Solomon Hill Striving For Larger Role

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor

For most of the 2013-14 season, Solomon Hill watched and learned. The lone rookie on the roster of a team with championship aspirations, playing time for Hill was so sparse that he only appeared in 28 regular season games and didn’t even dress for 29.

But come this fall, the 23-year-old forward out of Arizona may be taking on a much larger role in his second year.

With free agency underway, the Pacers currently have just two wing players signed for next year: two-time All-Star Paul George and Hill. Indiana will, of course, add depth to that position, but everyone within the Pacers organization from the coaching staff to the front office to Hill himself have expressed hope that the 23rd overall pick in 2013 is ready to become a key player in the Blue-and-Gold’s rotation.

In their post-mortem after the season, both team president Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel made a point to praise the seldom-used rookie.

“He’s going to be valuable next year,” Bird said. “I thought earlier in the season he wasn’t ready for it when he got to play. But he’s ready now. He’s going to put in a hard summer.”

Added Vogel: “I’m really excited about what Solomon Hill can do for us. I think if he was pushed into a situation where he had to play 15-20 minutes all year, I think he could have been a difference in our playoff run. I think he’s got the ability to be an elite defender. An elite defender, not just an average defender. I think he can be exceptional.”

Since the Pacers didn’t end up keeping any draft picks this year, Hill is the most prominent player on Indiana’s summer camp roster. And while he wants to have a larger role next season, he isn’t looking too far down the road.

“I’m just trying to have the best summer I can possibly have,” Hill said. “I’ll think about (the 2014-15 season) when that times comes. (I want to) make the most of every day, try to get better every day, make the most of it, and conquer my first mission, which is the (Orlando) Summer League.”

Wednesday was the Pacers’ second day of Rookie/Free Agent Camp, where 17 players are vying for a spot on Indiana’s roster for the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League, scheduled for July 5-11.

Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke, who is coaching the Summer League team, specifically wants to see Hill use summer league as an opportunity to showcase his defensive abilities.

“Sometimes (in) a lot of these summer leagues, when you get a vet, they think, ‘Alright, this is my chance to shoot it every time I touch it,’” Burke said. “We don’t want him doing that. What we want him to do is be a Doberman on defense, be a leader, and when you come off (screens), get good shots.”

Hill hopes that these next couple weeks will give him a chance to showcase his versatility on the defensive end. Hill has good size at 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, but he wants to demonstrate an ability to not only guard his position, but also lock down a smaller shooting or point guard.

In that respect, Hill noted that he will get ample opportunity to defend smaller players in practice (the Pacers’ camp roster includes seven guards listed at 6-foot-5 or shorter) and in Summer League. Last year in Orlando, Hill got to guard Utah point guard Trey Burke, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

This year, he figures to see time against players like Celtics guards Marcus Smart and James Young, as well as Heat guard Shabazz Napier, all of whom were first-round picks in last week’s NBA Draft.

Being teammates with Paul George, a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team in 2013-14, has helped Hill hone his craft defensively. The two players matched up with each other frequently in practice and Hill said he has picked George’s brain on occasion. But Hill also noted that he relies more on his strength because he doesn’t possess George’s length or thinner frame that allows him to slip around potential screens.

In addition to his focus on the defensive end, Hill has also spent a lot of time this summer working on refining his jump shot. At Bird’s request, Hill spent a week working with renowned shooting coach Hal Wissel and plans to work with him again in August.

Wissel has worked with many players over the years, including Mike Miller, Pau Gasol, Monta Ellis, and Baron Davis. Lance Stephenson worked with Wissel last summer and saw his field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentages all go up in 2013-14.

Hill said the biggest emphasis in his work with Wissel has been keeping the ball in front of him when he goes up for a shot rather than bending it back toward his head to help him have a quicker release. Hill is also working on staying square to the basket on his shot.

“You can’t expect to change your jump shot in a week, but you have to pick up a couple things, keep working at it, and when he comes back, try to pick up a couple more things,” Hill said.

Last year, Hill had a strong Summer League performance, averaging 12.5 points per game. But after a year in the Pacers’ system, Hill said on Tuesday that he feels a lot “more relaxed” this time around because he has a better understanding of the Pacers’ offensive and defensive concepts.

He’s also matured, admitting to the media that he wished he had taken better advantage of his time in the NBA’s Developmental League last winter. Hill spent two games with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants, averaging 17 points, but was frustrated with the role in which he was used and opted not to make a return stint to the D-League.

In retrospect, Hill said, he “just didn’t handle adversity” and incorrectly valued his individual success more than the success of the team while in Ft. Wayne (coincidentally, Mad Ants head coach Conner Henry has been helping out Burke during this summer’s camp).

As for what he learned being on the NBA roster last season, Hill said his biggest takeaway was “to always be ready.” He cited teammates Chris Copeland and Rasual Butler as prime examples of players who didn’t get consistent playing time but were still able to make key contributions when their number was called.

Speaking of numbers, Hill may be wearing a new one this fall. Hill is wearing 44 this summer after donning 9 as a rookie. He wore 44 in high school and college, but initially didn’t wear it with the Pacers because it was the same number that Solomon Jones wore when he played for the Pacers from 2009-11 and he wanted to avoid confusion with the only other Solomon to don the blue and gold. Hill has put in a request with the league to change his number for the 2014-15 season, but the change is not yet official.

But whether it’s 44 or 9, Solomon Hill figures to hear his number called more frequently this season. How much more often depends on the strides he makes this summer.