Hill's Love of the Game Shines Through

Wheat Hotchkiss

June 14, 2013

If Arizona forward Solomon Hill doesn’t make it in the pros, he still has a future in basketball. Hill is a gym rat and NBA junkie whose deep knowledge of and passion for the game was obvious after just a few minutes of conversation.

At 6-foot-7 and 226 pounds, Hill has a diverse skill set and currently projects as a mid- to late-second round pick. As for a guy he’d aspire to emulate, Hill expressed admiration for Lamar Odom’s do-it-all ability.

“I think he’s not too flashy, he does everything,” Hill said. “…It might be a night that he scores two points and has 10 rebounds. I figure I’m a guy that can really stick in any situation and do little things that count.”

Hill talked at length about the importance of taking advantage of opportunities and carving a niche at the next level, citing Spurs guard Gary Neal and the Pacers’ budding superstar Paul George as prime examples.

Hill says he can defend multiple positions, hit the boards hard, and handle the ball some. But perhaps his best attributes are his 3-point shooting and basketball intelligence.

For proof of both qualities, look at his career at Arizona. Hill hit just 4-of-18 3-point attempts as a freshman. But in his senior year, Hill took 146 threes and shot an impressive 39 percent clip from long range.

Hill attributed the improvement to his “love of the game.” He recognized that players were playing off him and taking away his drive, so he put in the hours in the gym getting shots up to improve his versatility.

While Hill might not wow scouts with his physical gifts, he hopes to win some over with his hard work.

“The greats have a great work ethic,” Hill said. “They say Kobe and MJ never sleep. You think about those guys doing what they do on a nightly basis, if they don’t sleep, what’s my excuse?”

Mitchell Shows Off Enticing Athleticism

The Pacers hosted six more prospects on Friday for pre-draft workouts. The local media contingent focused primarily on Michigan shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., a smooth shooter who projects as a late first round pick, and Andrew Smith, a Zionsville native who played four years at Butler.

Related: Hardaway, Jr. Main Attraction Friday »

There were several other intriguing prospects at Friday’s workout, which also included Arizona forward Solomon Hill, Iowa State guard Chris Babb, and French forward Axel Toupane.

But the prospect with the highest ceiling at Friday’s workout might well have been North Texas power forward Tony Mitchell, another player most projections have going in the latter half of the first round. The Pacers have the 23rd pick in this year’s draft, scheduled for June 27th at the Barclays Center.

Mitchell has participated in a flurry of workouts in the past couple weeks, including stops in Chicago (the Bulls hold the 20th pick), Utah (21st), New York (24th), Denver (27th), Phoenix (30th). He’s scheduled to work out for Brooklyn on Monday. The Nets own the 22nd pick, directly before the Pacers’ first selection.

The atmosphere at Friday’s workout was extremely competitive. Mitchell finished the day with a large bag of ice wrapped around his right hand, but nonetheless deemed it one of his best workouts, crediting the coaches and trainers on hand for pushing them hard.

He also got along well with the group of guys the Pacers brought in, particularly Hardaway and Hill. Mitchell and Hardaway, Jr. were teammates on the USA Basketball U19 team in the summer of 2011, and Mitchell and Hill have participated in multiple workouts together.

The first thing that jumps out about Mitchell’s game is his athleticism. Mitchell is listed at 6-foot-9 and 236 pounds with a wingspan of over 7-foot-2 and recorded a 38-inch max vertical at the pre-Draft Combine. CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman reported Mitchell jumped so high on his first attempt at the combine that they actually had to prop the bar on a footstool to accurately measure Mitchell’s vertical.

Mitchell’s explosive attributes make him particularly valuable on the defensive end, where he blocked 87 shots as a sophomore at North Texas.

“I love to… come weak side and block somebody’s shot, send it in the stands,” Mitchell quipped Friday.

Offensively, Mitchell is a versatile power forward who could also potentially play the “3” down the road. His athleticism enables him to be successful on the block, and he’s also comfortable on the perimeter. Mitchell shot 18-for-41 (43.9 percent) from 3-point range as a freshman, though he converted just 30 of 100 attempts from beyond the arc as a sophomore.

“I think I’m comfortable playing on the inside and being a stretch 4…whatever the team needs me to do, really,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell clearly has the physical tools to grow into a superstar, but there are question marks on his profile. He struggled to gain academic eligibility out of high school. Once he got on the court at North Texas, he flourished as a freshman but saw a significant statistical drop-off in several major categories as a sophomore.

Mitchell’s field goal percentage dropped from .567 to .440 and his scoring and rebounding averages dipped nearly two whole points each, despite playing an average of three more minutes per game. Mitchell acknowledged his disappointment in his sophomore season on Friday, but said the pre-draft workouts offered him an opportunity to bounce back.

“It was just my personal, individual effort,” Mitchell said about the statistical drop-off. “I just want to show guys that I can give 110 percent effort, regardless of how my season went.”

International Mystery Man

With technological advances, it’s easier than ever to track foreign players. But that doesn’t mean every overseas prospect in this year’s draft is anywhere close to a household name.

Take Axel Toupane. Google the 20-year-old Frenchman and you’ll be hard-pressed to find much about him other than some underwhelming stats and a couple light scouting reports. But there was Toupane Friday afternoon, working out for the Pacers alongside Mitchell, Hardaway and the rest.

Toupane’s agent, Bouna Ndiaye, made him and fellow clients Rudy Gobert and Louis Labeyrie eligible for the draft back in April. Toupane said he just arrived in America this week, working out in Dallas yesterday before flying into Indianapolis last night.

Toupane has a good relationship with fellow Frenchman and Pacers center Ian Mahinmi, who is also an Ndiaye client.

In France, Toupane has played the last two years for Strasbourg, a club that competes in the French Pro A league, the country’s top division. Though his minutes and production increased across the board this season, Toupane’s still seen modest playing time. He averaged 3.9 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 16.9 minutes in 35 games this year.

Those low numbers don’t necessarily mean that Toupane couldn’t one day be an NBA player, however. Toupane was quick to point out that he plays against much older competition at the professional level, whereas most American players at his age are only early into their collegiate careers.

“You play against American players who (were) in college before,” Toupane said. “It’s a game with grown men, so you have really big pressure.”

At 6-foot-6 and 191 pounds, Toupane is a lanky and quick athlete. He described himself as a “defensive player” primarily who can also handle the ball. The consensus seems to be that he needs to improve his offensive game before making the jump to the next level.

Though he grew up overseas, Toupane said he follows the NBA on a nightly basis via the internet and French television coverage. He’s well aware of the Pacers’ reputation as a strong defensive team and is a fan of Paul George and Lance Stephenson, two players he’d like to emulate.

“Especially Paul George, physically we’re kind of the same,” Toupane said. “So I try to watch him and maybe one day be like him.”

If a team does decide to take Toupane on draft night, it’d almost certainly be a “draft-and-stash” move, where Toupane would continue playing overseas and the team with his rights would wait a couple years to see how he develops. While many guys in that scenario never make it to the NBA, there are some notable late “draft-and-stash” picks who eventually became major contributors in America, such as Marc Gasol, Tiago Splitter, and Luis Scola.