George Hill and the Green Light
By ROB MAHONEY
April 5, 2011, 4:50 PM
Within 15 seconds of entering Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, George Hill had made his first basket. After 35 seconds more, he had made another. Minutes later, Hill was in the midst of a full-blown explosion, as he dropped a pair of pull-up three-pointers, hit a short jumper, and then successfully executed the patented, controversial “rip move” to earn three foul shots and pull off an 11-2 run all on his own. Toss in an extra basket and a technical free throw, and Hill concluded his six-minute stint in the first quarter with 16 points and spotless shooting from the field and the free throw line.
That kind of burst is exactly what makes Hill fascinating to some, confounding to others, and occasionally infuriating to those who understand and appreciate his scoring capability. Such a showcase has simply been uncharacteristic of Hill’s N.B.A. career, though hardly because of a lack of talent; Hill has come to embody San Antonio role player deference, and while that respect for the Spurs’ pecking order is surely appreciated, Hill is considerably more gifted than the specialists who typically fill minutes alongside Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
Hill has the potential for much more than players in the Roger Mason Jr.-Brent Barry-Michael Finley mold. He needn’t confine himself to the perimeter, nor attempt to be wholly accommodating to his high-profile teammates. More than any other contemporary Spur role player, Hill is in a position to force his own way; not only is he talented enough to provide another dimension to San Antonio’s offense, but Hill has also been given Gregg Popovich’s blessing (via Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell):
“We’re trying to get him to the point where every time he steps on the floor he knows that he’s a heck of a player, that we want him to be aggressive and that he has the green light to do that and be a scorer,” Popovich said. “It’s just a process. He’s a young guy and a respectful guy who defers and wants everybody to be happy. In an ironic sort of way, we’re trying to get him to be more selfish.”
Popovich believes in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before him. It has eluded Hill, but that’s no matter—tomorrow he will run faster, stretch out his arms farther…And then one fine morning—
When playing with the Spurs’ stars, Hill plays within his conception of a particular role. He largely sinks into the corner to await spot-up opportunities, making occasional plays and hitting shots when the ball swings his way. That’s not enough, at least in Popovich’s estimation. Clearly, San Antonio -– one of the top teams in the league this season on offense -– doesn’t need Hill to be an amazingly productive scorer to find offensive success, but why shouldn’t the Spurs strive for the actualization of an underused weapon? Any burden that Hill can lift from Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker is unquestionably helpful to the team’s overall performance, and adding a more dynamic Hill would only make the Spurs’ offense flow even more freely.
Regardless of the role that Hill believes he is playing for the Spurs, he can’t elect to mute his own scoring potential. Obviously there’s room for discretion, but universal deference isn’t helping his team produce nor is it aiding in his development as a player. Shooting from the corner isn’t the be-all, end-all for a player of Hill’s caliber. It’s a valuable skill, sure, but spacing the floor is no reason to disregard intuitive scoring instinct. Hill is a natural, an athlete, and has a silky jumper on which to rely. He won’t take the world by storm if he chooses to be more assertive, but Hill could very well make one of the league’s top offenses even better with his potential to score both inside and out, all while distracting opponents from his ever-potent star teammates.
For that to happen, Hill needs to step out of his trained role with San Antonio and back into himself. His maturation with the Spurs provides an invaluable infrastructure in which to access his greatest talents, but it’s still Hill’s original allure as a scorer that makes him so intriguing today (via 48MoH):
“[Popovich] needs me to be the Indiana George, the Indiana George that played in high school and college,” Hill said. “In high school and college I’d have 25-point halves, so I should try to relive the dream I guess.”
Hill is right in a sense, but Popovich simply desires the best of both worlds: a self-aware scorer who fully understands his role within the team concept and when those limitations no longer apply to him. It’s a change in approach that only Hill can make. So he beats on, boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.