Scoring wasn’t supposed to be a problem this year for the Indiana Pacers as they launched their new “pace and space” attack –– if anything, it was supposed to be the defense.
But through the first five games of the season, the Pacers stand at 2-3, and the team has struggled even more on offense than defense at times, ranking just 26th in the NBA in offensive rating and shooting just 41 percent on the season so far. Indiana’s two main scorers, Paul George and Monta Ellis, have also struggled, shooting just 36 and 34 percent, respectively, and struggling to find good shots within the flow of the offense.
The Pacers have been able to snag a pair of wins, however, and while George and Ellis played a key role in their second win against Boston, George Hill has been the man largely carrying Indiana’s offense.
Prior to the season, we highlighted the need for Hill to remain a factor on the offensive end even among the team’s crowded backcourt, as he faded two years ago when the Pacers were feuding internally and wilting beneath the pressure of being a top-seeded team. Hill became obviously disgruntled with his role, and as a result allowed Paul George and Lance Stephenson to dominate the ball while he stood in the corner. Some of that was on coach Frank Vogel, but some of that was also on Hill, who’s been no stranger to role changes or fluid responsibilities during his NBA career.
This year, Hill has shown none of that hesitance or reluctance. He appears to have learned from two years ago as well as last season, when he was Indiana’s only perimeter scoring threat and tapped into his aggressive side to set career-high scoring numbers. It’s not as if he’s not involved in the offense; in fact, he leads the team in total touches, according to SportVU. Both George and Ellis have taken more shots, however, and Hill has just seven more attempts than Rodney Stuckey, despite playing more minutes than all of them.
Hill has still been able to average 15.6 points so far, good for second on the team, and he’s found a way to be effective in a difficult role: scoring efficiently and picking your spots effectively, even if that requires a lot of waiting and creating for others. It’s a caretaker role that’s been very similar to the job he struggled with in 2013-14, but Hill now seems far more confident in waiting on his chances while teammates find their offense. For a team going through a fundamental strategic transition, that’s crucial, especially since his teammates have struggled in the early going.
Other than his drives to the basket, Hill hasn’t struggled at all and has put together one of the strongest starts of his career. He’s shooting 46.7 percent from three-point range and making 2.8 per game, which puts him in the top five in the NBA for the latter stat. He’s also in the top 10 in steals per game, which has helped the Pacers create offense during a time when the team has been struggling to score in their half-court sets.
He’s only been a semi-effective catalyst taking the ball into the paint, as SportVU shows that on his 6.2 drives per game, he’s shooting just 25 percent from the field and turning the ball over more than he assists others. But many of those drives have been out of necessity, trying to make something happen during stagnant times, particularly when playing with Indiana’s second unit, which doesn’t have a ton of shooters and has already been affected by injuries.
The bulk of Hill’s best work has come off the ball on offense, where he’s getting the ball to the Pacers’ primary playmakers but remaining an involved, viable option who’s ready to make a quick decision when he catches the ball. His decisiveness and quick trigger have been a huge factor in his 62 percent shooting on catch-and-shoot threes, a ridiculous number that’s made Hill a bountiful safety valve for Indiana’s offense. Although he’s currently shooting poorly inside, he’s still shown the same off-the-bounce verve he has in the past, so both his swishing and dishing numbers on drives to the hoop should come around eventually.
Hill has become a punchline in the past for his limitations, but he was often being held back, be it by himself or by changes in coaching or strategy. That’s not to suggest that Hill has suddenly been unleashed, or that he’s been hiding star potential, only that his role has changed often during his career, and that Hill hasn’t always adjusted well.
This year, however, flanked by the fearless shot-taking duo of Ellis and Stuckey in the backcourt, Hill has finally found a rhythm off the ball, one that allows him to get his but also make an impact off others’. It’s a fine line to walk, but the Pacers need Hill to fill in all those gaps –– shooting threes, making the right pass, playing great defense –– as much as they need the penetration prowess of that pair. He’s the glue that’s holding, and will continue to hold, the skill sets of this backcourt together. Indiana just hopes he can continue to do it at a similarly scathing level.