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Grading The Deal: Pacers Keep George Hill

It didn’t take long for the Indiana Pacers to lock up one of their two most important free agents, agreeing to a five-year deal with guard George Hill on Monday.

The terms of Hill’s new deal haven’t been disclosed, but the financial range will likely fall between $38 million and $46 million in total. That would allow the contract to start around $6.75 million next season and approach $9 million in 2016-17. His qualifying offer as the 26th overall pick back in 2008 was worth a little more than $3 million. At the very least, he’ll double that and triple what he made last year ($2.08 million).

Indiana acquired Hill on the night of the 2011 Draft from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans and Erazem Lorbek. While Bertans and Lorbek remain overseas, both Hill and Leonard played vital roles with the Pacers and Spurs, respectively, this past season.

Hill, who went to Broad Ripple High School and played his college ball at IUPUI, is an Indianapolis native and grew up rooting for the Pacers. He has enough of an impact in the community and ties to the area that re-signing him helps on and off the court. The previous front office regime cleaned the roster up and built the foundation of a contender, the new one is looking to make the take the next step and continue to build ties with a fan base that is just now returning.

Over the last year, the Pacers have added more than one Indiana native. They added Kevin Pritchard to the front office before the 2011-12 season and the Bloomington native was named general manager last Wednesday. The day after Pritchard was promoted, Miles Plumlee (Warsaw, Indiana) was drafted with the 26th overall pick.

Drafting Plumlee, a four-year player out of Duke, was the final official basketball decision made by outgoing team president Larry Bird, famously of French Lick.

All the decisions have made sense so far, but things are going to start getting suspicious if the Pacers sign free-agents Courtney Lee and Eric Gordon, trade for Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies) and Jeff Teague (Atlanta Hawks) and give Greg Oden a workout.

Hill’s tenure with the Pacers didn’t start particularly well. He was injured in late January and missed 12 games with an ankle injury. Once he was healthy, however, it didn’t take long for him to surpass starter Darren Collision on the depth chart as the lead point guard. He started over the last two weeks of the regular season and remained in the top lineup in the playoffs.

He didn’t have the best season of his NBA career, but Hill provided an important stabilizing presence along with David West on the young, but talented Pacers. Hill isn’t one of the team’s oldest players as a four-year veteran, but he did bring along a lot of playoff experience.

Since he finished the season as the starter, we will take a look at Hill’s 36-minute numbers in 2011-12. He averaged 13.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals per 36 minutes. He averaged 25.5 minutes in the regular season, but that number jumped to 31.5 in 11 playoff games. Hill was a little more selfish offensively against Orlando and Miami -- he averaged 15.4 points, 3.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds per 36 minutes.

More important than his numbers though, were the big shots he made for a team that had a few youngsters playing like deer in headlights (see: Paul George) at big moments. Hill also has a strong enough relationship with Collision that the latter didn’t take his slide down the depth chart personally. The point guards formed a nice tandem with their varying strengths.

Hill has two important inches on Collision, who is quicker. Hill is the better scorer, Collision the more traditional playmaker. He is making strides in that department though, as Hill had a career-best 18.8% assist percentage in his first season with Indiana.

As surprising as it may seem, Hill actually used fewer possessions with the Pacers than he did with the Spurs (his usage rate was a career-low 17.2%). His role, before moving into the starting lineup with the Pacers, was similar -- lead scorer off the bench.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank Vogel asked Hill to score a little more next season. This will definitely be the case if the Pacers decide against matching the offer Roy Hibbert received from the Portland Trail Blazers.

With Hill and Collision sharing time at the point last season, the contrast in what they brought to the floor was evident. Collision has a higher ceiling when it comes to tremendous, athletic plays, but his floor is also much lower. Hill is a steady presence with fewer highs and lows. That doesn’t mean he can’t make a highlight-reel play (remember his viral “shoe steal” against the Warriors that led to the game-winning layup?), but I’d imagine that Vogel’s heart rate is lower when Hill is on the floor.

The NBA is a point guard’s league, but the trend is also towards bigger guards. With Derrick Rose and others in the Eastern Conference, it’s important for the Pacers to have someone with length. Leading up to the 2008 NBA Draft, it was reported that Hill possessed a 6-foot-9 wingspan. It’s safe to call him a long point guard.

Re-signing Hill also gives the Pacers the flexibility to shop Collision and his affordable contract if they so choose. He is owed a little more than $2.3 million next season with a $3.3 million qualifying offer for 2013-14.

Grade for the Pacers: A-

This grade is contingent on the contract falling in the range I mentioned in the second paragraph. I can’t imagine it being any lower (that would be an A+ bargain) or too much higher (the grade would drop incrementally). Keeping Hill was important and the only reason re-signing Hibbert is more significant is because the center plays a much more scarce position. That’s also why they’ll have to pay a lot to make sure Area 55 remains at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Grade for Hill: B

I like this contract for Hill because of the length, which will take him right through his prime and should pay him accordingly. Since the exact details haven’t surfaced, you could imagine team or player options at the end of the contract. Obviously, player option(s) would favor Hill and team ones would make the deal more Pacer-friendly.

Hill gets a slightly lower mark than the Pacers because the timing of the agreement didn’t lend itself to the guard keeping his options open. I’d imagine that a number of contenders, including some closer to a title than Indiana, would have liked to add him to their backcourt.

With that said, this contract appears to be what I’d call a capitalist special. The Pacers have a player locked up through his ninth season (age 31), at which time he’ll begin to either see his skills erode or be priming himself for another deal.

 

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