

Can George Hill strike a balance between attacking and creating?

The Situation: George Hill has always seemed to be an either/or guy; either he’s running the offense or he’s being aggressive. We’ve yet to see an extended stretch of him successfully walking the line and mixing both in.

Best-case Scenario: With no “go to” player that needs the ball every possession like in the past (Danny Granger/Paul George), Hill gets the green light to look for his shot. After some outings skew too far one way or the other, Hill finds a happy balance and becomes the threat at the point guard position that the Pacers always imagined he would, putting opposing defenses on their heels when he has the ball.

Worst-case Scenario: Hill’s decline in aggression last season was a sign of things to come, and he remains a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body, throwing the easiest passes available and never figuring out when to score/when to initiate. This leads Vogel to give him time at the shooting guard spot, where he is undersized and will struggle to defend on many nights.

Prediction: Hill shows a rapid change in the first few weeks, attacking the rim more often with his newly added floater but struggles to finish off the dribble, throwing up wild shots and picking up offensive push off fouls. Vogel starts giving him 5-10 minutes at shooting guard when the opposing 2 is non-threatening or smallish, and Hill continues to be 2 different players, failing to find a balance.

– William Furr (follow @William_Furr)

How He Scores

GeorgeHill /

The above spiderweb chart shows, via Synergy Sports, what types of possessions lead to his points in 2013-14. (created by Tim Donahue — follow



George Hill ate off spot-ups and pick-and-rolls last year. There is reason to believe he will be running even more pick-and-rolls this season, especially if the offense tanks and Frank Vogel goes back to clearing things out for Hill and West as a security blanket. But he might lose some of his spot-up opportunities, with no Paul George or Lance Stephenson around to drive and kick it out to his waiting hands on the weakside. Ditto for the cuts — but if he can be aggressive, we might see more isolation attempts.

George Hill Shot
George Hill Shot /

His 2013-14 shot chart, via Nylon Calculus

George Hill had a near-ideal shot distribution for this new efficiency-crazed NBA world we live in. He laid off the midrange and even finished rather well around the hoop. Word on the street is that he is working hard this offseason to improve his balance and shooting, so if he can translate that into a better 3-point accuracy — especially from the top of the key — there is reason to believe he’ll have a big year.

Sweatin’ Bullets

sweatin bullets
sweatin bullets /

Sweatin’ Bullets is an 8p9s tradition started by Jonny Auping in which we offer standalone facts, observations, and commentary, often devoid of context or fairness.

  • Lance Stephenson (4.7) averaged more assists per 36 minutes than George Hill (3.9) last year. That isn’t shocking. But so did Donald Sloan (4.6) and Evan Turner (4.0).
  • George Hill is going to shoot 44.2% this season. I say this confidently not because I can predict the future. No, I say this because Hill shot 44.2%, 44.3%, and 44.2% in each of the last three seasons, respectively.
  • George Hill is going to shoot 36.6% from 3-point range this year. I say this not because … OK, you know where this is going: Last three seasons, Hill shot 36.7%, 36.8%, and 36.5% from 3, respectively. And 36.6% is next in the sequence.

Further Reading