Holding the best record in Eastern Conference (41-12 as of this writing), there aren’t too many holes and flaws that can be nit-picked regarding the Indiana Pacers. Their team-centric defensive approach together with their size, length and smash-mouth style of play has allowed them to simply overwhelm inferior teams and grind out close games against the better ones.
An area that has been a subject of debate and even trade rumors is their starting point guard spot, a role that currently belongs to Indiana native, George Hill.
The 6-4, former IUPUI standout has been up-and-down in his exploits as the Pacers’ point man this season, as he did last season when the job was first handed to him on a full-time basis. In losses to great perimeter defending teams and teams with potent scoring point guards, Hill’s inability to distribute the ball and shut down his man has opened doors to criticism from all angles (including this writer).
Truth is, Hill isn’t a natural point guard and will never be one. Before the season even began, Hill himself touched on the subject during his media day session with the press and owned up to the improvements he needs to make as a point guard to help his team accomplish their goal of winning a title this season.
One trend that has held true regarding Hill is that the Pacers play better when he plays aggressive. Against the Portland Trail Blazers two weeks ago, a game wherein Lance Stephenson was sidelined by an injury and the team’s All-Stars in Paul George and Roy Hibbert struggling, that was exactly what Hill needed to be in order for his team to stay competitive against one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Hill attacked Damian Lillard’s defense and looked to score more often than he’s ever shown all season long, which resulted to a career-high 37 points and a near triple-double against one of the league’s best young point guards. Numbers don’t lie, as the Pacers are 3-0 this season in games wherein Hill has put up 20 or more points.
And it’s not as if Hill doesn’t know this. Looking back at a lot of his post-game interviews during last season’s playoffs, Hill repeatedly spoke on being more aggressive on offense to help his team win, which made his post-game interview after Friday night’s win over the Blazers seem like déjà vu.
So why can’t Hill be more aggressive on a nightly basis even when his teammates are both playing well and healthy?
“I don’t know what it is, but I felt like I had energy today and I said hopefully it relates to the court and it did,” Hill said about his performance after the win over the Blazers.
Sure, having more energy helps out a lot, but modesty aside, Hill can play this well more often if wanted to. The reason he did it against the Blazers was because he had to.
The Pacers have a talented starting unit that can win it all, but being that he is still learning on the job, Hill struggles to find the balance on when to look for his shot, when to distribute, on top of learning the many intricacies of being a full-fledged point guard while going up against the best in the world.
As much as I’ve written about Hill’s struggles, I’ve also maintained that it isn’t his fault, nor is it for the lack of effort on his part. Hill has done an admirable job and continues to do so in working to become the best point guard he can be for his team, but the fact remains that he’s not a natural point guard and opposing teams will continue to attack him and try to exploit him at the position.
What he needs to do, however, is not to forget to attack them back and still play to his strengths that got him this far in his career in the first place.
Hill is a scorer, being a shooting guard for majority of his career. And if the Pacers intend to keep him as their point guard, they need him to stay aggressive on offense and make the opposing points work, especially since he has a size advantage over most of them. Also, against teams like the Heat, Hill becomes predictable when he tries too hard to distribute under duress, instead of just attacking the defense and opening up gaps and lanes for his teammates.
“One thing I learned playing with CP (Chris Paul) for six years was, great scoring point guards don’t like to play defense. When you put pressure on them to guard, it takes a little something out of them on the offensive end,” said power forward David West after the game.
Hill doesn’t need to score 37 points each game for this talented Pacers team to win, but he definitely needs to stay aggressive and use his advantages to force other teams to adjust, which will further open up favorable matchups and opportunities for the rest of his team.
Chances are, George and Hibbert won’t combine for 7-31 shooting on most nights, and with a healthy Stephenson together with his other teammates, all Hill needs to do is be himself instead of trying too hard to be something he never will be.
Dennis is on Twitter @dRealSource.