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Solomon Hill projects to be money well spent for New Orleans Pelicans

Beware doubters — Jae Crowder had the same slow start to his career.

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

In my E’Twaun Moore season preview, I took what may have been perceived as a shot at Hill — comparing his flash in the pan offensive production in one playoff series to George Costanza’s lone life accomplishment of having the high score in Frogger at their favorite pizza joint. It wasn’t a knock, I was just being honest. Hill is a huge part of the offseason mandate to add two-way players to the roster. As I will go on to demonstrate, we have seen him perform on the defensive end at a very high-level; however, there isn’t much out there to show that he can be a consistent offensive threat. A lot of fans and media members were a little shocked over the amount of money Hill will be making with the Pelicans, but if the signing translates the way I think it will, it will be money very well spent.

If you dig deep into my trade machine madness pieces, you will see a lot of scenarios where I advocated for prying Jae Crowder from the Dallas Mavericks and then as soon as Boston nabbed him, I pleaded for New Orleans to try to grab him hoping they viewed him just as a throw in with the 1st round pick being the real prize. Initially Crowder to Boston didn’t seem like the move the needle acquisition in that package for Rajon Rondo. However, I saw a very solid player that just needed an opportunity and the right situation to flourish. This is also what I see with Solomon Hill. Here’s how they compare:

Height Weight Wingspan Standing Reach Max Vertical
Solomon Hill 6'-7" 225 lbs 6'-9" 8'-7" 37.5"
Jae Crowder 6'-6'' 235 lbs 6'-9.25" 8'-6.75" 34.5"

Physically Hill is the longer and more athletic of the two, but Crowder is stouter and stronger. Still, their body types aren’t that far apart and they have a nearly identical standing reach.

Anthony Davis compared this Pelicans’ offseason plan to the Boston Celtics, so let’s hope Hill’s move to New Orleans mirrors Crowder’s move to Boston. Here are some numbers to compare from their highest usage seasons before their moves.

In 2014-2015 Solomon Hill played in all 82 games for the Pacers — starting 78 — while filling in for the injured Paul George. This will give us the best estimation of Hill’s abilities. In 29 minutes per game Hill finished with a pretty uninspiring 8.9 points per game on 39% shooting with a below average 32% from deep. The one offensive positive from that year was his 82% from the free throw line.

Crowder had an interesting stint with Dallas getting his most minutes during his rookie year 2012-2013 — playing in 78 games while starting 16. In 17.3 minutes Jae put up 5 points on 38% shooting 32.8% from deep. Crowder only converted on 64% of his free throws, though in his final full season in Dallas, he improved his free throw percentage to just over 77%.

Once Crowder found himself in Boston and immersed in Brad Stevens’ system, we saw immediate jumps. In 2015-2016 while playing 31.6 minutes per game, Crowder put up 14.2 points per game while shooting 44% from the field and 82% from the stripe. He has barely improved from deep, shooting just under 34%.

Conversely, I believe Solomon Hill’s form and his recent playoff series against the Raptors projects that Hill can make the leap to a respectable 36% shooter from the arc. In fact, if we project his offensive game off of that single series alone — which is likely a rather fool-hearted thing to do — there is a lot to be hopeful for. Hill played a hair over 28 minutes a game and scored 7.7 points a game on 45% shooting. The most promising numbers are his nearly 58% shooting from deep on nearly 3 attempts per game and his 94% shooting from the stripe. If Hill can find average to slightly above average consistency from deep and continue to make teams pay for fouling him, he will be the kind of low-usage offensive player that we need to field around Anthony Davis in the long term.

Still, let’s breakdown Hill’s highlights from the 2014-2015 season and see if there are real reasons to have optimism for offensive improvement.

Some guys just have a knack for having loose balls go their way. Shane Battier and Patrick Beverley are guys that just always seem to get that 50-50 ball — whether it be a tipped pass or a long rebound — the ball just finds them. Solomon Hill also appears to be one of those guys. In the first highlight in this reel, we see Hill find himself in perfect position to turn a Rodney Stuckey air ball into a dramatic buzzer beater tip-in. Another thing to pay attention to in this package is Hill scoring on good defenders.

In the 2nd clip we see Solomon driving right at Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson and dunking on them in traffic. Also, before I began digging deeper into the tape, I wasn’t aware of how good his handle is — which makes him effective in isolation. We see this on display as he jukes past Nikola Vucevic. He’s a good cutter. He uses his speed to blow by defenders and has good hands hands to catch passes in stride and finish at the rim. When you look at his number of attempts per minutes played, you see that he isn’t aggressive in trying to get shots up, but he does attack with aggression when he decides to get his.

Frank Vogel ran a much slower half court offense that may have dissuaded Hill from trying to get his. Under Gentry, however, Hill should be cutting and running the floor creating more opportunities for him to attack the rim in transition and off of cuts. Getting these types of easy buckets early should boost his confidence and encourage him to be a little more aggressive.

At the 1:20 mark we see Hill benefit with a very clean look at a three from some Gentryfied-ish ball movement. While his percentage from deep is low the stroke looks really good, and looks like this should be there with defenses focusing on Anthony Davis and shooters like Hield and Moore.

