The Indiana/Chicago first round in last season’s playoffs gave us plenty to love about the Pacers. In four out of five games, Indiana stood its ground against the best team in the NBA at that point. Suddenly, despite incredibly awful shooting displays, the Pacers became a buzz-worthy team. And someone who garnered quite a bit on his own was Paul George. Yet for someone known as a scorer in college, George’s field goal numbers were terrible. He isn’t yet comfortable putting the ball on the floor/shooting off the dribble, so his offensive game was quickly stymied by the best defense in the league — and there’s no shame in that, especially for a rookie as raw as George is.
Curiously, George unveiled himself a potentially great defender, something that few would’ve been able to predict during his days at Fresno St. Â In Game 3, George had an awful shooting night (1-9 FG), but managed to bring in a game-high 12 rebounds, along with two assists, two steals, and two blocks, all the while being a big contributor to Derrick Rose’s worst shooting performance ofÂ the season (including an unbelievable recovery block on what was supposed to be a blow-by layup off a high screen). Rose had 96 other games to shoot worse than the 22% he managed in Game 3. He didn’t.
(…The Pacers lost that game.)
That first round series was at once a solid effort from a young team and a cry for help. The Pacers allowed for late-game surges by the Bulls in each of the first four games as they paralyzed themselves with a lapses in offensive execution down the stretch. Of course, that was then. Things have changed a bit since then.
The Pacers and San Antonio Spurs struck one of those rare deals wherein both teams get exactly what they need while giving up something just outside the scope of necessity. Acquiring George Hill means patching up a few glaring holes on the team while reinforcing their greatest strength. Hill is as steady as they come in terms of combo guards, perfectly capable of running the offense while Darren Collison rests. His dramatic improvement as a shooter bodes well for the team with George and Brandon Rush equally inconsistent shooters, and with Mike Dunleavy Jr. unable to keep himself on the floor. Having a steady hand is imperative for the late-game situations, and that might be the most important skill Hill brings back to his hometown. The Spurs built, from the ground up, a soldier understanding his role in the collective and never superseding it. Of course, the Pacers would love to unlock Hill’s prior incarnation — because adding another potent decision-maker sounds much more appealing than allowing more Danny Granger isolation plays.
Defensively, Hill will jump right into being a high-functioning cog in Indiana’s stellar team defense. Hill is one of the best pick and roll defenders in the league, which is probably worth double for the Pacers. Being in the same division as the Bulls means needing several wrenches to throw into the Derrick Rose fight for all four rounds. With Paul George proving to be a successful Rose deterrent, adding Hill into the mix should only improve an already solid defensive scheme.
Adding Hill puts Indiana in an interesting (and most likely beneficial) position. When the Pacers eschewed Dunleavy for George late in the regular season, it was clear that defense was being held as the premium. But as SI’s Zach Lowe explained prior to the start of the playoffs, maybe that wasn’t the best idea:
The PacersÂ have played much betterÂ with Dunleavy on the floor this season than they have with either George or Brandon Rush at shooting guard, and itâ€™s not close. Indianaâ€™s current starting lineup â€” Darren Collison/George/Danny Granger/Tyler Hansbrough/Roy Hibbert â€” has been outscored by about 10 points per 100 possessions,Â according to Basketball Value. The margin stays just as bad if you substitute Rush for George. But in 152 minutes with Dunleavy at the 2-guard spot, that lineup is +4 per 100 possessions.
Dunleavy was the only shooting guard on the roster consistently capable of creating offense, which Lowe explains could mean more to the Pacers than defense (which makes a bunch of sense when you consider just how awful this team was on offense). Hill is a reliable shooter and passer –Â replacing Dunleavy — and his length and smarts allows him to guard multiple positions — replacing George — making him the likely choice for starting 2. This means moving George back to the bench. And while the guy has superstar ambitions (and who can blame him with the skill set he has?), Hill’s acquisition allows Indiana to be patient in George’s development. As Paul George refines his offensive game, he could very easily settle into a Trevor Ariza-esque defensive stopper role off the bench without the idiotic shooting displays. After Game 3, he clearly took pride in his defensive effort. As he should. Holding a force like Rose to underwhelming performances should be enough to make anyone consider defense as a specialty.
George is someone who could possess star potential. Adding Hill doesn’t necessarily inhibit that. It does, however, make sure that the organization is patient in George’s development. It makes sure bad habits don’t derail what could be the beginning of a promising career. Indiana got what they needed on draft night –a big fix and a little breathing room as the next few years play out.Â The Pacers aren’t rushing the future, but they aren’t stalling the present either.