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Then and Now: George Hill

George Hill has been with the Spurs for two years – only two years. The apparent liquidity of our theme and redact-ability of our subject matter must be spilling over your monitor as you read this. I know – we’re stretching it. Stay with me for about three more paragraphs and you’ll see where we’re going.

For someone still so early in their NBA career, the whole “Then and Now” comparison loses its punch. ‘Now’ tends to be a pervasive concept, it’s just always sort of here. It’s the ‘then’ part, when it comes to Hill, that seems to be avoiding us. George Hill isn’t just a young NBA player, he’s a second year player who came into the league virtually unknown, someone who’s expectations are barely being measured. In terms of media attention, fan speculation and career projections, George Hill is the basketball version of a quantum-mechanical anomaly – he didn’t really exist until two years ago.

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He has no ‘then’.

What we’re left with is an opportunity to explore some of the different possibilities for Hill’s career. Hill certainly has potential.

But he’s also got some pitfalls to avoid. What we’ll do is briefly examine some of his most promising aspects and the areas he needs to work on, then prognosticate for both. Understand that while I’m going to group my analysis into two distinct groups (upside and downside), it’s only logical that Hill will fulfill some predictions on both sides.

Upside

George Hill is a damn fine defender. It’s what initially got him noticed and earned him floor time on a Gregg Popovich team. He’s got tremendous length, a solid build and quick feet coupled with an invaluable tenacity. Ideally, he’ll use his physical attributes and toughened mind set to become a top tier defender. On the high end of predictions I think he can make an All-Defense team somewhere in his career.

Offensively he’s already a good finisher. Understand that good finisher doesn’t always equate to getting up at the rim; Hill has shown a knack for being able to toss in a tough or awkward layup just as much as he has shown a propensity to touch iron. Should there ever come a time when an offense required Hill to create consistently off the dribble, it’s safe to assume he could get into the lane with some regularity and finish. I’d like to see him tighten up his handle some and increase the repertoire of dribble moves to sure up his vehicle for getting into the paint. Also some increased awareness on big men stepping into the lane for drop off passes will be necessary.

With his length and athleticism Hill will be able to fit into most schemes as a combo guard (something we’re already seeing). On the high end of projections, he could be a medium-to-high volume scoring combo guard. He has a lot of the tools, he’s brimming with confidence and in a short two-year span he seems to be increasing in scoring potential quickly. Should he continue to trend at this rate of improvement I think he has All-Star potential, but even if he starts hitting diminishing returns around his fourth or fifth year (likely), he’ll still be solid starter in this league.

Downside

Two years in and Hill still plays like most young, athletic guards do, with a tendency to shoot first, pass second and in submission to positional duties (point guard) makes the concession of distributing more out of obligation than instinct. He’s a scorer first, not because he has a selfish attitude or doesn’t want to distribute, but because his current skill set is simply tailored towards scoring. Being a point guard who effectively spreads the ball around isn’t just a mental shift, if it were that easy anyone could do it. He has to develop the necessary skill set to be that kind of player.

Hill’s size and length at point guard is typically going to give him an advantage at that position, but when he moves over to two guard, he’s a lot closer to just getting by. He’s a got a great wingspan and because he’s a good defender and tough scorer he’ll get by most of the time, but there will be negative match up issues from time to time. It’s hard to harp on a 6-2 guy who works so hard and plays bigger than he is, but there’s no way he can go up against 6-7 or 6-8 wing man night in and night out without someone taking advantage on purely size alone. Eric Snow made his name as a defender only being 6-3 (and not nearly as athletic as Hill), but even that guy would tell you he’d have loved another 2 or 3 inches.

Hill will also have to round out his game offensively with some added touch on his jump shot. Particularly spotting up, he could see some improvement. It’s not as noticeable now, but looking down the road when he’s potentially asked to shoulder a larger load offensively, defenses will learn to sag off and keep the lane crowded; he’ll have to make sure he’s able to step back and line up jumpers consistently. It’s clear that so far this season he’s seem improvement over last season, so hopefully that trend continues.

Where does Hill go from here?

Honestly, probably right out of San Antonio.

It’s a nauseating prospect, but it’s likely and unfortunately it will be an unavoidable conundrum as long as Tony Parker is the starting point guard. The Spurs will either have to staff a veteran guard who’s willing to accept a backup role or a young player who hasn’t come into his own willing to play behind Parker until he has. In the case of the latter (Hill), it’s only a matter of time before he develops and other teams in need of a young potential-laden guard come calling with offers of more minutes and big contracts.

I’d like to say Hill will have a long, prosperous career with the Spurs, but as long as he continues to trend in improvement the way he has, we’re likely going to be remembered as his first stop. At this rate it will only be another year or two before there’s a handful of teams who will be considering Hill as an option for starting point guard (if only because of a deficiency on their roster). It would be hard to fault him for wanting to take on the offer.

Maybe the Spurs find a way to have Parker and Hill play in the same back court or maybe they’re just willing to pay Hill a healthy sum to be their back up PG. Keeping young talent is always a priority and a challenge for any team, so the possibilities are numerous.

As far as his individual development goes I imagine Hill will make good on a lot of his potential, and inevitably fall flat in some areas. No matter how far he goes or how fast he gets their, we’ll be able to say we saw him take some impressive first steps.

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