Solomon Hill Proving Himself Worthy of Starting Role

Nov 10, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Solomon Hill (44) waits to check into the game against the Utah Jazz at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Utah 97-86. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Solomon Hill (44) waits to check into the game against the Utah Jazz at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Utah 97-86. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

A month ago, Solomon Hill was an after thought even as injuries started to pile up and it was clear he was destined for significant minutes with this year’s Indiana Pacers.

Here is a list of things the 8P9S staff said in an e-mail chain right before the season started.

  • doesn’t look like an nba quality rotation guy
  • he’s a “3 and D” guy that can’t yet shoot threes and might not be a good defender
  • total lack of offense from beyond 10 feet
  • just needs time on the court
  • Sam Young is a veteran that Hill could potentially resemble
  • I thought he’d be better, honestly
  • a little too small for his skill set and doesn’t shoot well enough to stay on the floor
  • still lacking aggressiveness, assertiveness and focus
  • looks like what he always was: the 26th pick in a garbage draft

On behalf of the entire staff, it looks like we’re wrong so far this season as Hill is a 12 points a night, 35% 3-point shooting, at worst average defender, and solid member of the starting line up. It is still early in the season but if you look at the list of slights above, you’ll see “just needs time on the court” was the only accurate assessment. I will say to the staff’s credit, all those statements were true when they were written. Hill hadn’t hit a 3-pointer in the preseason and just looked like a warm body on both ends of the floor. Even as the season started he wasn’t drawing too much attention even from the most die-hard Pacers fans. But after two games of being a non-factor, Hill had his first of six straight double-digit games, highlighted by a 28 point outpouring against the Washington Wizards.

One reason for the pessimist before the season was the fact he wasn’t barely seen last season. Solomon Hill has already played more minutes this season than he did a year ago and is looking impressive going against starters in the NBA, but last year in his limited minutes there wasn’t a lot to talk about. This season we’ve gotten to see as he’s played more minutes, he’s gotten much more comfortable on the floor and has went from being a passive second or third option to a player who isn’t afraid to create his own shot.

In the first two games season we saw a lot of Solomon Hill standing around, but smartly moving into open spaces so he could knock down shots. He was very passive and just trying to integrate into the offense.

A passive, but smart Solomon Hill. /

But after those two games we began to see a more aggressive and active Solomon Hill. With the exception of the Nov. 1 game against Atlanta (8 FGA) and the Nov. 5th game against Washington (9 FGA), Hill has taken at least 10 shots a game. He didn’t just start chucking up more 3-pointers either. He began to take the ball and work his way to the basket, making “legitimate NBA plays” as Jon Washburn calls them. During that four game stretch he scored in double-digits (as part of a six game streak) and started to look competent as a defender. These were the games where we began to see him turn the corner.

A “legitimate NBA play” /

If Solomon Hill develops into a regular contributor for the Indiana Pacers, the Nov. 8 game against the Washington Wizards will be the game we cite as his turning point. Roy Hibbert left the game early with an injury but Solomon Hill was one of the Pacers players who picked up the slack to keep the game competitive. Hill scored 28 points in the loss but showed us the first evidence of any sort that he might me a rotation-worthy player in the NBA. He made shots from beyond the arc, in transition, driving, and just about any way you could imagine. Two plays in particular stood out to me in the game, the first being this steal/rebound that he turned into a potential old-fashioned 3-point play.

HillHustleFS /

The second coming later in the game Solomon Hill was also aware of his defender’s positioning and having his backed turned to the ball-handler, making this quick and simple cut back for an easy bucket.

