It's hard being a point guard whose role constantly changes. In a perfect world, the point guard sets the roles for everyone else. They have the ball first and they often call the plays, so everyone else naturally must fall in line.
That makes George Hill a particularly unorthodox player. Last season proved Hill is more than capable of being an effective actual point guard. With Paul George out thanks to that horrific leg injury, Hill seized the primary playmaking duties and spit out production that placed him in the upper echelon of actual point guards. Hill averaged nearly 20 points and more than six assists per 36 minutes, with a career high true shooting percentage and a 21.5 player efficiency rating.
For most players, that kind of production yields a bigger role. For George Hill, it meant taking a backseat for the return of George and the addition of Monta Ellis. The Pacers felt comfortable changing Hill's role again because Hill is a chameleon. Without Hill, the Pacers couldn't successfully change their playing style on the fly.
Consider the sacrifices Hill is making. Last season, he was barely second on the team in usage rate, 0.1 points behind C.J. Miles. This year, he's eighth, well behind seventh-place Jordan Hill. Last season, the Pacers had plenty of options to check tough perimeter scorers. This year, Hill's taken on those assignments to cover for Ellis (a sieve) and at times George (a first option who needs to conserve his energy).
Hill is thriving despite those changes. He's shooting 43 percent from three-point range and is damn near automatic when given an open spot-up look. Hill is nailing 49 percent of his no-dribble threes, which is better than Stephen Curry and just behind J.J. Redick, per NBASavant.
Really, any open look is cash money. The Pacers can run Hill off screens and get him open looks off the ball. They have one particularly effective play where Hill gives the ball to Ellis, sets a cross-screen for George and immediately takes a sharp U-turn to come off a big man's pick to the wing. His technique is perfect and he never seems to miss when the play works.
Close out too hard, and Hill can slither in the lane for floaters and pull-ups.
He's not the quickest or most athletic, but Hill is nevertheless an effective pick-and-roll player when needed because of his timing. He knows how to set his man up before running them into the pick. He jams his body so close to the screener that it's difficult for them to find space to fight over the top. When he has space, Hill can stop on a dime and pull up for three.
When he doesn't, he can nudge defenders into the screen and make a play.
Hill has ceded playmaking duties to Ellis, but it's important that he's capable of wrestling them back. Pacers fans may yearn for a more traditional attacking guard, but Hill provides a reasonable facsimile while also being far more deferential than such a player ever could be.
Defensively, Hill uses his long arms well. He can be a little slow laterally, but it's tough to score over or around him when he beats drivers to the spot. Those arms allow him to get 1.3 steals a game and they deflect or alter countless other passes.
While he's not quick in space, it's hard to screen Hill on high pick-and-rolls because he holds his ground so well. Indiana's pick-and-roll defense is still conservative despite their much-discussed style change, so that's a particularly important skill. Hill gets less help from big men, so he has to stay attached to his man's hip on his own.
Yet despite Hill's collection of skills, there's always a sense the Pacers could do better at point guard. Just last week, rumors of a Hill-for-Jeff Teague swap surfaced, with Indiana reportedly doing the initiating. Teague is an All-Star, but he's also the inverse of Hill: speedy and crafty when he has the ball, but invisible when he doesn't. Teague may be more productive, but his skill set is more common and he can only be paired with certain lineup combinations to enhance his effectiveness.
Hill, by contrast, can play with anyone. As the Pacers continue to tinker with a different on-court style, that malleability is invaluable.