The Indiana Pacers began training camp on September 29, 2015, readying themselves for the 2015-16 regular season, but for Solomon Hill, his season began on July 4, with a trip to the Orlando Summer League after having led the 2014-15 Pacers in minutes played. Hill was the only Pacer to play all 82 games for a team that struggled to stay upright, falling short of the playoffs by a tiebreaker on the final day of the regular season.
So it seemed a rather curious decision to push the 24-year-old into Summer League play, except that despite his minutes played, Solomon Hill just wasn't very good. Hill had a staggering -9.6 on/off split in 2014-15, far and away the worst on the Pacers. While some can be explained away due to the general struggles of its starting lineup, it didn't make the eye test on Hill any more palatable.
Despite being a competent defender, Hill offered nothing of note on the offense end, averaging 8.9 points on 39.6% shooting and just 32.7% from behind the arc. With the less than stellar showing across the previous 82 games, it made more sense for Larry Bird and Frank Vogel to get a closer look at Hill's progress in the Summer League, that is until they and everyone else got to see an unmitigated disaster instead.
Hill (mercifully) played just three of the five games before the team had seen enough as his utter disinterest, shelving him for the final two games. Hill had 4.7 points on 18% shooting, averaging 2.7 turnovers and 4.3 personal fouls. The Summer League struggles forced Bird to scramble, trading Damjan Rudez for Chase Budinger, further deciding to decline Hill's team option for the final year of his contract, a move at the time that had very little opposition.
But an early performance against the Bulls showed value for Hill as an energy guy, which despite being a spot-guy early, began to play a larger role as Budinger's struggles (and eventual buyout) became more apparent. From the All-Star Break on, Hill played in every game, providing value wherever Indiana needed a boost on a given night, be it defense, hustle, or even three point shooting.
Hill's positive play as the season closed continued into the postseason where he was a crucial part in helping Indiana extend their first round series against the Toronto Raptors to seven games. In the three games Hill posted a positive + / -, the Pacers were 3-0, making Hill the unquestionable MVP of the Pacers in the playoffs?
How did Solomon Hill impress?
Hill certainly tempered expectations heading into the season, but once there, his value began to become more and more visible. Hill was capable of providing Indiana the necessary factors in helping them close out wins. But he also provided Indiana a viable option as a small ball four. In his time playing power forward, the Pacers were +41 in net points.
This helped Hill and the Pacers make him a positive player, with him flipping the -9.6 on/off split in 2015 to a workable +1.0. His activity on defense led to 1.5 steals per 36 minutes, up a half a steal from his previous season. Hill also became a surprisingly deadly marksman late in the season, shooting 19-46 from deep after the All-Star Break after hitting just five in the first half of the season.
His play late in the season culminated in a 25 point season closer against the Milwaukee Bucks, going 7-11 from deep. This continued into the playoffs, where Hill was 11-19 from three point range, hitting multiple threes from Game 3 to Game 6, helping alleviate a maddening shooting display from the likes of Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, and DeMarre Carroll while also being cold blooded from the free throw line throughout the series.
How did Solomon Hill disappoint?
Hill's positive contributions didn't always show up in the box score, but that didn't take away from the number of games where he was simply a non-factor. Though expecting a role player like Hill to show up in a big way every night through effort is a tall order, but as Hill's role and importance to the team's success increased, the nights Hill wasn't a factor stood out more and more.
It's difficult to really pinpoint negatives for Hill in a season he literally couldn't disappoint anyone, making perhaps his biggest disappointment of the season his poor Summer League play. Putting too much into Summer League isn't necessarily the best way to go in determining a player's worth, but that undercuts how poor he looked against Summer League level talent.
What's next for Solomon Hill?
That poor Summer League play culminating into valuable postseason play makes Bird's decision to not pick up Hill's option a frustrating one in hindsight, making it one that will almost certainly cost Indiana a cheap, reliable option off the bench. Even still, would Hill have improved his play had he been guaranteed his fourth year? Bird doesn't necessarily think so, believing it was the best thing to happen to Hill, putting a foot up his butt.
At the same time, despite Bird's optimism, it will make Hill almost impossible for the Pacers to re-sign. Their decision to not pick up his option means Hill is an unrestricted free agent, and worse yet, Indiana can only sign Hill for $2.35 million, a number Candace Buckner notes is far too low given Hill's play in the postseason. A player like Hill isn't rare, but he is useful, making his likely departure a frustrating one.