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Rookie Hill Impresses Coaches, Teammates with His Play in Training Camp

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

September 29, 2013

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Most of the Pacers players gathered for informal scrimmages at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the final weeks prior to the start of training camp. It certainly wasn't realistic NBA competition, but it was perhaps better competition than that found in a college game or NBA summer league game.

So, the fact rookie Solomon Hill made an immediate and positive impression on his teammates means something. What, exactly, will be learned in the upcoming season, but it's already clear to many observers that the unheralded draft pick was denied some deserved heralds coming out of Arizona.

Asked on Friday which of the newcomers impressed the most in the scrimmages, Paul George and David West immediately cast a vote for Hill. They probably were excluding veteran Luis Scola from consideration, given his status as an established player, but there were still seven other candidates up for consideration besides Hill.

“He should be a Pacer [player] for awhile,” George said. “He plays the game beyond his years. He can do everything. He can defend, he can shoot the ball, he can create for himself, he can rebound. I think he'll surprise some people.”

Said West, who observed but did not participate in the scrimmages: “He's heady, he's smart, he didn't make a whole lot of mistakes. Just from what I've seen, he's going to be able to help us this year.”

That won't be easy, given the wealth of proven talent at the “swing” position the 6-7 Hill inhabits. There's George, there's Danny Granger, there's 10-year veteran Rasual Butler, who doesn't have a guaranteed contract, and there's Lance Stephenson and Chris Copeland, who could slide into the spot from shooting guard and power forward, respectively, in certain matchups.

Hill, however, appears to possess the refinement and maturity to contribute immediately. Team president Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel have thrown out the possibility of early playing time for the rookie. Maybe very early, according to Vogel.

“He's a rookie so he's at the very bottom of the depth chart for now,” Vogel said. “But I don't anticipate he's going to stay there for long. [I've] just been very, very impressed with him. If he were called on and he had to be a big factor opening night, he would do very well. He's shown me a lot already.”

More than anything, Hill shows versatility and a willingness to sacrifice. He's not an explosive athlete, so perhaps he doesn't have George-style potential, but he's got such a wide array of skills that he can provide whatever a team needs. The Pacers should give him a camouflage uniform, because he takes a chameleon's pride in adapting to his surroundings and looking for ways to contribute. That includes the errands that rookies are traditionally asked to run for teammates. As the team's only rookie, he'll have no help. Thus, his nickname “Solo” will be more appropriate than ever.

“It's really no problem for me, because I get a chance to fulfill my dream of playing in the NBA,” he said.

That's off the court. On it, Hill's way of fulfilling his dream and fitting in will be to defend, rebound and hit the corner three-point shot. That niche offensive role comes by request from Vogel, who said the Pacers ranked 23rd in the NBA in corner three-point percentage last season. That allowed defenders to drop to the low post to give help on Roy Hibbert or whoever else was standing near the basket.

Hill is still-improving as a three-point shooter. He hit just .222 percent as a freshman at Arizona, .354 as a sophomore, .389 as a junior and .390 as a senior. He then hit 10-of-18 three-pointers from the longer three-point line in summer league play, which surprised Vogel, but not himself.

“Spacing,” Hill said. “With that fast pace in summer league, I was able to get on the wing and run. Having a young group of guys with me, I was one of the main focuses as far as scoring, so some of the guys found me.”

That doesn't seem like a fluke when you watch Hill shoot three-pointers after practice. He rarely misses, and his form is flawless. Standing in the corner and catching kick-outs and ball reversals for open shots shouldn't faze him in the least. Should he be called upon to focus on other things, he's shown he probably can do that, too. He could become the great-at-nothing-but-good-at-everything player who makes for a perfect backup. Or, maybe, he becomes a great three-point shooter who can do everything else reasonably well.

Given his passing grade in the (early) eyeball test and the testimonies of his teammates, you have to wonder why Hill didn't show more in college. He averaged 13.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists his senior year at Arizona, ranking second on his team in scoring, rebounding and steals. That hardly gives the impression of a future first-round draft pick, but once he got into pre-draft workouts he showed more. As it turned out, he had been trying to complement his teammates in college, too. Arizona's shooting guard Mark Lyons took 62 more shots and averaged 2.2 more points while shooting less accurately from the field last season.

“I'm not playing for my individual stats,” Hill said. “I mold to the team. I just try to transform my game, depending on what the team needs. I was more worried about winning the games. Having two guys who want to go out and get a bunch of shots up isn't effective for the team. I just played my role.

“I was able to show in draft camps what I can do. A lot of people were surprised by that. I tell people the mock drafts are what they are, but once you get me on the court we're all competing for the same job.”

Hill knows what he's up against while competing against established players with the Pacers. Playing time probably will come, but there's no guarantee it will come quickly despite the endorsements from Bird and Vogel. First-round draft picks of contending teams often have to settle for a good seat during their rookie season, as Austin Croshere, Jeff Foster, Jonathan Bender and Miles Plumlee would attest.

Part of being a versatile player, though, is accepting the role of not playing, and Hill can handle that as well. He can't take corner threes from the bench, but he can always contribute in practice.

“Playing time, that's something you worry about in college,” he said. “If I can help the team any way possible, that's all I care about.”

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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