George Hill made a public vow in the Pacers' locker room following their elimination loss to Miami in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season. He was going to go to work right away, and come back a different player.
The opening preseason game doesn't offer final proof of anything, but Hill offered some intriguing hints in the Pacers' 103-90 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday. Playing 20 minutes, he scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and passed out seven assists with just two turnovers. Yes, it was an exhibition, and yes, the Timberwolves' point guard Ricky Rubio is no threat to make the all-defensive team, but the difference in Hill's approach was obvious.
GAME REWIND: Pacers 103, Timberwolves 90
He ran the offense, attacked the basket whenever possible, set up teammates for easy shots and played without hesitation. In other words, he played more like a true point guard than at anytime in his NBA career, anytime since his days at IUPUI – or as head coach Frank Vogel referred to it on Tuesday night, The Pui.
It amounted to legitimate evidence that he had kept his vow, that showing up at Bankers Life Fieldhouse the day after the team had returned from Miami and showing up so often that he had to be asked to leave on occasion, will pay off. Legitimate evidence also that the 10 pounds of muscle he added in the off-season has improved his strength, quickness and confidence.
“I came back … to find myself again,” he said of those workouts. “I think I lost myself (last season), being passive and things like that. I spent a lot of work finding who I was again and playing basketball.”
Hill figures to be the Pacers player to benefit most from the absence of Lance Stephenson and Paul George. As the team's most dynamic players last season, the offense usually ran through them. Hill, meanwhile, usually made an entry pass to the wing and ran to the corner of the court, where he waited for a possible – but unlikely – return feed.
Don't look for him over there this season.
“I sold that real estate,” he said following Tuesday's game.
Did he get a good deal on it?
“It was a bad view,” he said. “I kind of lost on it, so I sold it.”
Hill wore pink Peak shoes on Tuesday and wrote “Leah Strong” on them with a marking pen. It was a tribute to the cancer-stricken four-year-old daughter of Cincinnati Bengals player Devon Still. “Just giving him a shout-out,” Hill said. “Athletes got to stick with athletes.”
He stood out even more, though, for his assertive performance, which was neatly summarized on one play midway through the third quarter. He threw in an off-balance 18-footer after drawing a foul. He missed the free throw, but rushed in to pick up the rebound and toss in a six-foot floater. That sequence pushed the Pacers lead to 12, and it stayed in double figures the rest of the game, peaking at 20.
“Probably last year I'd get that same rebound and dribble back out and try to set something up,” he said. “It shows the progress is there. Just trying to do what I can to get better.”
Hill rejects the notion that he's playing more like a conventional point guard to prove himself to critics. The change in approach is borne of necessity. Still, it should enable him to silence those who question his playmaking skills, and allow him to unleash more of an arsenal that was partially kept in storage in past seasons while others flourished.
“Having the ball in your hands builds confidence,” he said.
Hill was the only anticipated starter to start the third quarter, as coach Frank Vogel wanted him to play more minutes as the primary offensive threat. “Put him back in Pui mode,” Vogel said. Hill responded by scoring 11 points, hitting 5-of-6 shots, and passing out four assists. Yes, it came against Minnesota's second unit. But it was about as much as he could do in one pre-season game to follow through on a promise and fulfill new expectations.
To show the world that he's found himself again.
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.