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The Case of The Reluctant Point Guard

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 4, 2013

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George Hill still isn't sure about this point guard thing. He grew up wanting to be a shooting guard, he played shooting guard at IUPUI and was primarily a shooting guard for his first three NBA seasons with San Antonio.

Now here he is, the starting point guard for one of the Eastern Conference's most promising teams, and there's no turning back. The Pacers invested heavily in him over the summer, awarding a five-year, $40 million contract, and it was to be the point guard, and only the point guard, of their present and future.

He's hardly complaining. But he doesn't try to hide his doubts, either.

Asked following the Pacers' 111-101 victory over Chicago Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse if he's growing comfortable with his job description, he smiled.

“A little bit,” he said.

“I'm reluctant to play the one. I'm happy with it, I 'm learning, but there's still some two in my body.”

George Hill 2012-2013 Photo Gallery »

Hill's had a knack for slipping through the cracks when people analyze the Pacers. People tend to be thrilled by Paul George, who produces highlight videos. They tend to be wholly impressed by David West, who puts on Basketball is Fundamental clinics. They tend to be encouraged by the play of Lance Stephenson, who offers hopeful glimpses into the future. They tend to be agonized by Roy Hibbert, who continues to mystify with his struggles to get a ball into a basket from two feet away.

Hill? He's virtually anonymous. Even while scoring 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting against the Bulls, his performance was overshadowed by West (29 points, nine rebounds) and George (21 points and 11 rebounds).

Related: Pacers 111, Bulls 101 »

That isn't to say coach Frank Vogel isn't happy with him. The Pacers' offense still ranks 29th in the NBA in scoring, but is improving. Their 111 points against the Bulls was their highest point total of the season aside from one overtime game. The ball movement has been better, and the shooting percentages (53 percent on Monday) have been rising.

Hill has been a major factor behind all that.

“This game's about reading defense,” Vogel said. “Forget about sets and system and all that stuff. Just read the defense and you typically can get whatever shot you want. He's one of the best on our team in reading defense.”

Hill has scored in double figures in 12 straight games, and hasn't failed to reach double figures in a game in which he didn't play sick since the earlier meeting with the Bulls on Dec. 4. He had eight that night while George went off for 34. He's averaging 14.7 points on 44 percent shooting and has the best free throw percentage (.846) and third-best three-point percentage (.364) among the rotation players. His assist-to-turnover ratio, 2.55-to-1, ranks 21st in the NBA, but is slightly improving – 2.65-to-1 in the last 34 games.

Hill, however, isn't a conventional point guard because the Pacers don't have a conventional approach. Lance Stephenson, a shooting guard by title, is a former point guard who can handle the ball and make point guard-like passes, such as the no-looker to West for a layup while the Pacers were building their first-quarter lead on Monday. West is now helping facilitate the offense, taking the ball at the foul line and looking for cutting teammates. He's averaging 3.3 assists over the past 38 games and is on track to average a career-high in assists for the season. He already has more in 48 games than he had in 66 last season.

That doesn't leave a clear role for Hill, who believes the lines between backcourt positions are increasingly blurred anyway throughout the NBA. That's especially true for him, and more than ever when backup point guard D.J. Augustin comes off the bench to join him at the end of close games, when ball security becomes more vital.

While the Pacers' offense has benefited from their improved ball movement, Hill's coach wants him to be more assertive in getting the ball into the foul lane to look for a shot or pass. His teammates, meanwhile, want him to pass up fewer shots.

“My first four years in the NBA, I was always in the paint, trying to be a slasher, but a lot of teams started taking that away and making me shoot the three,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take what the defense gives you.

“I pass up a lot of shots where my teammates yell at me that I have to shoot that. Coming from San Antonio, it's a pass-first team. You always try to make the extra pass for your teammates, so I have to get out of that a little bit and be more aggressive.”

Hill doesn't have a well-defined game. He's good in all areas, and great or weak in no areas. But that seems appropriate for this team, in which defenses are to be read and the ball is to be shared. It wouldn't matter anyway. He's stuck with his job. At 6-foot-2, his length is adequate to defend most point guards, but not to defend most shooting guards, so his only choice is to accept his lucrative fate and grow with it.

“I'm going to continue to get better,” he said. “(Assistant coach Brian) Shaw is working with me on different reads and how to be a point guard leader. I'm going to take one step at a time and hopefully by the time my career is over, I'll be one heck of a point guard.”

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