When a rumor began to circulate that George Hill could be part of a trade package that would bring Rajon Rondo to Indianapolis, the same, long-term debates about his status as the team's point guard and his level of aggressiveness were, once again, rehashed. Yes, when it comes to the hometown hero, the talking points are fairly predictable and usually go as follows:
- Hill is a guard, not a point guard.
- Hill needs to play more consistently aggressive.
- Hill is a great fit for the Pacers because they do not run a ‘point guard' specific offense.
- Is Hill capable of making the right plays against the Heat's halfcourt pressure?
- The team goes how Hill goes.
Of course, it does. As readers are skimming this very article, they likely remember that even the author of this post has succumb to the same aforementioned pattern by writing a lengthy piece describing how advanced statistics speak to the fact that the Pacers' backcourt tandem serves as a barometer for the team's success. Certainly, all of these pieces can be informative, but, perhaps, it is time to stop reverting to the old, "Is he the right point guard for the Pacers?" debate, and move on to new horizons about what he actively contributes to this championship caliber team on a nightly basis.
Not much of a surprise here, right? After all, the Pacers are first in the league in terms of defensive rating and opponents points allowed. In fact, per basketball-reference, the entire starting unit ranks in the top twelve of defensive rating. Needless to say, a lot has been written about Roy Hibbert's defensive proficiency - he leads the league in total blocks and no other player can boast a lower opponent field goal percentage at the rim. Paul George's defensive prowess is also well-documented. He is an elite two-way player. He is tops in the league in terms of defensive win shares for the second season in a row, and he ranks fourth in total steals... but what about George Hill?
Coach Vogel has maintained the same firm stance about GHill since training camp. Repeatedly making the effort to state, "He's an elite point guard defender." After last Tuesday's victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Vogel had nothing but praise for the Pacers' guard, noting, "I thought what George Hill did was as special as we've seen from him all year... A special performance from him."
A "special performance" indeed.
Hill held Irving to a mere 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting (12 points below his season average). There were segments of that head-to-head match-up that were so impressive they could have been filmed for a clinic on how to play defense effectively. Of course, it should be noted here that Hill was not just a one hit wonder against Irving; he has been doing this all season. In fact, he has held Deron Williams, John Wall, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker all below their season averages this season (notably, limiting John Wall to just eight points in the Pacers' game against Washington).
What also goes unmentioned about George Hill is his unique determination to always fight over the top of screens, thus allowing Roy Hibbert to stay at home in the paint. Overall, per basketball-reference, Hill ranks eleventh in the NBA in terms of defensive rating, when comparing only point guards, he is No. 1 (allowing just 98 points per 100 possessions).
No doubt, he is as Frank Vogel describes him, "an elite point guard defender."
Averaging a mere 3.5apg, Hill ranks 27th in assists among point guards. Not great for a starting point guard, right?
However, through the wonder of the NBA's new Player Tracking data, it is now possible to find that the Pacers' guard is an elite secondary assist, or, as colloquially known, ‘hockey assist' distributer.
According to NBA.com, the statistical category referred to as "secondary assists per game" is described as follows:
"Quantity of passes made by a player to a player who earned an assist on a made shot. Assister must make a pass within 2 seconds and 1 dribble for passer to earn a secondary assist."
When comparing only players that have played in at least 25 games, George Hill ranks fifth in the league (behind only Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook) in terms of hockey assists, averaging 1.7 per game.
Why is this important?
Hill and the rest of the Pacers' roster commitment to making the extra pass has resulted in better ball movement, thus allowing the team to improve from 28th to 17th in terms of assists per game.
Catch and Shoot eFG%:
Of course, George Hill is not just a great secondary assister, he is also an elite shooter. A lot has been made, and rightfully so, of Paul George's rise this season as a lethal scorer. Let's face it, at times this season; employee No. 24's footwork has looked, coincidentally, reminiscent of another No. 24 on the west coast (hint: just substitute the blue on PG's uniform for purple). Now, as entertaining as Paul's development as a midrange and long-range weapon has been over the course of the last few seasons, George Hill's shooting ability should not be overlooked.
In fact, in terms of catch and shoot effective field goal percentage (a field goal percentage that is adjusted for made three pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2 point shot), Hill ranks amongst the top ten in the NBA (comparing only players that have played in at least 25 games and averaged at least 30mpg), posting an impressive mark of 65.7%.
With such a high shooting percentage, the only thing really left to be desired when it comes to Hill's shooting touch is that he does not always actively take many shot attempts from behind the arc per game. In other words, he could stand to be a little more selfish. According to NBA.com/stats, Hill is making 1.3 catch and shoot three point shots per game on only 2.8 attempts.
What can be learned from all of these less publicized stats?
Perhaps, George Hill is undervalued by the NBA community. There is more to say about the Pacers' guard than just debating his effectiveness or fit as a ‘true point guard.' The NBA trading season will play itself out in February, but for now Hill should receive the adulation he rightfully deserves.
If it can be said that GHill needs to be more assertive and exude more confidence on the offensive end, the opposite can be argued about him on defense. Without his tenacity, would the Pacers' defense be top ranked in the league? If he did not consistently make the commitment to fight over the top of screens, would Hibbert be the same elite rim protector (or, would he be leaving the paint to help corral lightning quick guards)? If Hill did not bring his ‘Spursian' (yes, a new word has been invented) commitment to make the extra pass from San Antonio to Indiana, would the team have improved its overall assist rate per game?
That can all be left up to debate, but what can be confirmed is that sometimes a player's impact on a team does not show up in traditional box scores. The old saying is true for this Pacers' squad, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but that does not mean George Hill's contributions as a key cog should go unsung.