Hill, Nwora Each Embracing New Chapters in Indiana

George Hill called it “a dream come true.” Jordan Nwora said he was “super, super excited.”

Hill and Nwora are two players at very different stages in their careers, but both had genuine excitement to be traded to Indiana at Thursday’s trade deadline. That might sound strange, considering both were dealt away from a championship contender in Milwaukee, but for both players, landing in Indiana offers reason for optimism.

For Hill, it’s a chance for the “Hometown Hero” to come back to the city where he has accomplished so much as his basketball career winds down. You would be hard-pressed to find a player who accomplished more in one city at all levels of basketball than Hill, who starred at Broad Ripple High School, IUPUI, and for the Pacers from 2011-16, helping lead his hometown franchise to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014.

Now 36 years old, Hill isn’t ready to retire yet – he still expressed a desire on Friday to play a few more seasons – but there was something poetic to him about coming back to Indiana.

When the Pacers agreed to deal for Hill and Nwora (as well as Serge Ibaka and three second-round draft picks), Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard reached out to Hill and his agent and presented him with two options. If Hill wanted, the Pacers were willing to buy out his contract and allow him to sign with another contending team. But Hill was drawn to the second option, staying on in Indiana and embracing a role as a mentor for a Pacers locker room full of young talent.

Hill has not won a championship in his career, but he’s been a part of teams that came close in San Antonio, Indiana, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, playing with stars from Tim Duncan to Paul George to LeBron James to Giannis Antetokounmpo. He knows that he has accumulated plenty of wisdom over his 15 NBA seasons that he can pass on to young players like Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin.

“I’ve been in a lot of places,” Hill said. “I’ve played with a lot of great people, a lot of great teams. Just trying to bring the things that I’ve learned that helped me be successful, that helped our team be successful here to share with these young guys and to try to get Indiana basketball back to where it used to be.”

Hill adds another veteran voice to a locker room that already includes a few. One of them is 26-year-old center Myles Turner, who was a rookie back in 2015-16, Hill’s last season in Indiana.

“It’s good to see (him grow from) when he was a baby when we were here full circle where now he’s one of the older guys in the locker room and you’ve got the young guys listening to him like he was listening to us back then,” Hill said. “I’m very excited that he’s still here, I’m very excited that we extended him to keep him here for a little longer, and hopefully we can continue to get better together.”

Nwora has spent the past two seasons playing alongside Hill in Milwaukee and said the veteran “has been a great mentor” as he embarks on his own professional career, an experience that made him confident that Hill will have a major impact in his second stint in Indiana.

“Just having him with me, being able to pick his brain every day, and just having a good person around – you don’t find that a lot,” Nwora said. “Having a guy like him, it’s great for me and not only myself, but all these other guys. I just know how much he can help. Even today, first day here, he was one of the loudest voices I’ve heard, coaching everybody up.”

Hill is no stranger to being traded – Thursday was the seventh time he has been dealt in his career and both the second time he was traded by the Bucks and the second time he was traded to Indiana. For Nwora, on the other hand, this is a new experience – the first time he’s been dealt since he was drafted by Milwaukee in the second round in 2020.

The 24-year-old forward said there was “a little bit of shock” when he first got the news that he was on the move, but he quickly realized what a good fit it would be for him.

Nwora fits the mold of recent Pacers acquisitions like Aaron Nesmith and Jalen Smith – a young player that has shown potential but seen limited playing time on a contending roster with veterans ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Pacers are hopeful Nwora can enjoy a breakout similar to Nesmith, who averaged just 3.8 points in 11 minutes last season in Boston, but has become a vital piece in Indiana, moving into the starting lineup and averaging 9.7 points per game while also emerging as the team’s top wing defender.

Nwora has also shown flashes over his time in Milwaukee, averaging 6.8 points and shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range over 130 games. He had a nice outing in a 132-119 win over the Pacers on Jan. 16 in Milwaukee, tallying 14 points and six rebounds off the bench and going 4-for-4 from 3-point range. But Nwora will finally get something in Indiana he didn’t in Milwaukee – consistent minutes.

“He got limited opportunities (in Milwaukee) because of their veterans and a lot of the guys that were in front of him just didn’t get injured that much,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. “But when they did have guys dinged up or when they were resting guys, he was always ready. He just gets the ball in the basket. The guy’s a gifted scorer. This will be a great opportunity for him here.”

Hill knows firsthand what Nwora is capable of.

“He’s one of the best scorers I’ve seen,” Hill said. “I think he’s a great shot-creator, but at the same time, he’s getting a lot better defensively and knowing the game. With his age, his athleticism, his body, I think he’s going to be an integral part of this young core. I think Pacer nation will be very proud of what the Pacers have received.”

Nwora won a championship as a rookie with the Bucks. He had the chance to potentially leave last summer as a restricted free agent and received interest from the Pacers, but ultimately inked a deal to return to Milwaukee.

Being traded to Indiana is not quite a homecoming for Nwora, but he has some familiarity with the area. A Buffalo native, he spent three seasons at the University of Louisville, where he was a third-team All-American as a junior. He actually traveled to Gainbridge Fieldhouse for his first NBA game while he was in college, making the two-hour drive to Indianapolis to watch former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell – then on the Utah Jazz – take on the Pacers.

Nwora will make his Pacers debut in the same arena on Monday night. He and Hill arrived at the Fieldhouse shortly before Friday’s game, met their new teammates and then watched the Blue & Gold play from the bench. They will not play on Saturday night in Washington, but are expected to work out Sunday and be available for the Pacers next week against Utah and Chicago.

When that day does come, Nwora is excited for the opportunity in front of him.

“Just being able to take the next step in my game here, being able to grow with these guys,” Nwora said. “Coming in here, a lot of us are around the same age…It’s gonna be really good being here playing for a great coach, great coaches, great staff. Just walking into the locker room, it seems like a locker room full of great guys.”

George Hill and Jordan Nwora Press Conference

Kevin Pritchard Press Conference: Feb. 10, 2023