Unsolicited, Paul George gave Solomon Hill a gift the other day. It was a disc showing every shot George took during last season's playoff games. The fastbreak dunks. The transition three-pointers. The pick-and-roll jumpers. Everything, both makes and misses.
He wasn't trying to show off. Wasn't trying to put the young kid in his place. He was just trying to make a point.
“He told me, 'You can't pass up shots,'” Hill said. “'When you've got a chance like this, you can't go out there being passive.'”
Hill does have quite the opportunity now, while the Pacers' defeats expand and their list of healthy bodies dwindles. And he's making the most of it, providing the most silvery lining to an otherwise dull beginning to the season. He scored 28 points in 42 minutes, 45 seconds in Saturday's 97-90 loss to Washington at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, doubling his previous career high, set three nights earlier, with a complete offensive performance. He also grabbed six rebounds, picked off three steals and was the team's best defender.
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The Pacers are now 1-6, losers of six consecutive games since beating winless Philadelphia in the season opener. But if ever a team could be forgiven for such a rut, it's these guys. They've been without All-Star Paul George since Aug. 1, been without starters David West and George Hill and backup point guard C.J. Watson since the pre-season, been without projected starter Rodney Stuckey since earlier in the week, been without projected starter C.J. Miles since Friday and are now, perhaps, without All-Star center Roy Hibbert.
Hibbert went down with a bruised knee in the first half of Saturday's game and did not return. His status for Monday's game against Utah is uncertain, leaving the possibility of only nine remaining healthy bodies – none of whom would be starters under normal circumstances.
This circumstance is extremely abnormal, but it's at least provided opportunities. And nobody is flourishing more than Hill, the 2013 first-round draft pick who is beginning to display passable impressions of George at both ends of the court.
It's rather shocking how far he's come so quickly. Hill played in just 28 games all of last season, for all of 226 minutes, and scored all of 47 points. He's now played in seven games, for 222 minutes, and has scored 84 points. Seven games into last season, the Pacers were 7-0 and Hill had played 51 minutes and scored nine points.
So, while the Pacers try to avoid falling out of the playoff race before the reinforcements arrive, they're at least uncovering and developing a legitimate weapon.
“He's going to be a big part of what we do this year,” coach Frank Vogel said.
And future years, too, it seems. Hill already has shown too much to just disappear when George and the others return. Too many scoring weapons, too much defense and too much maturity.
He earned it the hard way, laboring against George and the other wings in practice last season. If it wasn't George, it was Lance Stephenson. Or Danny Granger. Or Evan Turner. It was trial by fire for the rookie and he got burned plenty of times. But he learned along the way.
“That's where I get a lot of my confidence from, competing against the guys on this team,” Hill said. “It wasn't just (George), it was Lance, Danny, Evan … different type of guys. All kinds of guys, great in their respective ways. Every day was a new challenge.”
George's video collage helped, too, because it reinforced the idea that you can't back down, even if you miss a couple of shots early. And Hill didn't back down on Saturday. Most impressive among his stat line were the 11 free throw attempts (he hit seven), proof that he attacked the basket. He scored off spin moves in the lane, off offensive rebounds with the left hand, and off mid-range jumpers, too.
He hit just 3-of-8 shots in the first half, but came back to hit seven of his next eight, before wearily missing his final three.
“You can't let one or two shots affect how you play,” he said. If your defender sees you miss a couple of shots and you don't shoot anymore, he won for the night. Now his job his done and he has you in his pocket. You have to keep attacking those guys.”
Hill played a major role in bringing the Pacers back from a deficit that peaked at 22 points and was still 18 midway through the third quarter. Had he not worn down, they might have made it all the way. They were within three points after he had scored in the lane with 6:49 left, but he missed a driving shot on the next possession, as well as the putback in traffic.
He didn't expect the rebound of his first shot to come back to him so quickly. He rushed to put it back up, but was surprised that nobody made contact with him.
He took himself out of the game at the next break in the action, for a minute's rest, before returning.
Those are details. The point is that Hill kept churning and that he's finding as many ways to contribute as George does. He lacks George's superior athleticism, but he's close. And if you allow yourself to think long-term amid the current deluge, it's intriguing to think of him either playing with George or backing him up.
But would he protest going back to being a reserve when the roster is at full strength, after having this moment in the spotlight? Would he balk at being a backup singer after being the star?
“Not at all,” he said. “A lot more Ws go up on that board. I'll stay aggressive in my role, no matter how many minutes I play, no matter what happens, I can't let that affect the bigger picture for the team.
“Right now, I can go score a career-high, but we're losing. I'd rather be a part of something bigger than myself.”
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