For Solomon Hill, it took one half of one summer league game.
In his first appearance in a Pacers shirsey (shirt-jersey, as the team unfortunately has worn in the Orlando Pro Summer League this week), Hill struggled mightily in the opening half, picking up three fouls and committing three turnovers in 10 minutes.
“It’s your first game,” Hill told NBA TV after his debut. “You want to do everything, you want to go out there and try to impress everybody, especially in my situation, you feel like you have something to prove.”
Those that chastised the Pacers for reaching when they took Hill at No. 23 in the 2013 draft should take another look, because since that rough start, Hill has been the best player on a roster featuring eight teammates with NBA regular-season experience, including both of the Pacers’ draft picks from 2012 (Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson).
In fact, he’s been one of the best players on any of the teams competing in the practice gym at Amway Center.
Heading into Friday’s finale against Utah, Johnson had racked up 58 points, 18 rebounds and 12 assists in 3½ games after that slow start, shooting .553 overall and an astonishing .667 from the 3-point line (10-for-15).
All of which prompted a rather startling pronouncement from team President Larry Bird, who rarely engages in hyperbole when it comes to rookies.
“He can fit right in. He can play right now,” Bird said. “He’ll help our bench. He makes plays, he plays under control, he can hit open shots, he’s a great fit. He’s a worker, he don’t say much but he comes to work and comes to play. He could get some minutes right now. We’re pretty impressed with him.”
Suffice to say the Pacers can barely contain their delight.Summer league games often look like a bunch of knuckleheads fighting for the ball so they can try to out-dunk each other in open gym. In that environment, Hill separates from the crowd because he plays with a preternaturally professional presence.
As they evaluated the versatile prospect from Arizona, the Pacers liked the completeness of his game. Hill may not jump out at you in any one area, but neither does he have any particular weakness. He does a little of everything. Since that first outing, he has scored in double figures and produced at least three rebounds and three assists in each game.
So, Frank Vogel, what has impressed you about Hill?
“Everything,” he said. “Everything’s impressed me. We knew he was going to be good. We liked the pick. But just watching him play in our system, we’re even more excited, even more encouraged. He seems to make every open shot, he’s a good decision-maker off the bounce, which is surprising for someone that’s just cutting his teeth in this league. He’s a great setup guy, a great passer, a great finisher at the rim.
“He’s just solid in all areas. He’s a solid defensive player, a leader, good basketball IQ and I agree with Larry – I think he’s going to be ready to play right away. I don’t think this is going to be a wait-and-see a couple years and see how he develops.”
If so, Hill would add another piece to a second-unit rebuild that already features point guards C.J. Watson and Donald Sloan and will soon add stretch forward Chris Copeland. Primarily a small forward, Hill could fit right in should Danny Granger return to the starting lineup, shifting Lance Stephenson to the bench at shooting guard.
That would give the bench this five-man unit: Watson, Stephenson, Hill, Copeland and Ian Mahinmi.
“He’s a mature kid,” Vogel said. “I say kid but as you’re watching him play and the physicality he plays with and his demeanor in interviews and interacting with his teammates and his leadership, what you kind of say to the guy you’re sitting next to is ‘this guy’s a man already’.”
And he’s still growing up. Fast.