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Scouting Solomon Hill, the New Orleans Pelicans potential missing piece of the puzzle

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He's far from a finished product, yet Alvin Gentry may have to rely on him if the team wants to make any noise in the Western Conference next season.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Barring any trades that create more cap space, Solomon Hill will be considered the New Orleans Pelicans biggest free agent addition to the roster since his price tag could wind up exceeding $12 million dollars a year. Once formally signed after the moratorium is lifted, he'll instantly become the second highest paid player on the team, yet some have expressed doubts whether he will be worth the money.

In recent history, the Pelicans list of small forwards has made for difficult reading. Not since Trevor Ariza has the team had a legitimate starting option at the position. Even worse, the group has usually lacked the versatility to play multiple positions on both sides of the ball, say to fill the role of a small ball four -- a vital ability in today's landscape.

For much of the 2015-16 regular season, the Indiana Pacers struggled to contain small ball lineups which included Jae Crowder, Marvin Williams and DeMarre Carroll. However, prior to the postseason, George Vogel finally stumbled upon a solution: Solomon Hill. Read how Paul George raved about Hill, claiming he was the Pacers answer against the versatile forwards in the league.

George said Hill is the Pacers’ best option when it comes to trying to neutralize those players. And if Hill has to switch off his initial defensive assignment to guard a small, quicker player, as was the case in Thursday’s game, George knows his teammate will be ready.

"I think with this group and this team, he’s probably our most complete, all-around balanced player," George said. "He’s probably our most versatile guy."

Entering the season, the plan was for George to operate as the power forward more times than not, but he privately and publicly objected. By the Pacers fifth regular season game, the superstar was back at his natural position. Vogel experimented with C.J. Miles and Chase Budinger next, but they proved to not be the correct answers. Once the job became Hill's, however, the Pacers lineup flourished.

(Note: Nylon Calculus' Playing Time Estimates by Position appear somewhat off considering it estimates Hill spent just 3.5% or about 30 minutes at PF.)

Are you aware that when the Pacers forced their first round series with the Toronto Raptors to seven games, Hill sat front and center of their success? Indiana's top 5 lineups (according to net rating) that played 10+ minutes together all had one thing in common: his name.

Let's take a closer look at the three lineups that utilized Solomon Hill the most often at power forward.

Lineups (minutes) Offensive Rating Defensive Rating eFG% OPP eFG% Hill PPP Hill eFG% Hill Usage%
Hill-Ellis-George-Hill-Mahimi (138) 1.193 .971 55.8% 45.9% 1.25 54.5% 13.2%
Stuckey-Ellis-George-Hill-Jordan (21) 1.209 1.070 50.0% 47.6% 0.68 33.3% 14.0%
Hill-Ellis-George-Hill-Jordan (20) 1.222 1.139 56.3% 47.1% 1.65 70.0% 15.3%

Those are some incredible net ratings -- the lineup of George Hill, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Solomon Hill and Ian Mahimi flat out dominated in 138 minutes. In the regular season, the five-man group had the best net rating on the team (+24.4) for lineups with a minimum of 50 minutes played, and they posted a fantastic +18.8 in 32 minutes in the postseason.

Now, the threat of small sample sizes is very real here, but the data is interesting, especially since Hill's individual offensive success did not seem to correlate with the team's overall success level. Why is that? Likely, usage, or to be more precise, a lack thereof. According to nbawowy!, Hill had a very meager role. Consequently, if he was off his game, it didn't matter much because he was so rarely put in the position to be a factor.

A small role was probably for the best considering his overall shooting percentages and attempts from various parts on the floor evidenced in his first three seasons.

C&S 3PT% C&S eFG% Drives FG% Paint Touch FG% Post Touch FG% Elbow Touch FG%
2013-14 23.8% 35.7% 33.3% 100% (3 total shot attempts in 226 minutes) 60.0% (5 total shot attempts in 226 minutes) 0.0% (0 shot attempts)
2014-15 35.2% 52.5% 39.5% 56.0% (1.0 FGA) 54.8% (1.2 FGA) 41.2% (0.3 FGA)
2015-16 33.8% 49.4% 38.9% 72.7% (1.5 FGA) 70.4% (1.7 FGA) 44.4% (0.5 FGA)

His comfort level and efficiencies are not there yet and require more development. The story is a tad depressing, yet there was some light at the end of the tunnel. In his final 402 minutes of last season (both for the month of April and the playoffs), Hill became a more vital and efficient component. In 14 games (28.7 minutes per), Hill averaged 9.9 points, 1.7 threes, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 turnovers. To boot, he posted a 51.1 FG%, 52.2 3FG% and 82.6 FT%.

