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Solomon Hill’s defense compares favorably to one of the best in the game, Kawhi Leonard

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The New Orleans Pelicans biggest detriment should be much improved thanks to just one particular free agent signing.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The growing sentiment among a number of close followers of the team believe Solomon Hill will be the New Orleans Pelicans starting small forward on opening day. It’s not a difficult assessment to conclude considering Tyreke Evans will not be ready at the start of the season, Quincy Pondexter hasn’t worn a uniform since the 2015 playoffs and both Alonzo Gee and Dante Cunningham proved rather unremarkable in Alvin Gentry’s system last season.

Trial by fire then for Solomon Hill? I don’t think so. In fact, I feel he would have been considered the favorite by the coaching staff and front office regardless of the impediments surrounding a number of the personnel for his abilities in just a single facet of the game.

Simply put, Hill’s defense appears to be of the elite variety, and he should instantly become the Pelicans best defensive player next season. As a matter of fact, if his final year with the Pacers is any indication, Hill could threaten being as effective as one of the best defenders in the game, Kawhi Leonard.

The table below compares Leonard, Hill and three existing members of the Pelicans who have spent time at small forward in the past. The statistics are NBA percentile ranks for each category and in parentheses are the total amount of points allowed over the number of possessions.

Percentile (Points/Possessions) Isolation Ball handler Roll man Post-up Spot-up Hand-off Off screen
Kawhi Leonard 83.0 (42/61) 89.7 (157/243) 97.8 (15/30) 70.9 (24/31) 75.1 (177/200) 77.5 (42/58) 31.3 (101/96)
Solomon Hill 89.0 (20/31) 78.8 (34/48) 14.9 (15/13) 43.6 (24/27) 80.0 (62/73) 75.0 (11/15) 78.9 (18/23)
Alonzo Gee 17.5 (61/60) 32.2 (149/173) 78.3 (9/12) 9.9 (45/41) 26.0 (150/140) 65.9 (39/50) 33.7 (48/47)
Dante Cunningham 77.2 (63/87) 17.1 (123/133) 41.7 (31/32) 28.1 (54/56) 33.6 (164/158) 14.2 (55/50) 36.6 (58/58)
Tyreke Evans 66.4 (17/22) 16.2 (74/78) NA NA 4.1 (110/86) 24.5 (20/20) 11.3 (27/22)

Among the seven categories that are tracked defensively by NBA Stats, Leonard, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, allowed opponents to cumulatively score 77.6 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. Hill finished nipping on his heels, allowing 80 points per 100 possessions.

Meanwhile, the trio of Gee (95.8), Cunningham (95.5) and Evans (108.8) were all well off the pace. And for those interested, Jrue Holiday (95.3) and Anthony Davis (87.6) did not reside in Hill’s neighborhood neither.

Back in June, I had examined a small sample size of hustle stats that the NBA decided to make public during the 2016 postseason. I admit that I allowed this data, along with his small role in Indiana for much of the regular season, to build a preconceived bias against Solomon Hill, so much so that I failed to research any other defensive metrics.

Big mistake.

The statistics point to Solomon Hill possessing the characteristics of a world class defender and so does available video footage provided by Jared Wade of 8points9seconds.com. Have a look at how he stifled James Harden in the fourth quarter of a 1-point game following a switch defensively.

Harden attempted a number of moves to create an opening, but each one failed to gain an inch of air space and Hill winded up forcing a jump ball.

Next, have a look at how Solomon Hill stifled LeBron James on several possessions.

James was unsuccessfully at getting to the rim from the post and the top of the key. Hill kept the 3-time NBA Finals MVP from gaining an advantage with his size or speed, positioning himself in front of LeBron in every instance.

Poor Derrick Rose couldn’t even get a shot attempt off before the 24 second clock expired.

Dating back to the middle of last season, we remember Gentry complaining about the defense failing to keep their men in front of them time and again. That the Pelicans were normally exposed as a whole in pick and roll coverages. The defense was bad many a night and downright abysmal a lot of other times.

Solomon Hill is going to immediately alleviate a number of those issues because Dell Demps likely just added the team’s best defensive player to the starting lineup. Hill doesn’t flaunt a high steals rate or prodigious block rate, but he is incredibly good at forcing his opponents into difficult attempts that miss more times than not. He appears to be precisely the type of piece that the New Orleans Pelicans have needed to insert into the lineup in order to finally be able to make inroads with one of the consistently worst defenses in the league.