Jeff Teague, Ricky Rubio, and Ty Lawson. The Indiana Pacers reportedly inquired about the availability of the first two names at the trade deadline, and signed the latter mid-season. Teague is crafty off the bounce. Rubio is an assist artist and hard nosed defender, and Lawson thrives dictating tempo in the open floor. From their compilation of skills it can loosely be deduced that the Blue & Gold are in search of improving the team's court vision and pace. However, the trio have one other important thing in common. Without the basketball, all three disappear where George Hill shines brightest.
How did George Hill impress:
Unlike the aforementioned names, Hill was a consistent off-ball threat. So much so that the now 30-year-old shot 44.9 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers this season, which trailed only Stephen Curry, J.J. Redick, Kawhi Leonard, and Kyle Lowry (minimum 300 points scored off the pass).
With Monta Ellis (30.9%) and Rodney Stuckey (24.1%) both shooting well below 35 percent from beyond the arc, Hill's ability to space the floor prevented opponents from being able to overload on Paul George.
Another area in which Hill made his presence felt was with his defense. As SB Nation's Mike Prada points out here, Indiana's starting point guard makes good use of his 6-foot-9 wingspan.
This defensive possession from Indiana's first round playoff series with the Toronto Raptors showcases the value of Hill's length. Here, despite the high ball screen set by Jonas Valanciunas, Hill manages to stay attached to Kyle Lowry's hip and then uses his size advantage to bother Toronto's All-Star guard into committing a live ball turnover. Monta Ellis is credited with the steal, but it is Hill's defense which prevented the basket.
Later in the same game, Hill's outstretched arm deflects Lowry's pass right into the hands of Ellis.
Per NBA.com, the Pacers were 24.3 points per 100 possessions better with George Hill on the floor in the playoffs as opposed to the bench.
How did George Hill disappoint:
Hill, who only commits 1.4 turnovers per game, takes care of the basketball almost to a fault. Putting the ball in his hands may reduce some of Monta Ellis or Paul George's sloppiness, but his propensity to be risk-averse comes along with it.
Take for instance this play against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Hill comes up with the steal and pushes the ball up the floor, but stops short of trying to beat Kyrie Irving, who is not exactly well-known for his transition defense, to the rim.
"I just showed him that he has a tendency to stop himself and just play safe," Vogel told the Indy Star's Nate Taylor mid-season. "He's a low turnover guy and that's something we like, but we just feel like he can be more aggressive. There's no time to not be aggressive."
Where Hill is tentative, Ellis can be reckless. The older of the two guards has an odd sporadic tendency of flinging the ball to spots where no one actually is and can sometimes be too quick to force the action when he should let the offense do the work for him. But, he completed some drop passes to Ian Mahinmi as the roll-man as well as wrap passes to the corners this season that George Hill rarely, if ever, dares even to try.
If Ellis was in his element creating off the bounce, and Hill was the team's most reliable contributor off the catch, why the pair didn't trade positions sooner, in order to better maximize each other's and the team's potential, is quite puzzling.
"That position is so important when you're talking about playing fast," 1070 the Fan's Conrad Brunner reports Nate McMillan said on The Ride with JMV Tuesday. "That guy has to establish your tempo and if he is a guy that can't establish your tempo then you're not going to play that style of basketball. We moved Monta Ellis to the point this year because we felt the tempo would increase with him handling the ball a lot more. George Hill was shooting lights-out from the 3-point line so we wanted to get him down the floor and get him to the 3-point line and spread that offense out. The biggest key with playing fast is your point guard must establish that tempo and that's something we're going to look to address this year."
What's next for George Hill?
If Indiana wants a point guard more willing to push the tempo or capable of seeing the floor, then Hill, who created fewer than nine points off assists, may not be the answer. On the flip side, slotting Teague, Rubio, or Lawson next to Monta Ellis likely won't be either. Are passing wizardry or speediness alone the perfect substitute for Indiana's 3-and-D guard? Alongside Monta Ellis and Paul George's high usage, Hill's self-sacrificing nature is more of a virtue than a vice.
Still, if the free agent or trade markets cooperate, it seems that the Pacers are intent on finding an upgrade.
"We've talked about this for a number of years," Bird said at last Monday's press conference. "What we have here is we have a budget and we stay within our budget and if we get an opportunity to get a point guard, we probably will look at it. But to run around and say, 'You should get this guy or that guy,' it's a little harder than you think it is. But obviously I would like to have a real point guard."
Mike Conley might be that guy, but the Pacers should be more willing to consider having George Hill be the guy next to him.