At the 1:49 mark Hill shows of his spin move to score on another solid defender, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Hill’s defensive abilities combined with his athleticism and his above average ball-handling also make him a one-man fastbreak threat like we see at 3:28 mark against Utah. These clips are obviously just the good stuff, but I believe that they show off a lot of tools in his game. Enough so that they should translate into being at least an average offensive threat with some consistency, encouragement and an offense that creates a lot of open looks.

Last season a healthy Paul George returned to the Pacers and Hill saw his minutes dwindle, but in that limited action we saw those tools on display again. In his 2015-2016 mixtape we see him going at solid defenders like E’Twaun Moore, Al Horford and Bismack Biyombo.

The whispers coming out of camp have been that Hill doesn’t miss threes in practice. However, after one open practice and one preseason game, we haven’t seen anything out of him offensively to inspire much confidence. Confidence may be the issue with Hill. I believe he’s the kind of player that needs to get a couple of easy buckets early to get himself going. With Holiday out, it is important that we get Hill some transition dunks/layups or some swing the ball around the perimeter wide open threes to get him feeling himself. When he is feeling himself he can go off — check out a scorching hot Hill against the Bucks:

Again, the Pelicans don’t need this kind of production from him every night, but they do need him to be adequate. A pretty solid historical player to look to in what we should want from Hill is Bruce Bowen. Bruce played in a much slower era of the NBA so Bowen’s point totals are on the low side — in his best scoring season he averaged 8.2 points a game. When you adjust that for our pace, we should expect Hill to score between 9 -12 points per game, but we may need him to step that up early on with Holiday, Evans and Pondexter out. Bowen wasn’t a great shooter when he entered the league, but he eventually became a benchmark 3 and D player. Like Bowen, Hill has shown that he can rise to the occasion and deliver clutch shots. Check out this three from the Pacers and Raptors playoff series.

Hill’s athleticism and handle should allow for him to be a little more than just a 3 and D prospect, but developing that consistency from 3 is crucial for him to fill that long standing deficit we’ve had at small forward.

While Hill’s offensive skillset can be questioned, there is no denying his defensive impact. Solomon has credited his confidence and high level play on that end to his years of one-on-one battles with Paul George after practice. Oleh Kosel wrote a great piece showing just how favorable Hill compares to Kawhi Leonard on that end of the court. My biggest takeaway from that piece is that Hill is in the top 89 percent of the league when it comes to guarding in isolation. This is extremely impressive because when you start looking at tape you realize that while Hill didn’t get many minutes under Frank Vogel, but when he got them, Vogel had him guarding the other team’s best players and often in key moments. Also, when comparing decent sample sizes of defensive points per possession, Hill allowed only 80 points per 100 possessions while Kawhi — the defensive player of the year — was just a hair better at 77.6. To help frame this, our best wing defenders from last season paled in comparison — Jrue Holiday gave up 95.3 and Alonzo Gee gave up 95.8.

Here are a few highlights that show off Solomon Hill’s defensive abilities and his versatility as a defender. First, here’s a clip of Hill going one-on-one with James Harden who is elite at getting to the rim and drawing fouls. Solomon doesn’t allow him to do either, using his superb footwork to force Harden into over-dribbling and then uses his length and IQ to create the jump ball opportunity.

Hill demonstrates the ability to stay in front of and not be pounded by a much bigger and stronger LeBron James. Again his footwork and athleticism help him to guide James to the spot where he wants James to shoot from at an off angle creating tough shots. He doesn’t allow LeBron to back him down under the basket.

The main thing I love about this particular clip is that it shows Hill can go up in weight class. He can be the small ball four if we get a player better suited for the three or if Pondexter returns to his post-All-Star-break play with the Pelicans in the 2014-2015 season. If he can hold his own like this against the best power forward in the game, then he may just be the Roberto Duran of this roster.

Solomon Hill is also that effort guy whose drive to be a great defender should inspire his teammates. In this clip we see him using his excellent footwork, but also staying with the play after an initial great defensive play and capping it off with a double block.

He didn’t stop to celebrate... He played through the whistle.

Again, Hill’s effort and unwillingness to give up on what looked like an easy bucket pays off with a 4-point swing.

Another area where Hill helps the Pelicans on defense is with his on-court communication. In the last few years we have seen very little communication on the defensive end of the court. Our most vocal defender was Omer Asik who may not even warrant 12 minutes a game with his diminished skills. However, Hill and E’Twaun Moore are both very vocal defenders that make sure teammates get in the right position and are aware of screens being set for them. They communicate switches well, and this guidance should work wonders for a team that has been awful defensively since Chris Paul left.

While I understand the doubts from casual fans as well as some members of the media regarding Hill’s salary, let’s consider that at minimum we got ourselves a quantifiably elite defender that can guard the 1-4 spot, who is a magnet for loose balls, makes his teammates better defenders with his communication and inspires through his hustle for just $390,000 more than the Clippers are paying Austin Rivers. If Hill finds that offensive consistency, this is an absolute steal. Going back to the Crowder comparisons, hypothetically had Boston signed him to a $8 million a year deal instead acquiring through a trade that deal would have been met with the same level of cynicism that Hill’s is getting in some circles. Now, I truly believe it would take two first rounders or a DeMarcus Cousins to get Boston to let go of Crowder. It’s not a given that Hill will equal what Crowder has meant to the Celtics, but it has the same feel to me.

Let’s all hope Solomon Hill’s desperation to become a 2-way player, pays off like Squint’s gamble: