The Wisdom of Solomon?

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Published: March 27, 2017

When the New Orleans Pelicans signed Solomon Hill, I told myself: Read up.

When I had time to read up, I told myself: This guy is going to do most of his work off the box score.

When I watched the games for those off-the-box things: I didn’t see them.

Every team has its under-the-microscope transactions, and the one from the past offseason was the Solomon Hill contract. Even accounting for the cap jump, the Hill contract was decent change, well above a “scaled” MLE. Those contracts go to difference-makers. It took a good long while for Solomon to make a positive difference on a consistent basis. Even then, since it’s not in the box score, it’s going to be ignored by the casual observer. So, I’m going to point out what I think I’ve seen that is good and what I want to see in these last few games.

What’s the Issue?

Boiling it all down to one thing, I’m going to call Solomon’s main weakness confidence. I’ve said it before, and as the season goes on, I just see reinforcement for this position. When you start digging in the mass of data, you can be led astray easily, and trends can tempt you to suggest or prefer courses of action that are actually counter-productive. Solomon is more productive overall when he sees more minutes in longer runs. This means he’s better when he starts, and in the first and third quarters, at least in a traditional rotation. His shot chart is something the superficial analyst would point to as a very realistic exemplar of efficient shot attempts (if not shot making), with (prior to the win in Denver) 336 of 395 (~85%) of his shots coming at the rim or from 3, with a 52.3 eFG% there. This includes a 3-point-attempt rate that far exceeds his work in Indiana, showing his coachability, especially considering that he is an average 3-point shooter, give or take.

I also think some of his bread-and-butter garbage man type scoring has been given to others. His scoring away from the basket is not as bad as it seems in the small samples he’s given this season. In his best prior season, he made some real hay in the paint (which are the least efficient shots in general) and from midrange, leading to a much better overall more efficient shooting season. Here, one has to realize that taking a variety of shots tends to open up the defense for a poorer shooter, giving them more options and room. So, taking a variety of shots helps all shots, at least for those players. This gap is reflected in his lower offensive output in New Orleans. It’s part of his role on this team, and he seems to embrace it. He just has to grow into it. I’m not sure that will happen, but I know he’ll put the work it. Again, coachability.

After all, who really lights up when someone says to you . . . here’s how we’re going to use you to help the team on tv, in front of the world . . . we want you to do what you are average at doing way more while you do your best stuff less? This underlying fact is one reason Hill is valued. He may not be offensively gifted, but he’s not going to upset the apple cart when playing with Davis, or even Davis and Cousins. If you think that is a “basic skill,” then you need to read up and come back next year.

Hill’s defense is pretty good, but it’s not what I’d hoped. Still, when I dig deeper, I think I see a good team player that is a good cog in the team defense. Sure, everyone has lapses, and he’s not been mistaken this season for a defensive MVP. Part of that is that his individual defense is sometimes a spectacular failure. I mean this literally. It’s a spectacle that results. He’s often put in the situations where he defends top guys who are top athletes, and when they get the best of him, it’s a show. That’s no excuse, but it’s an explanation. It’s part of the job, and someone has to draw the hardest job. Hill is here to do that, so he can’t be excused for this, but the context must be considered, as must the reasons why we see such glaring failures from an otherwise very solid defender. Again, I’ll chalk some of this up to both the cause and effect of confidence issues.

The confidence thing is not just me. John Reid noted that Gentry hoped he would become more assertive on offense. A big contract can shake a man’s confidence, and so can expectations, though that may seem counterintuitive. When someone is not a showman and offense is not their strength, this is a risk that the GM takes and puts squarely on the coaches to develop with that particular player.

The occasional kind and informed word may help. So, here’s to you, Mr. Hill.

In The Last Few Games

So, in this last stretch, what do I want to see? The Pelicans are in that place where they can go from the playoffs as a fading glimmer on the horizon to the playoffs just remaining a glimmer or being plunged into the darkness irrecoverably. I want to see how Hill reacts to these extreme and volatile circumstances. I hope I see him play well in substantial minutes, obviously. I want to see this not only for the obvious reasons but also as a test of his off-the-box contributions. The team needs that smart “level-enthusiasm” from a kind of coach on the floor. They need consistency from him if they’ll give him consistent minutes.

I may also want to see some time with Hill coming out early in the first or third, then playing more in the second or fourth quarters. I’m not sure what they would do with the line-up continuity, but it’d make him more of a closer. First 8, last 8 in each half. Something like that, but that’s just me pushing numbers around. It’d have to work with his approach to the game and with the other moving parts. However, if there is a time to experiment, this might be it.

We should all be wanting this to work out whether you are “behind” Solomon or not. I happen to like the guy. He seems a solid guy, and a guy I could really get develop an affinity for a la Jason Smith. With his contract, he’ll have to do more, of course. I’ve just not given up data-driven hope yet.

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