Since joining the Pacers three seasons ago, he has worked to evolve toward what was the traditional model of the point guard position, but that model has evolved.
Steve Nash is out; Russell Westbrook is in.
Now, Hill is going back to his roots.
“I’m a guard, not a point guard,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be a point guard.”
A prolific scorer at Broad Ripple High and IUPUI, the 6-2 Hill has a classic game that harkens back to the time when teams didn’t so narrowly define the positions. Back in the day, you had two guards, two forwards and a center.
Either guard could bring it up and initiate the offense, and either could make a play with the shot-clock winding down. With the influx of potent scorers such as Westbrook, John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, the old school has a new class.
“The game is evolving to not just natural point guards, more of a combo guard situation,” Hill said. “I just wanted to work on me being a natural guard that can also score the ball but also make plays down the stretch and get easy opportunities for my teammates.”
That scorer’s mentality was originally seen as a problem he’d have to overcome in order to become a successful NBA point guard. Now, it’s something the Pacers are encouraging.
“I think he is just a guard,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s got to play the point guard position and we like playing up with our size, having a guy like that who’s kind of a one-two playing the point guard gives us great defensive length and offensive scoring. When you do that, you’ve just got to have an emphasis to make sure he’s being a distributor and he’s certainly doing that.
“I think if he’s doing anything, he’s erring too much on that side. I think he’s too unselfish sometimes and thinks to distribute too much to try to get his teammates involved. I just want him to be aggressive, that’s the biggest thing, and to be a leader on the court, and he’s both of those.”At age 27, entering his sixth season, Hill is one of the true veterans on the roster. In a starting lineup that could feature former All-Stars at every other position if Danny Granger comes all the way back, Hill is hardly a secondary component.
The guy with the ball in his hands more than anyone else knows the responsibility that comes with it.
“I think one thing we do need is a vocal leader, a guy on the court,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m the best guy as far as playing-wise but I want to be that vocal leader out there to push everyone to do better and push this team to do better. I think that’s going to be my job this year.”
Very quietly, Hill had his best season in 2012-13, producing career-highs in points (14.2), assists (4.7), rebounds (3.7) and steals (1.07). His calm, steadying presence and late-game shot-making was critical.
He may be regarded publicly as the other guy in a star-studded lineup, but within the locker room he enjoys a very different status. Since he joined the Pacers, they are 81-45 when he plays, 10-11 when he does not.
“G’s strength is that he’s just a tremendous athlete and has a tremendous mind for the game,” David West said. “George can guard his position and I think that’s one of the things from a pro standpoint, that’s something at point guard you don’t have all the time. Ultimately, George’s IQ for the game and knowing how to play the game and having a natural feel for the game gives him an advantage most nights.
“A lot of times he’s just overlooked in terms of his contribution but he’s just a big-play guy for us. He’ll make a key play, a key steal, get his hand on a key ball, grab a big rebound, call the right play and sometimes that stuff doesn’t show up. You have to be inside the game to see it. But ultimately he carries his own, he holds his own at probably the toughest position in the league on a night-in, night-out basis.”
It not only is the toughest position to play, it is the toughest to define because it fluctuates based on the demands of the coach’s system and the qualities of the player’s skill set.
You can call him a point guard if you want. Or you can call him a natural guard. But don’t forget to call him what he really is to the Pacers: invaluable.