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Solomon Hill Must Prove He Fits Pacers’ New Style

Last summer, after losing Lance Stephenson to free agency and Paul George to his infamous broken leg, the Indiana Pacers found themselves unexpectedly thin on the wings. Offseason newcomers C.J. Miles and Damjan Rudez were thrust into contributing roles immediately, as was the team’s only incumbent option: unproven second-year player Solomon Hill.

While Miles and Rudez bounced in and out of the lineup due to injuries and inconsistent play, respectively, Hill proved himself to be an iron man, playing in 82 games and starting 78 for a team that was in dire need of healthy bodies and consistency. The former first-round draft pick played more than 2,000 minutes to lead the team and became a mainstay in Frank Vogel’s rotation.

Hill’s results, however, weren’t great. Outside of his ability to exist on a basketball court without fouling, he failed to contribute much at either end of the floor, sporting particularly poor results on offense.

Hill graded out as one of the least efficient shooters in the league, per Kirk Goldsberry at Grantland, who calculated that Hill would accumulate 17.3 fewer points per 100 shot attempts than the average NBA player. That number ranked fourth-worst in the league, almost as bad as the former Pacer Stephenson’s league-leading mark of -20.0, and right at home among other renowned awful shooters like Michael Carter-Williams, Elfrid Payton and Dion Waiters.

Break it down by shot type or location, and things don’t improve much: Hill shot 35 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, barely a league-average number and not great for an aspiring wing. He was also just 27-72 on corner threes, posting a confusing split between the two corners, 48 versus 24 percent, left to right.

Those are not promising numbers for any young wing player, especially one who struggles to make plays off the dribble. Hill fundamentally lacks the handles and savvy to work in the pick-and-roll, but he’s struggled to effectively finish off close-outs as well, partly due to the fact that opponents don’t respect his outside shot. That negates his canny cutting ability as well, since defenders can play off him. Even when he’s handling the ball, he’s not a great passer either.

What’s more concerning is that Hill’s offense showed no noticeable individual improvement during the course of the season. One of his worst performances came in late March, when he turned the ball over five times in the first quarter against Houston and looked completely overmatched against a dialed-in Western Conference opponent battling for a playoff spot.

Unfortunately his status as an offensive liability not only inherently lessens his defensive impact, it can hinder his concentration as well. Hill isn’t that good of an off-ball defender in the first place, but in games when he struggled with his offense, the result was a hangover on defense, lacking the energy and focus to chase guys through screens and position himself correctly. In the Houston game, he made several mental mistakes on defense after his turnover-fest, including doubling off James Harden, which led to several easy buckets for the bearded one and helped him on his way to a 44-point night. He’s got to avoid those types of drastic mental slides following mistakes, because they always compound problems.

That’s an understandable hurdle for a young player. It’s also a red flag in terms of being able to trust them with meaningful minutes in pressure situations.

Obviously, it’s just one of several issues for the young player, which doesn’t well for Hill’s future, especially not in the context of this year’s new-look Pacers squad. This summer, the franchise decided to veer in a different direction, opting for a smaller and faster style of play that begs for positional versatility. That meant stocking up on perimeter players and wings like Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger and Glenn Robinson III, along with welcoming back fully-healthy versions of George, Miles and George Hill.

That’s a crowded depth chart, and one that doesn’t immediately leave a clear opening for a guy who played in every single game last season. Could Hill go from playing heavy minutes every night to being out of the rotation entirely?

At this point in the summer –– which is admittedly very far away from the regular season –– it seems like it could be a very real possibility. Indiana wants to score more points next season, and based on Hill’s performance last season, he looks less-than-ideally suited for such an objective. And while Summer League performances can often be misleading, Hill’s play in Orlando this summer put him on DraftExpress’s list of worst PERs from first-rounders in Summer League history. No matter where he was playing, it’s not a good sign to see Hill sitting not-so-prettily atop a rather damning list of names:

Hill will have to alter what’s been a downward trajectory for him since the beginning of last season, as well as fend off the likes of Budinger and Robinson for minutes at his position. Unless he dramatically improves his shot, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he carves out significant minutes.

He split his time between shooting guard and small forward last season, but Indiana’s threesome of George Hill, Rodney Stuckey and Ellis should soak up almost all of the 96 minutes per game available in the backcourt. Miles will probably play some 2-guard as well, although the bulk of his minutes will come at small forward, along with George and potentially Budinger, depending on his health. Mathematically, that just doesn’t leave many minutes for Hill, even if George winds up spending a decent amount of time at power forward.

There are some signs that Hill could become a decent 3-and-D player in this league. Both his shooting percentages and his on–off splits experienced a slight uptick after the All-Star break that coincided with Indiana’s general improvement during that stretch, going 17-11 in its last 28 games. He also has the physical tools and the willingness to be a strong defender, as mentioned.

That’s not enough, though, and Hill must improve his jumper, as well as his mental resilience, in order to become a contributor at the NBA level. Coming out of the draft, he was believed to have a low ceiling, and already at 24 years old, time isn’t on his side developmentally. There’s a strong chance Hill is who he is.

This summer and season represent the first major crossroads of Solomon Hill’s career, especially as he approaches the final years –– 2016-17 is still a team option –– of his rookie deal. No matter what happens between him and the Pacers’ crowded group of wing talent this year, he’s surely hoping it won’t be his last big test as a pro.

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