The Pelicans needed more wings. Coming into the off season, their best wing player was Quincy Pondexter, who just had two knee surgeries in one year. As we saw with Norris Cole last year, there is no guarantee that QPon will be able to come back and give the Pelicans the same production that he did at the end of the 2014-15 NBA season.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, versatile wing players are the hottest commodity in the NBA right now. Luckily, the bone-headed Pacers declined to pick up the 4th year rookie option on one of their versatile wing players, Solomon Hill. Consequently, the Pacers were restricted from offering Hill more than his qualifying offer.
There were few, more realistic, better options for the Pelicans and Dell Demps to pursue this summer. Standing at 6' 7", 225 pounds, and just 25 years old, Hill checks off a lot of the boxes on the Pelicans need list. In fact, Dell Demps was rumored to be interested in Solomon Hill way back in December of last year.
Those rumors came to fruition Friday night as the Pelicans signed Solomon Hill to a four year 48 million dollar contract with incentives that could make the contract as large as 52 million. (Contract details are still not fully clear at this time).
Free agent forward Solomon Hill has agreed to a four-year, $52M deal with New Orleans, league source tells @TheVertical.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 1, 2016
If you consider his raw production, Solomon Hill signed a quite extraordinary deal. This past season, Hill averaged 4 points, 1 assist, and 3 rebounds per a game. He is now the second highest paid player on the Pelicans. Let that sink in for a moment.
Solomon Hill raised his value perhaps most out of any player in the NBA Playoffs this year. Hill shredded the Toronto defense on his way to shooting 58% from beyond the arc. In the 7 games series Hill averaged 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist.
I reached out to a few very well educated Pacers fans to get their opinions about the Solomon Hill signing. Here is what they had to say:
@jdbillio works his butt off, smart defender, found his shot late in season. Happy for him, smarting that Indy declined his cheap option...— Nick Weldon (@nweldon) July 2, 2016
@jdbillio ...I have no basis for the money, though. Seems like a lot, but he's young and should keep improving. Projects as solid starter— Nick Weldon (@nweldon) July 2, 2016
The good news is that most people who have actually watched Hill describe him as a "versatile defender". The stats back that scouting report up. Hill had a positive defensive ball plus/minus (1.3), a positive defensive win share (1.3), and a fairly low defensive rating (103). [Lower is better] Hill also ranked 23rd out of all SF's [63 qualified candidates] in terms of his defensive real plus minus.
The Pelicans were 28th in overall defense last year. Defense is something the Pelicans need. Hill's defensive prowess makes him more valuable on the Pelicans than on other teams. Still, Hill's numbers were probably enhanced by being in Frank Vogel's defensive scheme. Hopefully, Hill can carry those defensive concepts and skills into the Pelicans organization.
The Rub - Is Solomon Hill actually a starter or a good backup?
In today's NBA salary cap market, giving 12-13 million dollars a year to a quality NBA starter is par for the course. The real question is if the Pelicans actually have a quality starter in Solomon Hill? I am not so sure they do.
Starters are expected to do one thing in the NBA -- Produce. Period. End of discussion. Unfortunately, the one thing Hill has ultimately failed to do in his career is produce the type of raw numbers that make him a legitimate starter candidate. Again, all of his raw production stats (points, rebounds, assists) are in the single digits. Even his per 36 numbers project him as a single digit producer.
Advanced stats guru's were high on Hill this off-season, however, most envisioned Hill playing as a small ball PF. Dell Demps and the Pelicans almost certainly see him as a SF, who will play a little PF. Which is fair considering he played 66% of his minutes last season at the SF spot, 32% at the SG spot, and less than 1% as a PF -- Per Nylon Calculus.
Nonetheless, projecting Hill as the Pelicans starting SF creates another problem for the Pelicans -- their starting lineup. Good modern NBA lineups only allow for two non-shooters to be on the court at any given time. The Pelicans already have their non-shooter in Omer Asik. A huge question going into the season will be whether a lineup that include Stone Hands Asik and Solomon Hill (who shot just above 32% from beyond the arc last season) will be able to prosper.
Hill's questionable fit with the starting lineup brings up a more pressing question: Is Hill the best option to even be starting at the SF spot? One has to wonder if a healthy Quincy Pondexter, who is a career 37% three point shooter and shot 43% with the Pelicans two seasons ago, isn't a better fit?
If Quincy Pondexter turns out to be the better fit, or hell, even just flat out a better player -- how will the Pelicans organization handle that situation? Based on his pay-grade, Solomon Hill will expect to be the starter regardless of his play. Alternatively, how will Quincy Pondexter handle being benched in favor of Hill, who would be making 4 times his salary.
Solomon Hill will likely be a fine player, however, there is no guarantee that his minutes will translate into quality starter minutes. Hill's Per 36 numbers look fine. They place him around 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per a game. If that is the case, Hill will be the best SF the Pelicans have had in awhile. Still, one has to wonder if his new financial windfall will cause his rebound rate (18th among all SF's) to slip a little.
Hill is a gamble. One that Dell watched for a long time and finally took. Let's hope for his sake it works out. But we shouldn't talk ourselves into thinking that Hill is anything more than what he has proven to be, a rotation player on a mediocre team.