Utah Jazz Deep Dives: George Hill

The Utah Jazz hedged towards winning when they traded the 12th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft for George Hill. What will the former Pacer provide for Utah?

While it was drowned out by the sound and fury of July 1st, 2016, the Utah Jazz actually fired the opening shot for summer deals in the NBA. Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey, surely anticipating the frenzied rush of money that would come with free agency, instead leveraged his draft capital to acquire a much-needed point guard.

If there was ever a summer for mediocre point guards to get overpaid, this was it. Couple the $24 million cap spike with a weak free agent class at the position, and suddenly unproven youngsters like Tyler Johnson commanded a four-year, $50 million deal.

Lindsey avoided all that, essentially securing George Hill for the 12th pick (as Jeff Teague was rerouted to Indiana).

Hill doesn’t have the name recognition of score-first guys (Isaiah Thomas), or even low-end All-Stars (Teague). Playing second fiddle to Paul George, and later Monta Ellis, dampened his stat line and obscured his contributions. George and Ellis both dominated the ball — enough to finish with more assists and potential assists than Hill.

Playing off-ball that much would be a scourge for most point guards, but not Hill. He rotates the ball with alacrity, and never falls into the iso-heavy drives that Ellis has seemed to embrace. Most importantly, Hill is a deadeye from long range.

He shot 44.5 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last year (fourth-best among players with over 225 attempts), and opponents have learned to respect him as an elite marksman. When Hill drifts out to the corner, his Saturn-esque gravity drags opponents away from the lane, opening up massive gaps in the defense.

Pigeonhole him as a one-dimensional shooter at your own risk; Hill is no J.J. Redick. When he played without Ellis or George, his crafty handle and deft floater game was on display. Hill carried moribund Pacer bench units to alarming success.

The lineup of Hill/Rodney Stuckey/Chase Budinger/Lavoy Allen/Jordan Hill ran roughshod through opposing reserves — all behind their underrated floor general. This unit scored 116 points/100 possessions, and held opponents to a lowly 95 points/100 poss.

Watching Hill during these minutes there’s a palpable shift in his play. He’s more assertive, but also deliberate. The Pacers slow down when they play the subs — a smart tactic employed by pretty much every NBA coach — and Hill thrives as a passer and driver.

“It’s a great opportunity and I’m very excited. I have familiarity with some of the front office guys and the head coach, and I know a lot of the guys are from Indy [Gordon Hayward and Trey Lyles], so I have a little bit of a relationship with them.” –George Hill

His fit in Utah ought to be seamless; he can reprise his Pacers’ form alongside the starters, and shift to ball dominance with the subs. Gordon Hayward, selected one pick before George in 2010, mimics the latter’s offensive game for the Jazz. He had the third-highest time of possession amongst all forwards last year, trailing LeBron and the immortal Point Giannis.

Hill should mesh well with Hayward’s game, and can provide shooting for Utah’s spacing-starved units. The starters last year (Raul Neto/Rodney Hood/Hayward/Derrick Favors/Rudy Gobert) had a positive net rating of 7.2, despite playing in some truly cramped conditions.

Swapping Neto with Hill won’t be a silver bullet fix for Utah’s offense, but it’s a giant step in the right direction. Teams never had to guard Neto off-ball last year — he had the gravitational pull of a soft five under fluorescent lights. It’s tough for an offense to function with a guy like that; Andre Roberson nearly tanked OKC’s starters until he learned how to cut and dart into easy layups.

For an offensive mastermind like Quin Snyder, having a capable ball handler who doubles as an elite shooter will unlock more complex looks. Surely his wheels were turning the moment he watched film on Hill. He makes quick reads, never holds the ball and can catch-and-shoot with the best of them.

That’s Hill at his best. Slot that guy in Snyder’s motion offense, and Utah could easily post a top-five offensive rating next year.

But the Jazz pride themselves on defense, where Hill truly makes his bones. His measurables are insane (6-foot-2.5 height; 6-foot-9  wingspan). He can switch pick-and-rolls without surrendering any length, and cheat into passing lanes without leaving his man.

Perhaps most importantly, Hill serves as a vocal presence for the team. He calls out assignments on the fly, and puts guys in certain spots. Watch any Clippers game and you’ll hear announcers praising DeAndre Jordan for his communication. Hill does the same, but from the top of the key rather than the back end.

Effusive praise aside, Hill is obviously far from perfect. He may be criminally underrated (evidenced by the Teague>Hill fervor after the trade), but there’s a reason he has yet to receive acclaim. His limits as a ball handler are real, and he’s an inconsistent driver at best. Already 30, those wrinkles are most likely here to stay. Luckily for Hill, he’s in an optimal scenario.

Playing alongside Hayward and the other starters will magnify his strengths, without testing the rougher edges of his game. His voice defensively will be a boon for a unit that underachieved (relative to expectations) in 2016.

Best of all, the acquisition of Hill was the paragon of Utah’s moves under Lindsey. They were ahead of the curve in snatching up a point guard — and they perfectly filled a need. Jazz management didn’t fall for the shiny stats of Teague, nor did they talk themselves into running it back with Neto.

Many teams slept on Hill on draft night (26th overall). They slept on him as a reserve in San Antonio. On his hometown Pacers, he was just the bum who got traded for Kawhi Leonard. But with Utah, Hill seems to have finally found his spot. Count him as another reason (and perhaps the biggest) for the collective Jazz optimism around the league. He certainly merits it.