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Why George Hill will be the most intriguing Pacer to watch in 2015-16

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In 2014, he was passive. In 2015, he was assertive. What he is next season will make him the most compelling Pacer.

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

George Hill's star is like the Sun. This is not to say that the Pacers' universe revolves around him. In fact, quite the opposite. The luminosity of his talent is like that of the Solar System's central star because under the right celestial circumstances it can be partially or fully obscured. During a solar eclipse, the Sun doesn't actually disappear when the Moon passes between it and the Earth, the darkness only makes it seem so.

The same can be said of Indiana's point guard.

Hill's abilities were occluded during the 2013-14 season when he, more often than not, deferred to Paul George to carry the scoring load and waited in the corner for Lance Stephenson to finish bouncing the air out of the ball. But with the former indefinitely sidelined and the latter in Charlotte, Hill molded himself into an opportunistic scorer and assertive creator, averaging career highs in points (16.1), assists (5.1) and rebounds (4.2).

Though his mentality may have ebbed and flowed with the times, his skill level did not necessarily change. Instead, his role and the team's circumstances did. And both are about to change again.

Indiana's franchise player is expected to return to form and another ball dominant shooting guard has been added into the mix. Will Hill's star again be obscured by the needs of his teammates, or will he pick back up where he left off at the end of last season?

Hill's potential to revert to a passive periphery player or be valued as a star, in and of himself, is what makes him the most intriguing Pacer to watch in 2015-16.

George Hill's importance to the Pacers:

"I thought last year, he took a step up, as far as his importance to this team and what he had to bring to the floor," Pacers Assistant Coach Nate McMillan said to SiriusXM NBA Radio.

The Pacers were 26-17 (.605) in games with George Hill in the lineup. They went 12-27 (.308) without him.

In case Indiana's win-loss record alone does not fully communicate just how valuable Hill was to the team's second-half of the season surge, the below graphic should speak volumes.

PACERS OVERALL
GP
MIN
OFFRTG
NETRTG
AST RATIO
EFG%
2014-15 82 3971 100.8 -0.1 16.7 48.4%
ON/OFF COURT
GP
MIN
OFFRTG
NETRTG
AST RATIO
EFG%
George Hill On Court 43 1267 107.0 7.0 17.7 50.5%
George Hill Off Court 82 2704 98.0 -3.4 16.2 47.5%

The Pacers outscored opponents by 7.0 points per 100 possessions when George Hill was on the floor but were outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when he was on the bench.

Still not convinced?

If you filter all of Indiana's lineups from the date George Hill returned from a groin strain (January 23), the most productive duo over that span of time, in terms of Net Rating (minimum 700 minutes played), was George Hill and CJ Miles. The best trio (minimum 500 minutes played)? George Hill, CJ Miles and Roy Hibbert. How about the best foursome (minimum 300 minutes played)? George Hill, Solomon Hill, CJ Miles and David West. And the best 5-man unit (minimum 100 minutes played)? Well, that would be CJ Miles, Rodney Stuckey, David West, Roy Hibbert...and...oh, yeah...George Hill.

This lineup data alone does not prove that George Hill was Indiana's best player last season. After all, CJ Miles' name also appears in every filtered combination. But the fact that the Broad Ripple product is part of all of the team's most efficient lineups and vastly improved Indiana's Offensive Rating as well as the Blue & Gold's win-percentage when he was on the court should underscore just how valuable his presence was to the improved play of the injury-riddled Indiana Pacers.

''We got some guys we think are going to step up and play well,'' Bird said last October at a charity event. ''I thought George Hill was excellent during training camp; he's gotten a lot better. I'm just amazed by how much better (Hill) has got.''

In the prolonged absence of the team's franchise player, the stage was set for George Hill to revert to his "IUPUI attack mode" and he delivered.

In the absence of other stars, George Hill, himself, was a star:

In a year's time, George Hill went from a deferential role player to an aggressive scorer. This transformation was, in part, likely due to the rigorous offseason workouts he put himself through last summer where he focused on staying more consistently involved on offense.

But it could also be said that his emergence was largely the product of taking full advantage of increased opportunity.

During the 2014-15 season, Hill used 23.8% of the team's plays while he was on the court, up from 14.8% a season ago when he most often shared the floor with Paul George (28.3%), David West (21.9%), Lance Stephenson (19.4%) and Roy Hibbert (19.4%).

Asked to carry more of the scoring load, Hill became the team's most reliable clutch-time scorer and, though largely unheralded, his numbers were on par with that of a few All-Star caliber point guards.

2014-15 Per Game Player Comparison
PTS
FG%
AST
TRB
George Hill 16.1 47.7% 5.1 4.2
Kyrie Irving 21.7 46.8% 5.2 3.2
Damian Lillard 21.0 43.4% 6.2 4.6

From the time George Hill initially returned from a torn quad in December until the end of the regular season, only 10 players posted better averages over that span of time. Only three of those were from the Eastern Conference: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, and LeBron James.

That's good company.

Nobody (except, maybe, Monta Ellis) puts George Hill in a corner:

"George Hill is our starting point guard," said McMillan to SiriusXM NBA Radio, later adding, "That is our starting point guard, that is going to be the guy we expect to lead and set the tempo on both ends of the floor."

Per NBA.com's Player Tracking data, Hill drove the ball 3.0 more times per game this season (5.7) than last season (2.7). More aggressively looking for his own shot and creating more drive and dish options for his teammates, George Hill moved on up from his corner lot.

"I sold that real estate," George Hill told Vigilant Sports' Scott Agness prior to the season's start with regard to his deferential role. "It was a bad view, it didn't make a lot of money so I kind of lost on it so I sold it."

Will Monta Ellis' arrival in Indianapolis force Hill to downsize, again?

On/Off Ball Player Comparison

Drives Per Game

Pull-up Shots Total Points

PTS Created off Assists Per Game

Cut Percentile

Catch & Shoot 3P%

3P%

George Hill 5.7 191 11.9 96.4 40.0% 35.8%
Monta Ellis 8.3 510 10.2 72.5 29.6% 28.5%

A relentless driver and graceful finisher, Ellis is quite clearly in his element creating off the bounce. To utilize him as anything other than a playmaker would not only be a waste of his offensive genius, it would be ineffective. Knocking down just 29.6% of his catch-and-shoot attempts from 3-point range, the volume scorer is in no way a floor spacer. George Hill may not be as creative getting to the rim or, arguably, as capable of taking over a game, but he is versatile, ranking 14th in the league in points per possession on cuts and a reliable 3-point shooter, whether off the catch or the dribble.

Both should have the ball, but only one truly needs it to be effective. Monta will likely be the one "driving" the show, even if it is George Hill via Frank Vogel calling the sets.

The duo has the potential to be a dynamic backcourt tandem. But the Slash Brothers will likely only become a reality if Hill is once again willing to play off the ball in order to accommodate another ball dominant shooting guard.

*  *  *

According to scientists, the Sun, not unlike George Hill, is currently stable. Whether passively waiting his turn or aggressively looking for buckets, the one-time IUPUI standout is the same scorer he's always been. It's just a matter of whether or not he and the Pacers will allow his talent to, again, be partially obscured to the eyes of observers.

Indiana's style of play is undergoing a complete makeover. Two rookies are expected not only to play but to "play well," and Paul George may start looking like Paul George again. But it is George Hill's story, the perception of his star and his position in the Pacers' universe, which should prove most compelling.