Hill's Just a Guard

Mark Montieth headshot
by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

December 29, 2013 | 12:15 a.m.

Lance Stephenson's quests for triple-doubles, Paul George's second-half brilliance, David West's metronomic consistency and the team's second-half dominance no longer qualify as news, so the most popular angle from the Pacers' 105-91 victory over Brooklyn Saturday was George Hill.

He's old news, too, in a way. The story of him needing to be more assertive has been told before, but it needed to be told to him again this week, so it's the closest the Pacers have to a fresh topic. And, as he tends to do, Hill responded: 21 points, four rebounds, four assists, a steal and no turnovers.

It was one of his best games of the season and it was timely as well, coming on the heels of an eight-game stretch in which he had averaged eight points, not to mention a ridiculous trade rumor that received more publicity than it merited as soon as it received any mention at all.

Coach Frank Vogel made it a point to identify Hill as the game's star performer in his opening postgame remarks despite Stephenson going for 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and George scoring a game-high 24 on 9-of-13 shooting and West pitching in 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Vogel said he thought Hill has been playing aggressively. So did Stephenson. Others, however, acknowledged the missing elements of Hill's game in recent weeks. Roy Hibbert said “it was nice to see George get going,” and Hill himself confided Vogel had talked with him on Friday about unwrapping more of his skill set.

“Coach challenged me to be aggressive and pick up the slack, and that's what I tried to do tonight,” Hill said. “He told me I have a lot to my game that I'm not exploring. He said I look like I'm too tentative and trying to pass more than I'm trying to score. He told me to be myself like I was in high school and college.

“With the success this team is (having) I kind of get lost in the flurry. Knowing that me being aggressive helps this team tremendously, I have to keep doing it.”

If all the talk sounds conflicted, it's part of a team-wide plot to get Hill playing in a more consistently assertive manner. Nobody wants to call him out, but there's been plenty of private conversation on the topic of Hill raising his offensive game. Most likely, he hasn't heard the last of it. He's surrounded with offensive weapons, and has an unselfish nature and laconic demeanor.

In other words, he doesn't go into games looking to score. So, when he disappears into the shadows of the offense for too long, he needs to be reminded to come out and play. Saturday's game might have been the ideal shot distribution for the Pacers, with all five starters taking between seven and 13 field goal attempts and all five scoring in double figures.

“He's hurting this team if he's not shooting it,” George said of Hill. “He has so many opportunities to make plays and be aggressive. When the shots are there and available, he has to take them.

“We all play for one another. At times we make mistakes because we're trying to share the ball and get other guys the ball, but he's got to know when the opportunity is there he has to take advantage of it.”

If Hill has an identity crisis, it's largely because of his job description. Most people think of him as a point guard and compare him to other point guards around the league, but it's a case of mistaken identity. He's not listed as a point guard anywhere in material distributed by the Pacers, and he's certainly not a point guard in the mind of any Pacers employees, including his own. The only thing that should lead anyone to believe Hill is a point guard is that he usually defends opposing point guards, which he usually does well.

Stephenson leads the Pacers in assists (150). George is second (103) and Hill is third (94), barely ahead of West (92). On this team, all five players touch the ball on a regular basis, with all five having plenty of opportunities for an assist.

“It’s actually fun playing with each other, knowing that nobody cares who’s scoring the most points,” Stephenson said. “We’re just playing together and making smart plays to get each other open.”

Hill has the perfect backcourt partner in Stephenson, who also defies a narrow job classification. Both are hybrids who can score and distribute equally well. If they are anything more specific than simply guards, they are combo guards. Saturday, they combined for 44 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, with just three turnovers in their 70 combined minutes. The Pacers will take that and not care at all about anyone's preconceived notions of what their guards' roles should be. They are not built to be Mark Jackson and Reggie Miller, or Jamaal Tinsley and Reggie Miller.

“This team doesn't need a dominant point guard who pounds the ball,” Hill said. “Our ball moves and everyone plays together. We have too many options and too many guys who can create. It would be selfish for me to have the ball in my hands all the time.”

On this team, it would be foolish as well.