Monday, December 15, 2008

George Hill's Mid-Range Game

During a recent interview, Gregg Popovich admitted that the Spurs had second thoughts about drafting George Hill after his lamentable 2-25 summer league performance. Hill has since improved, but he is still mired in offensive mediocrity.

During his Vegas summer league campaign, Hill missed from everywhere, as 2-25 attests. During those three games, he was able to get to the hoop but couldn't finish his shots at the rim. He lacked touch. Between then and now, something clicked: Hill is 41-75 (.547) in the regular season and scores most of his points on drives to the hoop. Even here, however, things are not all cookies and milk. Hill's still-developing ball handling skills limit his lane creativity. Most notably, Hill never shows the slightest inclination of going left.

Hill's saving grace is his ability to draw fouls. This kept him afloat in the summer league where he got to the line nearly 9 times per contest. Of his regular season performance, David Thorpe recently wrote:
However, he has a 6-foot-9 wingspan, which allows him to extend his arm past defenders. This forces defenders either to let him get the shot off going to the rim or to get even closer to him on the driving finish, which generates more foul calls. Hill takes 3.8 free throws per game on just 8.2 field goal attempts per game. (Remember, Mayo is at 3.6 on 17.2 shots per game.)
This could suggest that Hill is an aggressive player who imposes himself on defenders, but this is where watching the games helps. If anything, Hill plays too tentatively. He has more opportunities than he recognizes and is, understandably, too deferential to his teammates. George Hill is only scratching the surface of what he can become as an offensive player. His short game is on track, but with lots of rail ahead. With the lethal combination of a developing Hill and a peaking Parker, the San Antonio Spurs will force teams into the penalty early and often. But Hill must be described as "developing."

As a three point shooter, Hill is already a passable option. He's shooting .394 from beyond the arc, hitting from nearly every angle. In time, his accuracy from this range is likely to improve. It's not hard to imagine Hill as a consistent +.400 three point marksman. But his ability to stroke the three leads us to the most salient weakness in Hill's game--Hill's mid-range game is woefully inadequate.

At Rim
Paint, but not at rim
3 Pt%
FTA per game


George Hill doesn't have a floater, he doesn't have a pull up, he doesn't come off the curl, he doesn't dribble drive to a sweet spot at 15 feet. In some ways, he reminds me of a young Tony Parker.

Parker's mid-range jump shot, you may remember, was a train wreck. It took work with Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland to rebuild Parker's shot into the reliable weapon it is today. NBA Hot Spots data goes back to 2004, and in that season Parker shot .379 from mid-range. The Spurs hired Engelland in July of 2005, largely to expedite Parker's growth . By 2007, Parker was shooting .421 from mid-range. This season Parker is at an even .500 from mid-range. Anything Tony Parker attempts from 17 to 19 ft is a great bet to go in. Tony Parker is not often thought of as an elite scorer, but he is one of the most efficient and unguardable offensive players in the league. Parker's epic 55, 10, and 7 early season romp was a testament to the work he's put in to become a more complete offensive player.

George Hill began working with Chip Engelland during training camp. He has all the physical tools and athleticism to become a competent scorer, just like Parker before him. But his game is certainly a work in progress. In the short term, a well-coached playoff team could put a dent into his 17.16 PER. Thankfully for Hill, Gregg Popovich is doing a masterful job of putting Hill in good offensive situations. Pop, for example, routinely calls Hill's number on a simple high screen and roll that gives the rookie point guard opportunity to drive directly to the rim, kick it back to Duncan on a high percentage 17 ft pick and pop, or send the ball toward Mason/Bowen in the corner. More importantly, Hill's 10 points per game is gravy for the Spurs. Pop will pressure him to stay aggressive, but Hill is never the primary scoring option in any line up. He is attractive to the coaching staff because of his defensive prowess, hustle, rebounding, and, surprisingly low turnover rate for a rookie learning point. For now, the Spurs will have to live with a mid-range game that is nothing to get excited about.

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