Villanova saved Hilliard’s life, San Antonio may save his career


The San Antonio Spurs announced on Monday that they have signed forward Darrun Hilliard to a two-way contract.

Hilliard, who spent the last two seasons with the Detroit Pistons, now occupies the final two-way contract slot for the San Antonio Spurs. The other spot belongs to Matt Costello who the Spurs signed in July.

Every team has a different strategy with how they use two-way contracts.

Some teams have opted to use a two-way contract to sign their second round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. Others have signed undrafted free agents to a two-way deal. And teams like San Antonio have used the two-way contract as a way to develop older, but inexperienced players who could fill in on a limited basis.

Hilliard is the latest example for San Antonio — a crafty two-way wing with the potential to develop into a role player.

Under head coach Jay Wright, Hilliard averaged 11.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in four years at Villanova. He also shot 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc.

While Villanova didn’t win a national championship in his four years there, his teammates — including former Austin Spurs guard Ryan Arcidiacono — helped him become the man he is today.

“Looking back, coming in as a 17-year-old kid who was mentally unstable…finding coach (Jay) Wright and finding players like JayVaughn (Pinkston) and Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and Daniel (Ochefu) and then Dylan (Ennis)…I was able to kind of break out of my shell and kind of open up to these guys and it just motivated my game.” Hilliard told CSN Philly in 2015.

“These guys helped me more off the court than on the court…these guys have been my safe haven, you could say. Saved my life.”

Drafted 38th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, Hilliard immediately drew praise from Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy during summer league. But a broken nose, a lower back stress fracture and multiple G-League assignments hampered his development in Detroit.

This summer saw Hilliard traded from Detroit to Houston, then Houston to the Los Angeles Clippers in a matter of days. Los Angeles immediately waived him after completing the Chris Paul trade.

Now the 24-year-old forward has a new home inside the Spurs organization.

Despite the whirlwind of transactions, Hilliard remains an asset with no discernible weakness.

His athleticism is average for the NBA. His dribbling and footwork allow him to create his own shot. He’s an above-average 3-point shooter despite his NBA career numbers. His size and strength enable him to create space on offense, while also bullying his counterpart on defense. And finally, his patience and basketball IQ make him an excellent distributor.

The last two attributes are a result of Hilliard’s years as a star quarterback in high school.

Even when defenders figure him out, Hilliard has a secret weapon: He’s ambidextrous.

Hilliard is right-handed in his daily life, but shoots the basketball left-handed. Once he gets around the basket, he can finish with either hand as he showed during the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup, where he helped Team USA win a gold medal.

With all the positives in his game, it’s easy to get excited over an addition like Hilliard.

Playing under Stan and Jeff Van Gundy isn’t like playing for Gregg Popovich. But their similar philosophies give Hilliard a solid foundation of corporate knowledge.

The two-way contract limits how much time Hilliard can spend in San Antonio, but finding an NBA veteran with so much promise is rare.

San Antonio can develop Hilliard from afar without sacrificing a roster spot or cap space. And the two-way contract also allows him to serve as an insurance policy behind Brandon Paul or Kyle Anderson.

Hilliard isn’t expected to be the next Jonathon Simmons “rags to riches” success story; the chance he logs even a single NBA minute this year is slim.

But one thing is for sure: San Antonio’s due diligence paired with Hilliard’s trademark patience and work ethic are already the perfect match.

“I’m trying my best to stay calm and level-headed and leave it in God’s hands,” Hilliard told The Morning Call after being waived by the Clippers.

“I plan on working hard; harder than I ever have. I believe that when you work hard, everything will take care of itself.”



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