George Hill's transformation from a deferential role player to an opportunistic scorer was one of only a few meaningful story lines to carry over from an otherwise lost 2014-15 season. In the absence of Indiana's franchise star and a ball dominant shooting guard, Hill thrived. Buoying a team that, prior to his own return, had been left to sink beneath the weight of its own never-ending deluge of injuries. But now, Hill's reality has changed yet again. Paul George is back. Perhaps, even better than back. And Indiana's point guard now shares the backcourt with Monta Ellis, who, when at his best, is creating offense for himself and his teammates off the bounce.
Hill's history has repeated itself. His ability to prevent time from being a circle is what makes his story so compelling. Would he revert to being a passive periphery role player as he was two seasons ago and be valued instrumentally, or would his breakout season carry over proving his intrinsic worth?
That was the question.
The answer is, "Neither."
The corner lot is appreciating in value:
Remember that corner lot George Hill sold on a season ago? Well, he may no longer be making it his forever home, but he still makes a point to visit the area now and again. Think of it now as a profitable timeshare, because Hill is definitely cashing-in.
"I tried to come back as a laser knowing that Paul's coming back and we have Monta (Ellis) coming in, that there's going to be a lot of shots off of their penetration," he told Vigilant Sports. "I told myself this summer, 'Rep a lot. Be that guy that they can count on when all fails... I'm in that corner, I'm on that wing or the top of the key ready to knock it down.'"
Consider this: The Broad Ripple product is almost shooting a higher percentage on left corner threes (69.2%) than he is from the free throw line (72.7%). Oh, by the way, he also hasn't been too shabby from the right corner, connecting on 44.9 percent of his tries from that location as well.
But the difference now isn't just Hill's accuracy, it's his role. Back in 2013-14, the then deferential guard, more often than not, was relegated to the corner to serve as a decoy while Paul George carried the scoring load and Lance Stephenson freelanced (no pun intended). This season, Hill isn't standing in the corner to clear out for his teammates. He is sojourning there just long enough for his teammates to find him.
"I don't just sit in the corner anymore," Hill said after Monday's win over Orlando. "I bought the whole three-point line."
With 24 3-point field goals made, Indiana's guard has made more shots behind the arc than any other player in the Eastern Conference. Some have been the product of flare-screens. Others from being the recipient of drive-and-dish opportunities, and one was a cold-blooded, behind-the-back pull-up. All different play-types with one common theme: George Hill is no longer an afterthought.
A rising star alongside a superstar?
Paul George has been playing at a very high level in the 10 games since the Pacers 0-3 start, averaging 27.4 points and 9.3 rebounds on 45.3 percent shooting. He's scored 26 or more points in each of the last six games, and he's already recorded five double-doubles, nearly half as many as he posted during the entirety of the 2013-14 season (12).
With Paul George's star shining so brightly, it would have been reminiscent of year's past for George Hill's to fade into the background...Once again occluded by the team's preeminent superstar and a shooting guard who is in his element creating off the bounce.
But Hill hasn't disappeared this go-around. Rather, he's been shrewdly complementary.
When Paul George went super nova against the Miami Heat, pouring in 36 points and grabbing 12 rebounds on 51 percent shooting, Hill stepped back, "When you see a guy rolling," Indiana's point guard said, via the Indy Star. "You've got to milk that cow."
When the Pacers' franchise player cooled off three nights later against the Orlando Magic after scoring 19 first quarter points, Hill didn't shirk taking the reigns. Instead, he knocked down four three-pointers on his way to being +20 on the night.
But Hill's impact is greater than knowing when to pick his spots, when the elder half of the G2 zone is on the court, the Pacers score 101.9 points per 100 possessions, when he is on the bench that number drops to 89.4. No one else on the team causes a more dramatic on/off court offensive swing.
Back to basics:
After the Pacers fell to 0-3 on the season at the hands of the Utah Jazz, George Hill didn't point out that his team got outscored, 55-27, in the second half. Instead, he apparently made a spirited call for them to return to their roots.
"G. Hill (George Hill), after the game, got us together and said, 'We need to step the defensive end up.'" explained Myles Turner following the loss. "We've always been a defensive team since he's been here. We've always been a defensive team, and I couldn't agree more. From watching the Pacers, I knew they were all about defense. Coach Vogel was all about defense..."
No matter what he said specifically, it is clear that his words resonated. Since that game, the Pacers are forcing 17.1 turnovers per game and allowing just 95.4 points per 100 possessions, good for 5th in the NBA.
If you filter all of Indiana's lineups from the day after that loss to now, the best defensive tandem over that span of time is George Hill and Paul George (minimum 150 minutes played). The best trio is George Hill, Paul George and Ian Mahinmi (minimum 100 minutes played). The best foursome (minimum 70 minutes played)? George Hill, Paul George, Monta Ellis, and Jordan Hill. And the best five-man unit (minimum 25 minutes played)? Jordan Hill, Lavoy Allen, Monta Ellis, and, of course, Paul George and George Hill.
It's obvious that Paul George is an elite two-way player, but George Hill's name appearing in every one of those filtered combinations is not just by happenstance.
"Every time we put him (Paul George) on a top guy, that guy just gets cooled down...very quickly. That's why he's one of the top two-way players in the NBA. He's showing that he's back, and hopefully that continues." Vogel said following his team's victory over the Boston Celtics, before giving George Hill his props unprompted. "George Hill doesn't ever get mentioned as one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, and I think that's a crime. Because he did a great job on Isaiah Thomas, and he's one of the most difficult guys to guard at the point guard spot. And he's (George Hill) one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, and he deserves some recognition."
* * *
George Hill has made more 3-pointers than Kyle Korver. He's hasn't committed a single turnover in 3 of his last 5 games. And though Indiana's scoring output improves with him on the court, he hasn't forgotten that it's always been the team's defense that has fueled their offense. He's not being relegated to the corner, he's carrying whatever load the team needs him to bear. Be it knocking down shots off the catch (team-best 57.5%), containing opposing guards (allowing a team-best 0.66 points per possession), penetrating the lane (team-high 5.3 drives per game), or simply feeding the ball to Paul George when he's hot (a team-high 29.5% of his passes come from Hill), George Hill gives the Pacers what they need.
It's too soon to book George Hill's ticket to Toronto for the All-Star game, but think of him as the team's telescope. Without him, the Pacers wouldn't have the same clarity, and they may not be able to collectively shine as bright.