by Peter Walsh / @ayo_petew
There’s no question that the Indiana Pacers have all the tools in place to dethrone the Miami Heat and wear the crown as the NBA’s top team come June. Head coach Frank Vogel has emerged as one of the League’s top coaches, Paul George is a legit superstar; Roy Hibbert will be a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year; and Lance Stephenson is making a strong case for Most Improved Player consideration. But, behind every great team is a great player who does all the little things that don’t show up in box scores, and in guard George Hill, the Pacers have one of the most unsung players in the NBA.
For every George dunk or stepback jumper, there’s Hill finding the open spot on the floor and nailing a spot-up three-pointer. For every Hibbert hook shot, there’s Hill hitting him with a perfect entry pass. And for every Stephenson transition layup, there’s Hill finding him on the break with a beautiful outlet pass. Hill is a cerebral player—a guy who understands the nuances of the game and does everything in his power to ensure that the 10-1 Pacers are operating at full force.
During Wednesday night’s overtime victory at the Madison Square Garden, Hill finished with 23 points, 8 boards, 3 assists and a +/- of +8 in 43 minutes. While George is getting all the pub—and rightfully so—for his fourth quarter and overtime performance, it was Hill who hit a huge three-pointer in the fourth quarter to give the Pacers the lead and momentum heading into crunch time.
Since his playing days at Broad Ripple (IN) High and IUPUI, Hill has been a prolific scorer. Realizing his scoring acumen, Coach Vogel now has Hill playing off the ball more than he has in his previous years with the Pacers. With Born Ready turning into more of a complete player and flashing the game that had scouts drooling over him while he was at Lincoln (NY) High, Hill’s transition from on-ball point guard to more of a combo guard has been seamless and adds another ripple to Indiana’s attack.
This season Hill is averaging 12.8 points and his teammates are urging him to do what already comes naturally to him on the court. “DWest and Paul [George] challenge me before games to be aggressive,” says Hill. “They know I’ve been a scorer my whole life so they challenge me to not worry about setting people up and being that point guard that everyone wants and just be myself and go out and try and score that ball and that’s what I try and do.”
Defensively, Hill is a nightmare for opposing guards due to his size (6-3, 188 pounds) and length. While George and Hibbert are much more known for their defensive prowess, Hill sets the tone at the top of the key and often forces opposing ball handlers into precarious situations. Indiana’s arguably the top defensive team in the NBA.
Despite being the hometown kid, Hill will likely continue to fly under the radar with the Pacers. That’s not a knock on Hill—he’s as important to this team as anyone else from the starting five—but his penchant for smart, heady play and competitiveness will be invaluable to Indiana’s successes this season.
“I want to win, it really doesn’t matter [how many points] I have or what I do,” Hill says. “I just try and go out there each night and do what it takes to win the game.”