The Two Sides to the Pelicans’ Signing of Solomon Hill

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Published: July 3, 2016

There are a lot of reasons why Solomon Hill is a good signing for the Pelicans, and a lot of them don’t have anything to do with X’s, O’s, or buckets.

Terrible, terrible, bad effort, not playing hard, not giving a damn.

– Alvin Gentry on the team’s effort issues 12/18/2015

Solomon Hill is a good signing for the organization because he is a company man, a true professional. His approach to the game is as consistent and unquestionable as they come. He sets the tone every single day he walks into practice not only with his effort, but with his energy and his acumen. He is constantly talking, constantly leading by example.

A late first round draft pick out of Arizona, Hill was never a flashy player with monstrous stats. He was a 4-year athlete who took some time to develop. After averaging under 10pts and 5rebs per game in both his freshman and sophomore years, Hill was named to the All-Pac 12 first team for both his junior and senior seasons, winning the team’s MVP award as a junior and the school’s male athlete of the year award as a senior. The “gold jersey” award handed out every week to the best performer in practice by the Arizona coaching staff, which Hill won many a time, is a little less prestigious but tells you more about the type of player he is.

His first year in the league he only managed 28 appearances and 226 total minutes, unable to break into a rotation headlined by Paul George and Lance Stephenson (before he became crazy and terrible). But all that changed his 2nd year. Lance was gone, Paul George would miss all but 6 games with a broken leg, and Solomon Hill found himself taking the bulk of their responsibilities on his shoulders.

Despite his unimpressive numbers, Hill went on to lead the Pacers in total minutes, appearing in all 82 games in ’14-’15. Frank Vogel stuck with him for the entire season because of the intangibles he brought to the depleted team.

“He’s has a great basketball IQ,” Vogel said. “He’s picked up, with David [West] out, in terms of being our middle linebacker defensively, our best talker.”

Vogel wasn’t surprised to see the mature-beyond-his-years wing step into a leadership role, it was one of the reasons they drafted him. When asked about the choice for the 23rd overall pick, Pacers’ assistant Dan Burke summarized why they picked the wing over a position of need:

He’s got this quiet confidence about him. When he’s putting the ball on the floor and probing the defense, it looks like everything is coming slow motion to him, just very smooth. And he’s really a student of the game. You can tell he’s been well coached. Maybe it’s the four years, spending four years combined with good coaching is a huge plus, obviously.

But he’ll come to the bench and he’ll say, “Guys they’re doubling the post on the second dribble. Hey guys, they’re switching on the back side on that pick the picker action.” He sees just about everything and he communicates it and to hear that from a rookie, it gets you excited. When we get into October against some of our vets, I’ll be curious to see how he stands out. As far as his approach to being ready and, I think you already said it, his seriousness, I think he’s going to be a tremendous addition to our team.

However, the Pelicans paid Hill to be more than just a locker room presence and a vocal leader, they paid him to be their future starter on the wing, a position that hasn’t been filled in a long time. Tyreke Evans signed 4-years deal but has been a point guard the entire time he has been in New Orleans, not a wing. Morris Peterson signed a 4-year $23mil deal before the 2007-2008 season. His salary was just over 10% of the team’s cap that year (Hill’s contract comes in closer to 12% as Mason Ginsberg so elegantly outlined for us). But even then, Morris Peterson was more of a guard than a wing.

It seems odd to say that the Pelicans took a gamble on a guy they paid ~$12mil/year when the average going rate for a wing this summer is closer to ~$16mil. He did check a lot of the Front Office’s boxes. But make no mistake, the Pels bet on Solomon Hill. They bet on him becoming a decent two-way NBA player. He has not exactly been that up to this point in his professional career.

Hill was one of the worst shooters in the NBA his 2nd season in the league. He shot <40% from the field, and only managed to make 68 of his 208 3PAs. It was a huge reason as to why the young wing got benched early in ’15-’16.

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He was simply seen as a worse option than guys like Glenn Robinson III, Miles Turner, and even Chase Budinger. In college he was a semi-reliable shooter, but the mechanics on his jumpshot were always a concern.

Not only could he not shoot, but he made just 50% of his shots within 3ft of the rim in ’14-’15. He wasn’t an effective driver because, as far as NBA standards go, he wasn’t an elite athlete, which was another mark against him coming out of college. He wasn’t a great leaper, would struggle from time to time finishing over bigs, and didn’t change directions particularly well. With Hill it was either straight-line drives or 3’s, and he wasn’t particularly efficient at either. He got to the basket enough, just mostly as a product of his intelligence and strength (at 6’7″, 225lbs, Hill is as strong as they come on the wings).

But when Budinger and Robinson III couldn’t help, when Turner couldn’t adapt to playing PF, the same qualities that made Hill a good leader, that prompted Zach Lowe to peg him as an under-the-radar possible starter,  allowed him to step in and make a difference for a team fighting for the playoffs.

He has an NBA-level feel — a sense of rhythm, timing and vision that is hard to teach.

He is just a high-level on-ball defender who understands spacing, timing, and movement well while always competing hard and rarely making the type of positional and “I didn’t know the scheme” mistakes that drive coaches like Frank Vogel crazy and young players like Glenn Robinson, III and Myles Turner and Joe Young make all the time.

Defensively he gives you everything you would want apart from that upper echelon of athleticism you can only be gifted at birth. He can switch effectively onto anyone on the perimeter, contain penetration, and won’t blow an assignment. With communication, smart help, and fundamentally sound one-on-one defense Hill instantly improves this Pelicans squad at least on one end. Post All-star break he posted the best Net-Rating and Defensive-Rating on the Pacers, well at least for guys who stuck around and got minutes – Chase Bundinger would be bought out and Glenn Robinson III would only get 7 appearances.

Offense is another story, but the improvement he showed toward the end of ’15-’16 is perhaps the biggest piece of evidence that, specifically in this system with Alvin Gentry, he can grow here. He was dropped from consideration for minutes the 1st half of the season because the Pacers wanted to play faster, hop on the “space and pace” trend a little bit, and Hill simply couldn’t score. Vogel was searching for an answer to counter other teams going small, and the search ended with Hill.

His ability to switch 1-4 and stop penetration helped stymie the effectiveness of opposing small ball lineups, and his increased offensive efficiency allowed him to stay on the floor. His FG% within 3ft of the rim jumped up to 64.8% on the season, much more acceptable than previous seasons. He shot barely above 32% from 3 again, but in the months of March and April he managed TS%’s of 54.7 and 64.3. In April he hit 13/27 3PAs, and that form carried over into the playoffs, where he made 11/19. He could finally take advantage of match ups against big 4’s.

So in a sense, you know exactly what you are getting with Hill, and you do need what he brings, things that the Pelicans needed to address, like defense, work ethic, basketball intelligence, things you need to build a good culture around your team and organization. But at the same time, you are banking on continued improvement on the offensive end. If he doesn’t improve on that end, he becomes just another one way player that the Pels will inevitably need to upgrade to get back to the Playoffs. He is 25 with just 169 games in 3 seasons, there is room for improvement, but will Gentry and his staff be able to get it out of him?

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