He’s headed back to where he grew up, where he played basketball at Broad Ripple High School and collegiately at IUPUI. He’s coming home to see his family and his AAU program, the Rising Stars, that practices on the east side of town under the church-brushed team theme: “Guts, Grind, [and] Glory.”
This is the story of George Hill, the citizen-athlete; this is the cliché, breezy tale of the homespun kid’s return to everything he left behind when he was drafted to the San Antonio Spurs four summers ago. It’s one that’s quickly flowed to every corner of the NBA news pipeline. It’s the stuff makes the 6-foot-2 combo guard so damn likeable (and marketable). These are the strings that attach him to Indianapolis, especially Pacers fans, who joyously welcomed Larry Bird’s draft night move to acquire him through trading the team’s 15th pick, Kawhi Leonard, their second round pick and the forgettable 2005 draft rights to Erazem Lorbek.
George Hill’s homecoming sounds familiar, and so does the position he’ll fill with his new team.
While his career averages (9.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game) scream, well, average, consider the jerseys he’s worn. As a rookie, he played second fiddle to starting point guard Tony Parker, quietly taking in experience under his Finals MVP tutelage. Then, two years ago, he filled in as the starting point guard when Parker went down half way through the season, helping the Spurs to the second round in the Western conference playoffs. And, finally, this past season, relegated to the bench once more, his game took another step forward, as he proved to be one of the league’s most valued sixth-man, interchangeably backing up Parker at the point and Manu Ginobili at the two-guard. The team finished first in the West at 61-21.
Wherever Hill was asked to play in San Antonio, he obliged, never putting himself, an individual, ahead of the Spurs, a team. He leaves Texas having averaged a modest 24 minutes a game, but more importantly he leaves having never ruffled a feather about his place in the lineup.
It’s exactly the type of attitude that will make Hill so valuable as he assimilates into the Pacers backcourt with Paul George and Darren Collison, where uncertainty could make him a starter, or the sixth-man.
Last year, with the 10th pick, the Pacers drafted George, the highly championed steal of the lottery for his length and pure athleticism. Then, later in the summer, the Pacers traded away for Collison from New Orleans, subsequently making him the point guard of the future. While George’s time didn’t come until after the firing of head coach Jim O’Brien late in the season, he eventually fell into the starting two-guard spot the team envisioned Brandon Rush filling. Given the opportunity, George impressed. And when the Pacers met the Bulls in the first round of this past year’s postseason, it was clear the job was his. The back court was supposedly set.
But now, with Hill, George and Collison all vying for two spots, there will be uncertainty. Yet, no matter where he factors into the lineup, expect him to care, learn and handle his situation, because it’s a familiar story for George Hill.