The George Hill Hole – How the Indiana Pacers are struggling to fill it


May 5, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Indiana Pacers point guard George Hill (3) saves a ball from going out of bounds against the New York Knicks during the second half of game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Pacers won the game 102-95. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

George Hill is a very good point guard and D.J. Augustin happens to be quite the opposite, in perhaps the most extreme sense possible. This isn’t exactly breaking news, although Hill remains unheralded in terms of how good he truly is, but the degree to which this is a drop off is perhaps not receiving enough attention as it may just be the difference in this series.

For the uninitiated, George Hill has had an excellent season on both sides of the ball and has been an integral part of Indiana’s success this year. He’s a solid 3-point shooter (especially from the wings), on a team nearly completely devoid of shooting, and a very capable ball handler on a team that literally may not have another one. Hill thrives mostly in the pick and roll where, per SynergySports, he is in the top 10 percentile in the league in PPP (0.88) as a ball handler.

Hill destroyed New York in the pick and roll and the ease in which he navigated Raymond Felton into running straight at Roy Hibbert screens will probably keep haunting Ray well after this series is over. Even more important than the sheer production Hill got out of the pick and roll was the attention the Knicks had to pay it, their already switch-happy defense forced to go into a sort of confused hyperdrive.

Mismatches occurred frequently off these forced switches by a George Hill drive, and that lead to a lot of the over-doubling problem New York specifically had in game four. Safe to say the Knicks are not going out of their way to contort their defense for the likes of one D.J. Augustin.

For all of D.J.’s game one heroics and overall improved play in these playoffs thus far, a good George Hill substitute he doth not make. Here is a play from game five that pretty much encapsulates the gap between the two guards’ offensive games (and serves as a nice “How Not To” guide for pick and roll ball handlers):

Not only does he go too early, not giving Hibbert enough time to set the screen, and thereby getting trapped by Amar’e Stoudemire, of all people, he then picks up his dribble, panics, and promptly turns the ball over.

On defense the gap is perhaps even more egregious. Keeping with the Pacers’ Modus Operandi this season, Hill’s defense is even better than his offense. Hill’s long arms and quick feet make him an ideal pick and roll defender, as he can affect the ball handler’s vision and dribble even while getting screened. These lengthy arms have done torturous things to Felton in this series, more or less eliminating one of the Knicks’ favorite go-to half court sets. Here Hill cuts of Felton’s lane to the basket twice in one sequence, both times impeding Ray’s dribble by adeptly sticking his hand out as Chandler attempts to screen him.

The Felton-Chandler pick and roll is a play that is more or less one of the foundations upon which New York’s offense is built and Hill (along with the Hibbert’s willingness to step out further than usual on pick and rolls and Chandler’s lackluster play) had essentially taken that away. Well, lucky for the Knicks, D.J. Augustin has arrived to give it right back.

It’s difficult to play pick and roll defense worse than D.J. is playing it right here (if you watch closely you can see Felton hesitate a little to look over his shoulder, almost in disbelief how easily he lost Augustin) and this was just one of many blown coverages in game five alone. It got to such profoundly disastrous levels of awful that Frank Vogel swapped out D.J. for Gerald Green in the fourth and let him take a crack at guarding Felton (predictably that didn’t last long).

The other alternatives that got burn at the point guard position, mostly Paul George and Lance Stephenson, did little to jumpstart the Pacers’ sputtering offense. George’s ball handling skills are a work in progress (to put it kindly) and having him handle the ball takes away one of his biggest strengths on offense while accentuating his biggest weakness. George is fantastic at working off ball, he excels at spotting up off screens, cutting to the basket, and bending the defense through his navigation of well-timed screens, things he just can’t do at the point.

Stephenson’s handle, while superior to George’s, is still rudimentary at best and not what you want your offense spawning out of. He too does most of his damage off ball and he is a disaster waiting to happen operating the pick and roll. The last unexplored option for Indiana seems to be Ben Hansbrough, and he just might have to serve as Frank Vogel’s trump card if things get dire in game six.

If that last sentence didn’t speak to the trouble Indiana is in without George Hill running the show, I don’t know what will.