From struggling to crack Frank Vogel’s 10-man rotation after starting 78 games the prior season to knocking down 11 of his last 19 attempts from behind the arc and inking a four-year, $48 million contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, Solomon Hill’s 2015-16 season was chock-full of oddities. Granted, replacing his 4.2 points per game and yet-to-be determined “improved” shooting should be a piece of cake for Indiana’s suddenly (and supposedly) offensive-minded roster, but having the added benefit of Hill’s elite-level defense would no doubt aid the Pacers in being able to have their cake and eat it, too.
Take, for instance, the second half of a late-March meeting with the Houston Rockets, wherein James Harden poured in 24 points on 66 percent shooting. Left reeling, Paul George decided to switch a ball-screen set by Trevor Ariza for Harden with Hill. Rather than allowing himself to be deceived by the former MVP candidate's patented change of direction, the tough defender used his physical strength to stand his ground. When Harden tried to cross him over, Hill knocked the ball loose and tied him up. What could have resulted in more freebies or an easy, 97-96, go-ahead basket, became a momentum-stealing play for the Pacers.
Hill was similarly employed as Indiana’s stopper against Kevin Love during Indiana’s final regular season meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Lavoy Allen starting at power forward, the Cavaliers wisely used Love as a pick-and-pop threat early and often. After he had scored his fourteenth point in the first quarter, Vogel swapped in the more agile Hill to cover the capable stretch-shooter out beyond the three-point arc, a move which, ultimately, prevented Love from adding to his scoring total for the remainder of the half.
Solomon Hill doesn’t possess Thaddeus Young’s grittiness around the rim or C.J. Miles’ shooting stroke, but his ability to lend Paul George a helping hand defending elite scorers may end up proving irreplaceable next season.
Here are the problems each available wing defender presents when considered as an option to lighten George’s burden:
As one of the few off-ball threats on Indiana’s roster, Miles needs to be protected at all costs. His willingness to bite the metaphorical bullet by switching from the wing to power forward came at great cost to his body last season.
"I was in great shape to play my position (on a wing), but not in great shape to get beat up," Miles told Pacers.com's Mark Montieth. "I had never been in that position before, I had never been hit that way, at least that much for a period of time. It wore me down, and I was trying to figure out how to keep from getting hit (while playing).
"It was slowing me down and taking me away from the extra work I like to do. I was trying to make sure I had the legs and energy to heal up and play in the game. It was tough; it was different. And we were starting to win games, so I definitely wasn't going to complain about it. If that's what I had to do to make us better, that's what I had to do."
As it turned out, doing what was best for the team did not end up being what was best for Miles, as he missed 18 games as a result of a sore back, sore shoulder, and lingering calf injury. Adding insult to injury, a three from Miles was only worth 0.65 points during the month of January.
All of which indicates that having the streaky, self-sacrificing sharpshooter take spot minutes defending George’s man would likely only serve to repeat last season’s mistakes. Considering that bigger, more versatile wings will likely look to punish Miles on the block, where he ranked in the 53rd percentile defending post-ups last season, the 6-foot-6 shooter would be better preserved spacing the floor than borrowing the trouble of his fellow east coast splash brother.
Glenn Robinson III:
Despite his high-flying athleticism and 6-foot-10 wingspan, Robinson III oftentimes lacks the awareness and physicality that made Hill such a valuable trump card off the bench.
Here, the 22-year-old provides little resistance against the craftiness and larger frame of Danilo Gallinari:
In addition to being taken to task on the block, Robinson III’s tendency to chase the ball underscores his inexperience.
For instance, while there are plenty of egregious errors committed in this defensive possession against the Charlotte Hornets, his decision to leave Nicolas Batum wide open behind the arc in order to converge on Frank Kaminsky in the paint is, arguably, the most head-scratching.
With plenty of room to grow, youth will need to be more of a friend than an enemy to Glenn Robinson III for him to be seriously relied upon in a pinch against elite scoring threats.
When Thaddeus Young was introduced by the Pacers earlier this summer, he mentioned that he thought he could alleviate some of Paul George's defensive burden by enabling the two-way star to "kind of pass those guys off” to him.
“Sometimes, he would have to guard certain guys the whole game, LeBron (James) or Carmelo (Anthony),” Young said, as was transcribed by the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor. “Now he has the ability to kind of pass guys off to me. And I can guard those guys.”
It may have been a relief to hear a player be so readily willing to accept the mantle of being Paul George’s complement, but legitimate questions should remain as to whether Young will actually be capable of containing players like James or Anthony on the perimeter.
A cursory review of Brooklyn’s regular season meetings with the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers reveals that Young rarely switched onto either team’s headliner in an effort order to avoid stranding Joe Johnson, and later Bojan Bogdanovic, on an island with either Kristaps Porzingis or Kevin Love.
Below is one of the few opportunities the lefty power forward was afforded to check Anthony 1-on-1:
Young is incredibly agile for his position and boasts a lengthy 6-foot-11 wingspan, but he was still victimized by Anthony’s quick first-step driving out of the pick-and-roll.
In extremely limited sample size, Young was not particularly effective staying in front of opponents on the perimeter, as he placed in the 50th percentile league-wide when defending the pick-and-roll ball-handler. Comparably, opponents shot less than 30 percent when Solomon Hill was the defender.
With increased opportunity, Young may prove to be Indiana’s best option to spell Paul George and protect C.J. Miles from excessive wear-and-tear, but using Solomon Hill as an inexpensive defensive specialist clearly would have been preferable.
Belaboring that the Pacers missed the mark by deciding not to exercise Solomon Hill’s $2.3 million player option is unnecessary now that the fourth-year player has signed an eye-popping contract with another team. Still, it is notable that the ramifications of that hasty decision last November will likely now be shouldered most by Paul George, who already will be without George Hill’s disruptive length and Ian Mahinmi’s rim protection in the starting lineup.
Improving the team’s offensive efficiency was presumably done with the intent of lessening George’s two-way burden. However, if Indiana’s ability to outrun opponents, without the benefit of multiple off-ball threats, is negated by the team’s leaky defense, then (shudder) the opposite may actually end up being true.