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Let’s Talk About George Hill

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On George Hill, the Kings’ offensive struggles, and everything in between.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

When the Sacramento Kings signed George Hill to a 3-year, $57 million contract this summer, you could make a depressing argument that it was the biggest free agent signing in the franchises history. Hill was a top-15 point guard last season in Utah, still in the prime of his career, and Vlade Divac was able to convince him to willingly play basketball on a rebuilding Sacramento Kings team. That just doesn’t happen.

To say Hill has been a disappointment in Sacramento through roughly 20% of the 2017-18 NBA season is probably underselling how uninspiring he’s played. I’m always wary about reading too much into body language and demeanor, but outside of a handful of quarters this season, Hill hasn’t looked interested in playing basketball for the Sacramento Kings.

To make matters more frustrating, he’s shooting the ball well. In fact, he’s having the best three-point shooting season of his career, and his overall field goal percentage is right where the Kings want it to be, but he seemingly lost all the aggressiveness he found in Utah last year. His contributions look eerily similar to former Kings like Ben McLemore, or Matt Barnes, who will gladly gobble up a ton of minutes without having a tangible impact on the game.

Hill hasn’t been horrible, if you want to look at it from a is he actively hurting the Kings when he’s on the court? perspective. He just hasn’t been anything, and while you can live with his production and lack of energy for a veteran bench player, the Kings aren’t paying him $20 million for that. He’s supposed to be their best player. He’s supposed to be their leader. He’s not supposed be thoroughly outplayed by two rookies.

Following Saturday night’s road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Hill tweeted a bunch of agree face emoji’s, and while nobody has any idea what he’s referring to, everyone is sort of speculating that it’s a public displeasure with the Sacramento Kings.

Who knows, right?

The Hill situation is complicated. He was going through some personal issues earlier in the season, and we have no details on that, nor should we unless Hill wanted to make that matter public, but there is no telling what kind of impact his personal life is having on his basketball life. We just don’t know. The angry face emoji’s could be a mixture of the two, or none of this at all, but it was interesting timing for Hill, as he was more or less benched down the stretch vs. Milwaukee, and has seen his minutes decline over the last several weeks.

In hindsight, you can make a pretty safe argument that signing Hill this summer was a mistake. At least, it has been a mistake. Maybe he turns it around and changes that narrative, but candidly, as someone who was on-board with the Hill signing when the Kings announced it this summer, I would certainly go back and not make that signing if I was Vlade Divac and owned a time machine. I would also go back and not tip that rebound out directly to Robert Horry, but I digress.

Beyond Hill’s frustrating play this season, if you go back and look at some of the teams Hill has run successfully in the past, particularly in recent memory, they just didn’t play at the pace these young Kings should be playing at this season.

As of December 4th, there are only two teams in the entire NBA that play slower than the Kings. Hill’s successful Utah Jazz team in 2016-17 was the slowest team in the entire NBA. Hill’s older Indiana Pacers teams played a little bit faster, but nowhere near how these young Kings should be playing.

The Kings were always going to struggle on offense this season. Their inability to score, or their slow-as-hell offense isn’t all Hill’s fault, but the fit here in Sacramento, with Dave Joerger in charge, seems to bring out the slow pace bug in all parties. The Kings were 23rd in pace last season under Joerger, which was mostly fine considering the roster he had. You’re sort of capped with how responsibly fast you can play when DeMarcus Cousins is your offensive focal point. I say this realizing the Pelicans are playing much faster than the Kings did last season, but there are few coaches who like to push it more than Alvin Gentry.

Joerger’s Grizzlies played slow, too, but that was also the strength of that team, and when Joerger tried to get them to play faster, the roster was notably resistant to that change.

What the Kings have now is a trio of high impact pieces, George Hill and Zach Randolph, because they play heavy minutes, and Dave Joerger, who is the head coach, all with a history of playing (and thriving) in slower offenses, and a young Sacramento Kings team that desperately needs to run.

I have a hard time putting the blame for the Kings’ slow pace as a strategy on Joerger. You can place some blame on Joerger for the slower lineups he might play, but I don’t think Joerger wants the team playing this much offense in the halfcourt. If you watch him on the bench during some of these games, you can see him from the sideline begging the guards to push and run.

If you want to criticize Joerger for playing guys like Hill and Randolph heavy minutes, particularly in the starting unit, because they are not capable of playing fast, I can get on board with that to a degree.

I’m more lenient on a player like Zach Randolph because he’s been as-advertised. When the Kings signed him, there should have been no expectation that he would be flying up and down the court. There should have been no expectation that he would be a good defensive player. He’s a post scorer who can bang around in the paint, and he’s more or less giving the Kings that this season. If you don’t like how he’s playing, that’s fine, but it’s certainly not a surprise.

I’m far less lenient on Hill, who is clearly capable of so much more than he’s giving the Kings this season, but despite the last 1,000 words of ranting above, there is one overarching fact that we shouldn’t lose site of. The Kings are bad. The roster is bad. We all expected them to be bad. Are we overthinking all of this? I don’t know the answer to that, mind you, but bad rosters play bad basketball, and the Kings have a bad roster.

Lineup data this early in the season, and for a team like the Kings who give heavy minutes to so many players, is really hard to parse through, but I’ll leave you with a little food for thought anyway.

The fastest Kings lineup that plays the most minutes together consists of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Kosta Koufos, and Skal Labissiere. They have a -20 net rating, so, let’s not pretend like everything would be great if the Kings just played the young guys and they ran up and down the court as fast as they could.

Now, the next most-minutes-fast-pace lineup consists of Frank Mason, Bodgan Bodganovic, Buddy Hield, Kosta Koufos, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Those players, in my opinion, have been the five best Kings this season. They have a net rating of +7.9, which is the only positive net rating lineup out of the top-6 most-played Kings lineups. Is that because they are playing faster, or because they have been the best Kings players this season, or both?

In the interest of ending this on a positive note, the lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bodganovic, Skal Labissiere, Kosta Koufos, and Garrett Temple are playing at a blistering pace, and have a +15.5 net rating. They’ve only played 30 minutes together this season, but if you’re paying attention, you should have noticed that both Bodgan Bogdanovic and Kosta Koufos appear in the Kings’ best two lineups. For what it’s worth, I think Koufos is having a really nice year for the Kings even though his numbers will never tell you that.

Boy, did this article about George Hill go some places. If you stuck around this long, major props to you, but I think the aimless nature of this post is a decent example of how complicated the Kings’ on-court issues are. It’s not just George Hill or just Zach Randolph, or just Dave Joerger, or just the young guys. The Kings are a bad basketball team. There are changes with the rotation that I would like to see Joerger make so that my watching experience is a little more pleasurable, but I’m not in that locker room. I’m not the one who has to bench the veterans, or deal with Hill’s emoji’s, or deal with whatever pushback there might be from ownership or the front office. It’s easy for me to say that from a computer 3,000 miles away.

The George Hill situation needs a resolution, though. He either needs to play better or leave, because De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason are earning his minutes, which is precisely what the Kings wanted, although they probably envisioned that Hill would’ve put up more of a fight for those minutes than he has.