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2016 NBA Free Agency: Projecting the ceiling of Solomon Hill

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Can he become the next DeMarre Carroll or Jae Crowder? Maybe!

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans spent a whole lot of money to bring in Solomon Hill. At least $48 million over four years to be exact. A contract that has resulted in some praise (found on the Dunc'd On Podcast at the 53:30 mark) and derision on either side. Solomon Hill famously averaged just 4.0 points and 2.8 rebounds per game last season, a stat that some Pelican fans have read hundreds of times in the past few days. That minimal production, often presented without how much playing time Hill accrued (just 14.7 minutes, which makes sense since much of the season he was the backup to Paul George, who is really good), produces the sum of understanding on the Solomon Hill contract. A massive overpay for a minimally talented player.

That could truly be accurate. Hill received substantial minutes just once in his career. His production during the 2014-15 season, when Paul George missed all but six games due to a gruesome leg injury, was better but largely inefficient. 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a 23 year old sophomore in the NBA. Hill's shot chart from the 2014-15 season is absolutely hideous.

Solo Hill Soph Shooting

Note: We will talk about that glimmer of green in the left corner soon.

However, some, including Bourbon Street Shots writer Kumar, dug a little deeper into Hill's per minute production. DeMarre Carroll and Jae Crowder do not stuff the box score, even now. Before their breakouts in Atlanta and Boston their production is very similar to Solomon Hill's in Indiana. Low minutes, low scoring, low everything. I wanted to add one more player into the mix; Atlanta's Kent Bazemore. That special adviser Danny Ferry signed both Carroll and Bazemore (and had a hand in bringing in Hill) is no coincidence. Right?

I added up all of these four players' production the year before their breakout, regular season and playoffs, and normalized things per 36 minutes. The samples here are small, just over 1,000 minutes for all four players. These are adjusted for minutes (easily done) and not pace. The league is getting progressively faster, and it is important to note that gives Hill a slight advantage over the others.

Per 36 Minutes Season MIN FG FGA FG% 3PT 3PA 3PT% FT FTA FT% REB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
Kent Bazemore 2014-15 1627 3.8 8.9 42.5% 1.2 3.3 36.0% 1.8 2.9 61.8% 6.1 2.0 1.4 0.9 1.9 10.6
DeMarre Carroll 2012-13 1111 4.8 10.5 46.0% 0.6 2.3 28.6% 2.4 3.2 76.5% 6.1 2.0 1.9 0.8 1.1 12.7
Jae Crowder 2013-14 1335 3.7 8.5 43.9% 1.4 4.3 33.5% 1.2 1.6 75.4% 5.6 1.7 1.6 0.6 1.2 10.1
Solomon Hill 2015-16 1064 3.6 8.1 44.8% 1.2 3.1 37.6% 1.7 2.0 87.9% 6.6 2.2 1.3 0.4 1.2 10.2

Source: Basketball-Reference

Hill compares quite well to all three. Both Bazemore (25) and Carroll (26) were older than Hill (24) while Crowder (23) is the youngest of the bunch for the season we're comparing. One area that looks most promising is Hill's shooting percentages.

The biggest concern surrounding Solomon Hill as the Pelicans small forward is his shooting. Can he shoot well enough behind the arc to not clog everything up? That's the question. Over the course of three seasons (including playoffs) Hill has shot 34.0% (110/324) from 3-point range. A better mark than Carroll through 2013 (28/100, 28%), Crowder through 2014 (116/350, 33.1%), or Bazemore through 2015 (107/323, 33.1%). Hill's free throw shooting is also superior.

Thanks to NBA Stats we can dive even deeper. Let's zero in on two critical components where Hill will be required to produce on the floor. Corner three pointers (which are almost always catch and shoot attempts) and more broadly all catch and shoot attempts.

Corner 3PM Corner 3PA Corner 3PT% C&S 3PM C&S 3PA C&S 3PT%
2014-15 Regular Season 27 72 37.5% 62 176 35.2%
2015-16 Regular Season 12 27 44.4% 23 68 33.8%
2015-16 Playoffs 1 9 11.1% 11 19 57.9%
Total 40 108 37.0% 96 263 36.5%

Source: NBA Stats

Over the last two seasons (regular season and playoffs) Solomon Hill is shooting a respectable 37% from the corner and 36.5% on all catch and shoot attempts. League average over that span is 38.3% from the corner (43948 attempts) and 36.8% (90070 total attempts) on catch and shoot 3-pointers. If Hill can continue to improve (he is just 25 years old remember) a league average threat at small forward may be enough to keep the Pelican offense from clogging.

The more promising outlook is when Solomon Hill slides to power forward in the Pelicans "small ball" attack. Flanked by Quincy Pondexter (please be healthy) and Buddy Hield the lane should open like the Red Sea for Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis to operate. Unlike the old Finishing Five (Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, and Davis) four players in the newly constructed small ball lineup (Holiday, Pondexter, Hill, and Davis) are considered at least average defenders.

Does that group have a chance against Golden State? No. No one does now that Kevin Durant is replacing Harrison Barnes in the Death Apocalypse Lineup. Against other teams in the league they might have a chance though. Hill's versatility to play both small forward and power forward should be a net positive on this roster if his shooting continues on an upward trajectory.

Is Solomon Hill going to be a steal on his contract? I am doubtful. But, as I dive into the numbers and watch Hill play defense I can see what Dell Demps and Danny Ferry were hoping Solomon Hill can become. Hill might be the next DeMarre Carroll. A ballooning salary cap means the cost of entry is far higher. The reward won't be as sweet if Hill reaches this hypothetical ceiling.