May 8, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers shooting guard George Hill (3) shoots the ball against the Orlando Magic during game five in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeated Orlando 105-87. Mandatory Credit: Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE
50 GP 25.5 MP .442 FG% .367 3P% .778 FT% 3.0 TRB 2.9 AST 1.0 TO 9.6 PPG
Finally out from under the cap space dilemma that had thrown the Pacers into NBA's purgatory for the better part of a decade, Larry Bird opted to forego the 2011 Draft and add more a more veteran presence by trading their first round selection, Kawhi Leonard, to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Broad Ripple and IUPUI's own George Hill. The move prepared the Pacers for a greater chance of immediate success in an attempt to ride off their momentum from last postseason.
Hill struggled through a bit of a slow start before his game took hold in a tough win over Toronto and aiding a huge play on a questionable kick ball against the Warriors, but as he began to work on playing as more of a point guard than his natural shooting position, he was injured with a stress fracture in his ankle against the Nets, sidelining for three weeks. Despite bringing Hill in with long term plans, the Pacers also failed to reach an agreement with Hill on an extension during the season, opening him up in the free agency market.
But with so much of the season remaining, extending Hill on the amount they had seen would've been a bit foolhardy for the conservative Pacers, but upon his return, Hill began to shine, not only rattling off six straight double figure games, but looking more comfortable in running the offense, while the addition of Leandro Barbosa began to open up questions about whether or not Hill would be better suited for the starting lineup over Darren Collison.
With the team's stability as the season progressed, there was little reason to upset the balance, as the bench routinely helped to salvage slow starts from the starting unit and Hill's play proved a big part of the bench's success. When Collison sustained a groin injury, however, the door was suddenly opened, welcoming George Hill into the starting unit.
While the team's success was undeniable (they enjoyed a seven game winning streak with Hill in the starting lineup amidst the team's 11-1 stretch to start April), with Hill's level of play being a huge part in that, there were some underlying concerns that seemed silly to harp on with each successive game. Most glaring was the bench's sudden decline. The payoff was the starting unit cruising with fast starts to suddenly enter a desolate stretch with the bench. Much of that was with A.J. Price running the point, but given Hill's propensity to scoring, relying on Collison to make the same kind of plays Hill made with the second unit may have been a little much.
The other concern came with the disappearance of Paul George offensively. With Hill in the starting lineup, George's field goal attempts plummeted, as even the "point guard" Hill seemed to take up too much of Paul's court space so to speak, but even though this too leveled out as the season drew to a close, the two didn't seem to make a great pair on the floor.
With the postseason opening against a short-handed Orlando team, the Magic were left searching for a reliable scorer who could dent the Pacers, and when Hill, despite having been an upgrade from Collison in the regular season defensively, was unable to keep Jameer Nelson in front of him at most times, there were some notable concerns with Hill despite him offering a counter punch on the offensive end. The Pacers remained dominate with the starters, but the bench sans Hill continued to squander the fast starts.
The concerns with Hill were of little consequence as the Pacers pulled through, but outshone by Collison, who played perhaps the best basketball of his career. However, as the series with Miami began, higher level basketball would need to be played. Unfortunately, once Miami adjusted against Hill and Collison, the PG tandem was unable to really gain focus. Despite averaging just one TO a game as a starter, Hill's turnovers ballooned up to 2.7 per game in the 6 game series.
Ironically, 9 of those came in the two wins, but a big part of Indiana's struggles in the final three games came because Hill couldn't get quality looks and was unable to attack the fronting Miami defense to involve Roy Hibbert and David West to the point where they could each carry the load for the Pacers. The end result was the disappointing three game losing streak, not without numerous double digit leads to start games, the lack of consistency from the bench Hill was a part of proved to be too much to overcome.
In Hill's defense, despite personal feelings regarding his promotion to the starting lineup, he played exceptionally well once he got the starting job. From a player perspective, it was a move that was due to be made, though it wasn't necessarily a move that made the Pacers leagues better than they already were. The weaker schedule to open the April month could have been a contributing factor, but Hill was still tremendous.
In other facets, Hill gave the Pacers a dynamic they'd been missing in recent years. Hill wasn't afraid in bigger moments and came up quite a few times when the Pacers needed a push. Hill's knack for sticking a big three wasn't uncommon.
Regardless of Hill's quality play, his abilities as a point guard who could actually lead an offense were up and down. He played the part beautifully at times, but others, he seemed to settle into being a scoring guard when the Pacers starting unit could benefit more from a point guard not looking to score. Paul George's disappearance offensively when Hill became the starter wasn't an accidental development given every starter averaged double shot figures except for Paul as the season drew to a close. Essentially, if the Pacers want Hill over Collison, Hill's struggles in the postseason against the elite talent of Miami proves that they need an upgrade to compete at a higher level.
And the Future
Without signing the extension, Hill will be a restricted free agent this summer, opening up the possibility that the Pacers got a great deal, but whiffed on the long term portion of it. Hill was brought in with every intention of retaining, sure, but if the market dictates Hill at a premium the Pacers won't be willing to match (especially with the same issue cropping up for Roy Hibbert), the Pacers may have made a crucial error in their team building by making a short term move for a long term plan.
Hill is certainly replaceable; that shouldn't be the biggest issue. What should be the biggest issue, however, is that Indiana would've essentially traded their last truly valuable first round pick away for a one year rental. Kawhi Leonard played exceptionally well in San Antonio, but it's hard to guarantee if he was even on Indiana's radar. But with players like Kenneth Faried, Marshon Brooks, and Iman Shumpert still on the board when the Pacers traded Leonard for Hill, the quality and value of player they lost could be the biggest blow given Indiana's wish to watch their cap space wisely.
Hill will return assuming the deal will be within reason, but given Hill's value to a team that is working to get to Indiana's level, the possibility of not seeing Hill back in Indiana will remain a very real possibility.