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Hill Embraces Opportunity to Get Better

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

December 29, 2013

As depth is a real strength with the Pacers, particularly at the wing spot, the team is utilizing the NBA’s Developmental League for the second consecutive year.

Rookie Solomon Hill is already up north in Fort Wayne, where he’ll play for the team’s D-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He’ll make his D-League debut Monday night against the Sioux Falls Skyforce at 7 p.m. EST.

Hill, who the Pacers selected at No. 23 in last June’s draft, hasn’t seen the court in the last eight games and he’s been inactive for the previous four games with Danny Granger back in the fold. The Pacers have waited just over a week to see how Granger’s calf and knee held up. So far, so good, and thus the Pacers brass has decided it’s best to have Hill playing somewhere.

Ahead of Granger’s return on Dec. 20, Pacers head coach Vogel met with Hill to see how the rookie felt about spending time in the D-League.

“I don’t agree with sending anybody down there that didn’t want to go,” Vogel said on Sunday. “I said, ‘I want you to think about it. It’s something we could do, something that helped (our) guys last year, and could help you stay sharp if you want to do it. [President of Basketball Operations] Larry [Bird], [General Manager] Kevin [Pritchard] and myself think it would be good for you.’”

A determined Hill informed coach that he didn’t mind. He wanted to play.

After the news was announced by the team early Sunday afternoon, Hill sent out the following short, but telling tweet:

“This is our decision,” Vogel added, “but it’s his decision wanting to get better. It speaks a lot about who he is.”

For most of the first month of the season, Hill and Orlando Johnson took turns being the first player off the bench to replace starter Lance Stephenson. Veteran Rasual Butler later took on that role for a couple games and it's belonged to Granger since his return. Hill has played in 16 games, and averaged 1.5 points and 1.6 rebounds in about nine minutes per game. The depth chart on the wing behind starters Stephenson and Paul George is now Granger, then Butler, and then Johnson.

Butler and Johnson each have spent time in the D-League and spoke highly of their experience.

“It was fun,” said Johnson, who averaged 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in four games with the Mad Ants last season. “I’m not going to lie, that was fun for me out there, just to get a chance to go out there and play 40 minutes and do what I do.”

Before Hill left, he talked with both Johnson and Butler about their experience and what he can expect. Johnson said he was welcomed with open arms and felt comfortable.

“I just told him that there’s a lot of guys up there that are going to try and go at you, try to say ‘Oh, he’s down here because he wasn’t good enough,’” Johnson said. “It’s none of that. We know Solo’s good enough, it’s tough to get minutes right now. We got everybody healthy right now, everybody is playing well and we still need him to continue to develop.

“Solomon wants to play. He wants to keep getting better. It’s hard because in practice, we don’t get as many reps. … Down in the D-League, he’ll be able to get the reps, work on the things that Coach is asking him to work on and just continue to grow as a player.”

D-League games are great for conditioning and getting shots and making reads in a real game environment. Vogel would like to see Hill work on his defense, a staple with the Pacers, as well as his getting shots off from long range and making plays with the ball in his hands.

“All that stuff is really valuable for keeping yourself sharp,” Vogel said.

The Pacers want their players around the team as much as possible, but with three sets of back-to-backs in the next two weeks resulting in little practice time, this move makes perfect sense to keep Hill on a court playing and getting better.

Though Vogel said that he hadn’t compared schedules yet, it would seem reasonable for Hill to play as many as seven games with the Mad Ants, including three in Reno, Nevada, up until the second week in January. The Pacers can bring Hill back at any time, but based on their upcoming schedule, he would only miss a pair of practices over that stretch.

The Pacers began utilizing the D-League for the first time last season, and it worked out very well for both Johnson and Miles Plumlee, who was sent to Phoenix in an offseason trade for Luis Scola. The Mad Ants are the affiliate of the Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, and Orlando Magic.

Hill is in Fort Wayne with a team official, and Johnson said he and Chris Copeland would likely make the drive to see their teammate's first game Monday night.

When Hill suits up, he’ll be playing alongside some familiar face in Ron Howard, who was in camp with the Pacers, along with Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell (both rookies with Detroit). Mad Ants assistant coach Steven Gansey was invited by the Pacers to help with the Summer League team and he also tagged along to Orlando for the games.

At this point, this is the right move for Hill. He asked for it, and looks to make the most of his opportunity.

“Him going down there, working on his game and getting right is going to help us out in the long run,” Johnson added.

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