Can the Indiana Pacers ever win a championship with George Hill as their starting point guard? The answer to the question is debatable, but judging from the five-year, $40 million contract they gave him over the summer, Indiana’s chief decision-makers believed it was a resounding yes.
After finding themselves a few bounces of the ball away from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last year, Indiana chose to anoint Hill as their point guard of the future. But after analyzing his first month or so of play this season, they may want to re-think things.
Regardless of whether or not Hill is worth that type of money, he’s underperformed this year, and Pacers fans have a right to be concerned. Right now they should probably be asking themselves a difficult series of questions: Is George Hill a finished product? And can he get better?
A couple months ago, Basketball Prospectus projected that George Hill would shoot 37.9% on three-pointers and average a true shooting percentage of 57.3% for the 2012-13 season. So far he’s made just 18 of 66 attempted three-pointers (27.3%) and has a 50.4% true shooting percentage.
The Pacers may have expected even greater numbers than what Basketball Prospectus forecast, and his poor play so far has created a storm the team is struggling to fight through. They need Hill to make others better while also keeping opposing defenses honest on the perimeter, but so far he’s not doing a good job in either area. Nor has he shown that he is capable of stretching the floor with a shot or providing effective playmaking ability off the dribble to draw the defense’s attention
According to Hoopdata.com he’s making 29% of all his shots from 10-23 feet, and only 1.9 of his 5.3 assists per game are leading to easy shots at the rim, which ranks behind Steve Blake, Brandon Knight, and Mario Chalmers.
It feels like everyone on Indiana’s roster except David West (and, believe it or not, Lance Stephenson) has been disappointing this season. To solely blame George Hill and pick him apart as an underachieving, below-average point guard wouldn’t be fair. Danny Granger’s injury — which unexpectedly boosted everyone else’s offensive responsibilities — is a legitimate excuse for his depleted performance. But Hill’s numbers should still be examined as what they are: a near nosedive relative to projections.
The Pacers are in somewhat of a hopeless situation right now, competing for a title with no superstar on the roster. As their starting point guard in a league overcrowded with historically great players at the position, George Hill needs to first improve the areas we expected him to be half decent in before upgrading everything else. His average of less than six assists per game isn’t scaring anybody.
He’s 26 years old, an age that typically offers little room for improvement on an overall player’s skill-set, but this is still his first full season as a full-time starting point guard. It’s a unique situation. He’s averaging six more minutes a game than his previous career high, and looking at it from that angle opens up the possibility that Hill is still adjusting to the most important role of his career, and all the expanded duties that come with it.
Hill has the trust of an organization burdened with a high expectations, an important factor that shouldn’t go understated. He is steady and versatile, displaying competence at both guard positions, and showing the stones to take and make big, difficult, pressure packed shots — as we saw in his game-winning shots against the Raptors in the season opener and against the Lakers on Nov. 27. (This season he’s already attempted nine game-tying or go-ahead shots with less than 24 seconds left in the game.)
The Pacers offense has managed 87.7 points per 100 possessions when Hill takes a breather—a deplorably low number—but it rises to 97.9 when he plays. Winning a championship is a team-wide effort, but any hopes for a long postseason should be eliminated unless Hill makes more shots and expands his overall offensive repertoire.
Michael is a writer on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network and ScoreBig.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina