In a February victory over the Chicago Bulls last season, George Hill recorded 22 points and 6 assists. After the game, Mark Monteith from Pacers.com asked him if he was starting to feel more comfortable playing the point guard position. Hill responded by stating, "A little bit." He later added, "I’m reluctant to play the one, I’m happy with it, I’m learning, but there’s still some two in my body."
In college at IUPUI, Hill was a shooting guard. In San Antonio, Hill was a shooting guard (As a percentage of the Spurs total minutes in his final season in San Antonio, Hill played 28% of the team's minutes at point guard, and 25% of the team's minutes at shooting guard). In Indiana, Hill is now almost exclusively a point guard (As a percentage of the Pacers total minutes last season, he played 63% of the team's minutes at point guard). But should he be? In the past, Monteith has described Hill as the "reluctant point guard." In a player review of Hill’s 2012-2013 season, Monteith wrote the following about Hill:
"George Hill qualifies as a good point guard, but he'd rather not.
He'd rather be a good shooting guard.
The 6-foot-2 Indianapolis native is stuck playing a position outside his comfort zone, thanks to his size and skill set, but gets a reprieve now and then when he plays alongside another point guard – in the instance of last season, D.J. Augustin.
It will be interesting to see where his career goes from here. Does Hill learn to love being a point guard? Does he get to slide over to shooting guard? Does he eventually become a backup at both positions? He's paid like a starting point guard, so that seems to be his fate for now."
Listen carefully to the terminology used by Monteith and Hill with regards to him playing the one: reluctant, rather not, gets a reprieve, and outside his comfort zone. So, should playing the point really be Hill’s fate for now?
How does Hill compare to other starting point guards in the league?
In the USA Today Sports 2013-2014 NBA preview issue, Hill ranks #23 in their list of top 50 point guards. The issues ranks Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Brandon Jennings, Ricky Rubio, Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, Monta Ellis, Goran Dragic, Jeff Teague, Steve Nash, Tyreke Evans, and Jose Calderon all ahead of Hill.
According to ESPN stats and info, Hill ranked 25th in assists per game last season with 4.5 apg (Top 3: Rajon Rondo (11.1apg), Chris Paul (9.7apg), and Greivis Vasquez (9.0apg). Hill ranked 27th in terms of number of double-double games recording only 3 in the 2012-2013 season (Top 3: Chris Paul (31), Greivis Vasquez (25), and Russell Westbrook (23). In terms of PER, player efficiency rating, George Hill ranked 23rd with a PER of 16.59 (Top 3: Chris Paul (26.43), Russell Westbrook (23.98), and Tony Parker (23.10).
Is Hill more effective as a shooting guard?
Since he played very sparingly at the two with Augustine at point guard last season, statistical comparisons for Hill at point guard versus at shooting guard are limited for Hill when strictly evaluating his production in Indiana. Therefore, it is necessary to look back at the 2010-2011 season in San Antonio for evidence.
In the 2010-2011 season, the top 5 man floor unit in terms of winning % that included George Hill, was Parker (PG), Hill (SG), Ginobili (SF), Bonner (PF), and Duncan (C) at 75%. Nevertheless, in all, the stats concerning Hill’s production by position for the Spurs are not very conclusive. When evaluating his 48-Minute Production by Position advanced stats, Hill recorded slightly more points and, obviously, more assists at the point guard position. Conversely, he recorded more rebounds and less turnovers at the shooting guard position. Overall, his PER was higher at the one (17.7) than at the two (12.5). However, it should be noted that Hill was playing against higher caliber opponents when he was a shooting guard alongside the likes of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, than when he played point guard (as back-up to Tony Parker) with the reserve unit, thus higher productivity should be expected.
So should Hill be a point guard or shooting guard for the Pacers?
Certainly, the Pacers starting line-up has experienced a lot of success with Hill at point guard. Last season, the Pacers starting unit was one of the league’s top 5 man floor units in terms of plus/minus recording a whopping +288.
Hill definitely took care of the ball for the Pacers in the 2012-2013 season. In terms of assist to turnover ratio, he ranked 6th amongst all point guards.
Nevertheless, the Pacers biggest weakness last season was their offense. In fact, at the point of the season that Mark Monteith asked Hill if he was adjusting to life as a point guard, the Pacers offense ranked 29th in the league. The Pacers finished the season having the league’s 25th ranked offense. Adding insult to injury, the Pacers ranked 23rd in scoring, 26th in FG%, 22nd in 3PT%, and 28th in assists. Of course, a lot of factors contributed to the Pacers poor offensive showing in the 2012-2013 season. For instance, the team had to adjust to the absence of Danny Granger. Roy Hibbert spent a lot of the season recovering from a wrist injury. Oftentimes, the second unit struggled to score. Some blame could even be placed on Coach Vogel’s offensive system. Even so, offense begins with a team’s point guard. It is not surprising that the Pacers were almost dead last in assists per game when George Hill, their point guard and top playmaker, averaged only 4.7 assists per game.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers offensive struggles were highlighted by the Heat’s swarming defense. It was not an uncommon occurrence in that series for Indiana’s backcourt to struggle to accurately make an entry pass into the post, effectively swing the ball around the perimeter, or aggressively put pressure on perimeter defenders. For these reasons, it is not surprising that the outcomes of those postseason games against the Heat typically correlated with the Pacers’ backcourt production. Therefore, to a certain extent, the team went as Hill went. When George Hill could not play in Game 5 of the semi-finals against the New York Knicks –the Pacers lost. When Hill scored one point and recorded only four assists against the Heat in Game 5 against the Heat – the Pacers lost. Certainly, the Pacers offensive attack, lack of assists, and Hill’s inconsistent production against Miami were not the only reason the Pacers failed to make it to the NBA Finals. The bench, turnovers, and inexperience were all major contributing factors. That being said, if their offense does not improve this year, it will, once again, be difficult for the team to raise a banner in Bankers Life Fieldhouse based on elite defense alone.
How do the Pacers improve their offense? Is it a matter of changing their system? Will the new bench be enough? Or, would the Pacers benefit from having a true point guard?
How much would the Pacers offense improve if they had someone play the point guard position that had always played there, instead of someone learning on the job? How much even better could George Hill be if he got to play the position that was in his comfort zone? The same position he excelled at in college and helped earn him a spot in San Antonio.
Hill plays as a starting point guard, and he is paid as a starting point guard, but as Monteith wrote – he would rather not be. Be that as it may, Monteith is likely correct that playing the point is Hill’s fate for now. They acquired C.J. Watson as a back-up for Hill, not as a starting caliber point guard. With the Pacers so near to the luxury line, the only way Hill will be shifted to shooting guard is if Granger is moved at the deadline. The Pacers are paying $8M/year for Hill to run the show next year and into the future.
Still, as long as Hill starts at point for the Pacers, he is likely to feel the same way as he did after the February victory over the Bulls: "I’m reluctant to play the one, I’m happy with it, I’m learning, but there’s still some two in my body."