SoloBackCutFS /

This more aggressive version of Solomon Hill has paid dividends in more than just points. He’s being fouled 5.2 times a game now and spending more and more time at the foul line. He’s limiting his own mistakes to two turnovers a game and is working to improve his career 76% free throw shooting in hopes of becoming a more useful part of the Pacers rotation. He isn’t overly reliant on his mid-range shots, but he can hit them when those shots are available. It is hard to try to pull a lot from his numbers so far this season as one game can sway number heavily in one direction or the other, but so far he’s been shooting near 40% on the season. That’s nothing amazing, but it isn’t bad either. All of these are just smart parts of the many actions of Solomon Hill, but there all good signs that he’s growing as an NBA player. I can’t tell you a single thing Solomon Hill did in the 226 minutes he played last season for the Pacers, but in only 371 he’s clocked in so far this season he’s made an impact for Indiana.

Solo 11:14
Solo 11:14 /

The Pacers have either seemed to hit big or miss big in recent drafts, but Solomon Hill right now is on the hit side. It is really too early to know if he’ll stay on that side of things, but he’s checking off a lot of boxes I want to see from a player taking over a starter’s role. He’s being smart about his aggressiveness and forcing the other team to foul him or allow each buckets when he goes to the rim. He’s struggled to hit his 3-pointers in recent games, but that should get back towards his career average of 33% as he has more favorable match-ups than he has in the last five games. That’s not to say there aren’t big bumps in the road ahead like his 8.3% shooting night against Miami, but so far he’s shown an ability to bounce back from ugly nights in his short time as a starter. Another thing to remember is he’s doing this against NBA starters, not against reserves. This isn’t a case where a player will struggle once he has to deal with front line players like we’ve seen countless players do against fellow backups. What Solomon Hill has to prove is his value in comparison to the rest of Indiana’s guards.

With all this we have to remember that the line-up will drastically change in the coming weeks as fellow guards George Hill, Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Watson, and C.J. Miles return. Where will that leave Solomon Hill? I’m not going to pretend to know, but I think we’ll start to see Solomon Hill come off the bench with a healthier set of guards available. The rest of those guards are better at setting up the rest of the offense than Solomon Hill has proven at just 1.2 assists a game. Maybe he’s just not passing because Indiana needs someone to score, but that’s an awfully big assumption to make. People have thrown out Lance Stephenson comparison’s, but even if all other things were equal, Solomon Hill would have be more of a distributor to fulfill that role. Plus I haven’t seen Solomon Hill slap himself. As far as we know Stuckey will be the starter at shooting guard and C.J. Watson will be the second unit’s point guard. At this point I’d imagine Solomon Hill is fighting to knock C.J. Miles out of the rotation. Not the struggling Miles that was dealing with migraines, but the one that is a proven scorer in the past. But that competition could be good for both Miles and Solomon Hill. The second-year player will develop under and grow even more, or be forced to ride the bench as he did last year. The two biggest improvements he needs to make is finishing at the basket as he’s only shooting 40% near the basket. That has to change, but I don’t see him going 0 of 7 from inside 8 feet, like he did against Miami, too often.It will be worth watching to see how he plays with better shooters on the floor when someone like David West returns to help spread out the floor more. Another criticism I have is that Solomon Hill also must be better than a 76% free throw shooter. He you are going to the line and shooting 6.8 times per a game, those need to be closer to guaranteed points.

But we don’t know what’s going through coach Frank Vogel’s mind now. Maybe Solomon Hill has earned a spot in future rotations or maybe Vogel see’s a glaring weakness that hasn’t been exposed yet and still needs developed for Solomon Hill to be reliable. We don’t know what the future holds for Solomon Hill and the Indiana Pacers, so instead of trying to figure out exactly who he is and who he should replace, let’s just watch him develop. Even this season it is exciting to watch him show us more of his game that we had seen before. Let’s not focus on these 11 games too much and let’s wait to see how he integrates himself into future line ups. He’s going to have to show he can compliment his teammates and not just a top scoring option on an injury-riddled team. From a usage rate standpoint that shouldn’t be too hard with his 19.3 USG%. There are still a lot of moving parts with this Indiana Pacers team so trying to nail down anyone’s role is a fool’s errand right now.

We don’t know what his role will become down the road, but he’s showing us many signs that he deserves playing time in Indiana’s future if he can keep playing this way.