Enthusiasm began spiking the tone of Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel’s voice the instant the name came up earlier this week. Team president Larry Bird for his part offered a wry smile.
It’s as if both men were holding close a secret the rest of the NBA wouldn’t learn until early in the 2014-15 season:
Solomon Hill is prepared to make an impact.
The Pacers’ first-round selection in the 2013 NBA Draft, the 6-foot-7 small forward out of the University of Arizona sat at the end of the bench when he wasn’t suiting up for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the Developmental League.
Hill took part in 28 regular-season games for Indiana, two for Fort Wayne. His Mad Ants appearances netted point totals of 19 in a loss to Sioux Falls (Dec. 30) and 15 in a win against Iowa (Jan. 3).
Then it was back to Indianapolis, where Hill’s best statistical outputs were eight points in a blowout loss at Houston in March and five rebounds in the regular-season finale, a 101-86 victory at Orlando.
Rarely has 1.7 points a game by a rookie invited so much optimism.
“I was talking to Frank maybe a month ago and said, ‘If Solomon Hill was ready to play right now I think he would handle himself pretty well,’” Bird said.
“He’s improved a ton. He’s a hard worker. He’s going to be valuable next year. I thought early in the season he wasn’t ready for it, but he’s ready now. He’s going to put in a hard summer; we’ll have a shooting coach back in to work with him. His shot’s gotten a lot better, but there’s other things he needs to work on. I think he’s going to be a good player for us.”
Hill is unafraid to let go from long range, going 7 of 21 as a Pacer this past regular season. He also can utilize his size down low.
More than anything, it’s the rookie’s ability to defend that has Vogel excited about the fourth player in franchise history to wear No. 9 after Mel Bennett (1977-78), Derrick McKey (1994-2001) and Maceo Baston (2007-09).
“I’m really excited about what Solomon Hill can do for us. I think he can be an elite defender. Not just an average defender, I think he can be exceptional,” Vogel said.
“And his shot really looked like it was coming the second part of the season. He’s got a great ability to impact this team next year, and we really look forward to see what he does in summer league and in training camp next year.”
Indiana plays in Orlando for Summer League games from July 5 through 11 under the direction of longtime Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke.
The team opens with a 9 a.m. game on the Amway Center practice court against Brooklyn on July 5. From there Indiana takes on Boston (July 7), Oklahoma City (July 9) and Miami (July 10) before taking part in a tournament designed to determine final standings among the 10 teams.
Hill played all five summer league games in 2013, finishing as the Pacers’ second-leading scorer (12 points per game) while also averaging 5.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
The fourth game, a 96-75 Pacers romp against Philadelphia, proved Hill’s finest Orlando moment as he finished with 22 points — including 4-of-5 marksmanship from 3-point range — and nine boards.
Anticipate his efforts to be more closely monitored this time around as everyone involved with the Pacers hierarchy anticipates big things from Hill’s sophomore season in the NBA.
Then and only then will the secret be out.