For comparisons sake, Alonzo Gee, the starting small forward in 38 games for the Pelicans, averaged 7.2 points, 0.4 threes, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 turnovers per 36 minutes! His shooting percentages? A 51.8 FG%, a 28.3 3FG% and a 66.7 FT%.

Regardless of whether Hill's improvement was real, he has flashed the potential of an alluring ceiling and it's a lot more inviting than Gee's. Furthermore, the front office may have scouted Hill extensively and came to a conclusion that they can help him. There is some good precedence for shot improvement as witnessed in the notably increase of Tyreke Evans three-point percentage in a Pelicans uniform.

For the $48 million dollar contract to be considered a steal and Hill a viable starting small forward, he will need to climb above Dante Cunningham territory (49.1 eFG% & 32.0 3FG% in catch and shoot situations). However, it's not that far of a trip to reach the two biggest perimeter shooting threats from last season: Ryan Anderson (55.1 eFG% & 37.8 3FG%) and Eric Gordon (51.4 eFG% & 35.2 3FG%).

According to Draft Express, Hill's biggest offensive strength coming out of Arizona was his set shot so there remains hope he hasn't fully adjusted to the NBA.

A liability from the perimeter as a freshman, making just 4 of his 18 attempts from beyond the arc, Hill has improved his range in each of his seasons in Tucson. Shooting the three at a 42% clip this year, on nearly four attempts per game, the senior has turned a weakness into a strength by incrementally improving his footwork, mechanics, and confidence year-by-year. Hill's set shot has become his most prominent weapon on the offensive end and a significant part of his value proposition from a NBA perspective.

In addition to the questions about his shot, Hill might not possess the versatility of a Draymond Green or DeMarre Carroll defensively. Per Zach Lowe, that could be another potential roadblock to significant playing time.

Problem: It's unclear if Hill can guard real power forwards. Light-in-the-butt stretch guys and backups? He's got those down, and he can switch easily between them and almost any wing player. He toggled from Patrick Patterson to DeMar DeRozan in the first round, and guarded everyone from Draymond Green to Russell Westbrook in the regular season. He's solid against perimeter players, strong and generally in tune both on and off the ball.

Per se, it would not be an enormous issue for New Orleans since Anthony Davis is happy to spend time at the four. After all, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca need to earn some of their money! However, to field a defensive team that begins to rival the Warriors, Celtics or Spurs, the Pelicans would be more competitive if Hill could bump with bigs in the paint on occasion, or at the very least, always exhibit the highest of motors. Check out this chase down block of Kevin Love.

Hill must display this type of determination on every play because he doesn't have good speed for a small forward nor the strength of a legitimate power forward. Although he's often been praised for his work ethic, it hasn't always been the case. At the start of the 2015-16 season, Larry Bird claimed Hill was out of shape and lacked proper dedication.

"Like I told Solomon, the best thing that ever happened to him was us putting a boot in his butt and getting him going, because he wasn't getting the job done and I think he'll be the first one to tell you," Bird said after the season. "He was laid-back. He was disappointed we didn't pick (his player option) up, but coming off of Summer League he wasn't there, he wasn't playing well at all, he didn't even look like an NBA player. He was out of shape, he didn't play well and I told him, 'We might not pick up your option,' so he was upset about it, and pouting around a little bit, but finally I had Kevin Pritchard go down and talk to him a little bit – 'tell him next year I'll see him in the D-League' – and Kevin went and talked to him and it fired him up."

This, combined with a poor showing in the 2015 Summer League, led the Pacers to not tender a qualifying offer and thus make him a restricted free agent. One better believe, though, Bird is regretting that decision now. After a strong finish to last year's campaign, Hill was a hot commodity before the Pelicans swooped in and came to terms soon after free agent talks began.

In hindsight, I wonder if Bird made the right decision to ask Hill, the only Pacer to appear in all 82 games the year before, to also play in Orlando with a bunch of rookies and basketball players trying to get their foot in the door of the league. Seems like a slap in the face to a player who had just completed his second season, no?

Maybe Hill should have expected it as he was coming off a rather disappointing season and was far from ever being considered a can't miss prospect. Did you know Chad Ford once rated him 79th in the 2013 NBA Draft?

Ah, well, bygones.

Solomon Hill doesn't have any big shoes to fill at small forward, but if he wears them right by posting emphatic performances with great frequency like this dunk sequence witnessed over Kyle Lowry, the Pelicans will be happy and benefit from his inclusion on the roster. And if everything breaks right, we can expect he'll prove to be a much more valuable stretch four than Ryan Anderson because of the expected defensive improvement of the team's small-ball lineup.

Almost can't wait for the next matchup with the Houston Rockets. How about you?