On July 10th, the Kings surprised the basketball community by luring one of the better free agent point guards on the market to Sacramento with the largest free agent contract handed out in franchise history. George Hill was inked to a shiny 3-year, $57 million contract in order to alleviate pressure from our lottery point guard, act as a mentor for all of the kids on the squad, and to man the starting position until De’Aaron Fox proved himself ready to take over.
There was some hesitation in the Kings community over handing over that much money to an injury-prone veteran who hadn’t finished two of his last three seasons, while others (myself included) feared that he could be the cause of too many useless wins; but even those of us that questioned the move could at least understand the plan behind the thought process. We all expected Hill to come in, be the best point guard we had seen in several years, and show an ability to consistently produce each night.
Unfortunately, after a couple of decent games to start the season, our $20 million investment has simply vanished from sight. The casual eye test, simple statistics, and advanced metrics are all telling us the same thing; George Hill has been a disappointment thus far in his Kings career.
Yes, it’s early. Yes, he’s only played in seven games, but it does leave one to wonder, what’s causing George Hill’s struggles?
He’s the most talented player on the team
The 2016-2017 season was probably the most successful of Hill’s career. He enjoyed a career-high in scoring at 16.9 points per game, and all of his other metrics stayed around his career median, meaning he wasn’t sacrificing other parts of his game simply to score the ball. Instead, he effectively ran the Utah offense while also putting the ball in the bucket when needed.
But now, unlike his former Jazz team, or the Pacers before that, or the Spurs before that, Hill is no longer the second or third or fourth best player. Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert and Paul George have been replaced with Justin Jackson, Kosta Koufos, and Buddy Hield. Instead of attacking the rim with ease, or spotting up from deep when opposing defenses are focused on better teammates, he is the better teammate.
Stemming from his role as a third or fourth option on defense, Hill’s teams in the past have been able to regularly use him as a spot-up shooter, which makes sense given his ability to knock down 3-pointers, as well as his fellow teammate’s higher skill sets.
Role by Year
Comparatively, in the small sample size of his time in Sacramento, his assignment as a spot-up shooter has shrunk to a miniscule 2.9%. In fact, according to NBA.com, he’s only taken one spot-up shot in 170 minutes on the court so far this season. Without opposing defenses focusing on guys like Hayward and Gobert, Hill has been relegated to trying to create his own offense, rather that letting the ball come to him naturally.
He’s been much too passive
Directly correlating with his lack of a cast to support, is the fact that Hill has simply been completely uninvolved in the past several games. Initially, when considering his low points per game and shots per game, I assumed it was simply a byproduct of Dave Joerger’s plans to split minutes between his two point guards, but that hasn’t been the case.
(Stats compiled before Wednesday’s game against the Celtics)
Our veteran guard is only playing three fewer minutes per game than in his campaign with the Jazz, yet his scoring is down by almost 8 points per game, which simply can’t happen with the offensive struggles Sacramento is currently going through.
Another culprit I suspected to possibly be responsible was poor shooting numbers across the board, but those have stayed relatively in balance with his past as well. Even with his past few dismal games, he’s still shooting 45% from the floor (equaling his career average of 45%), 44% from 3-point range (beating his career average of 38%), and 82% from the free throw line (beating his career average of 80%).
So, if he’s playing approximately the same number of minutes per game, and his shooting is actually better than usual, what’s causing the massive slide in scoring? George Hill simply isn’t shooting the ball with any regularity.
He’s taking about the same amount of 2-pointers than last year, 7.6 with the Jazz compared to 6.7 with the Kings, but his outside shooting is where the huge gap can be found. His career average is 3.3 per game, and last season that number jumped to 4.8, a career-high, but he’s not launching from deep in his six games so far. That number has plummeted to 1.5 attempts, which needs to change given his proven ability to knock down outside shots.
He’s struggling off of the ball
One of the advantages of signing George Hill in the offseason was his ability to play off the ball and still make a positive impact on the game. He’s a tall, long point guard who’s always been a defensive presence for his teams, so it was assumed that as De’Aaron Fox grew into his role as our main ball handler, Hill could at times slide over to the 2-spot to provide a veteran presence on the floor.
For about seven minutes per game, Fox and Hill share the court, with De’Aaron taking the role as point guard and Hill moving to the shooting guard position. When these two are together, Fox shines while Hill essentially disappears for the entirety of that stretch. Hill only takes 1.7 FGA per game while playing out of position, compared to 6.5 when Fox is on the bench. Obviously, part of that disparity comes from the fact that Hill plays much more without Fox than with him, but that’s still a deficit of three shot attempts per-36 minutes, all things being equal.
Essentially, when De’Aaron Fox subs into the game, and George Hill stays on the floor, our veteran point guard is relegated to watching the action happen in front of him, rather than being a key cog in an effective offensive game plan.
It’s obvious, both from just watching the non-competitive games, and from studying the numbers, that George Hill is struggling in Sacramento. There’s a definite argument to be made that he’s been the most underperforming player in the NBA this season when you compare things like expectations, salary, and previous contributions. So what needs to change?
The first solution needs to come from George himself. He needs to continue to look to score the ball, especially with the eyesore that is our starting lineup. There are too many possessions throughout any given night that see Hill pass up an open shot, or simply swing the ball around the key, rather than look to put the ball in the bucket.
Some of the responsibility lies with Dave Joerger as well. You have a highly successful player struggling to make an impact. Coach needs to push Hill to look to score, and if he’s already doing that, continue to demand it. The Kings also tend to run an offense that takes the ball away from their best handlers with the high-post sets. It may be time to add in a play or two that allows George Hill freedom of movement, and the ability to attack the rim, or to step back and knock down the long-ball.
While I don’t foresee Hill continuing a slump of this magnitude throughout the entirety of the season, it’s painfully obvious that he’s out of rhythm and uncomfortable at the moment. He needs to act the part of a veteran and not disappear for large stretches of the game, and our coaching staff needs to help him find the balance between distributor and scorer.
If George Hill continues to act passively, fail to shoot the ball when he’s open, and vanish when our rookie guard comes onto the court, our veteran could find himself continuing to lose minutes, and maybe even his starting job, to our rookie sensation.