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Selection might get playing time if he can ‘D’ up


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Solomon Hill started 78 straight games at Arizona and was a double-figure scorer for most of his career.

A solid shooter with 3-point range, he averaged 13.4 points per game his senior year and shot a team-best 45.8 percent from the field. He also averaged 5.3 rebounds and was the Wildcats’ assists leader 2.7 per game.

Little wonder he was widely regarded as one of the most versatile players in the Pac-12.

But guess what?

THE NEW PLAYER

Name: Solomon Hill

Draft: Was selected by the Indiana Pacers in first round (23rd pick) of Thursday’s NBA Draft

College: Arizona

Position: Small forward

Height: 6-foot-7

Weight: 226 pounds

Class: Senior

2012-13 per game averages: 13.4 points; 5.3 rebounds; 2.7 assists; 1.1 steals

College highlights: Started 78 straight games; Arizona’s top rebounder his senior year; voted team’s Most Outstanding Player his junior season, posting 12 double-doubles and scoring in doubles figures 27 times; one of only three Arizona players to start every game as a sophomore.

None of the above will create spot in a veteran rotation that relies on its starting five for most of its offense.

Something else, however, might.

That would be defense.

Hill, the Pacers insist, can contribute right away on that front. If so, he not only will have the unlikely good fortune of immediate rookie minutes but he also will make the NBA’s best defensive team even better.

In that regard, Hill doesn’t doesn’t fill a need. But he does, or can, make Indiana’s first-round pick relevant.

Because if the 6-foot-7, 226-pound small forward is as good a defender as advertised, he won’t go the route of last year’s top pick Miles Plumlee. He’ll get to play and perhaps strengthen a soft bench in desperate need of strengthening.

Multi-skilled and defensive-minded, Hill doesn’t appear to be a project. At least, not on the massive scale of Plumlee, who was not a college starter and who is not remotely close to contributing in a meaningful way.

Hill possibly can, which would the best possible outcome in a draft where the Pacers didn’t need and weren’t going to find a foundational player.

A role player was their best hope. They appear to have found one.

Yet they still have needs. Not glaring ones, but needs, all the same.

During his re-introduction as president of basketball operations, Larry Bird didn’t mask his disappointment with the bench. The Pacers invested much last season to fortify it, but dividends were meager, to say the least.

On paper, the additions of point guard D.J. Augustin, center Ian Mahinmi and forward Gerald Green, combined with existing power forward Tyler Hansbrough, were awe-inspiring. On the court, the product was — more often than not — awful, especially offensively.

Indiana ranked near the bottom of the NBA in bench scoring, a stark and sad juxtaposition to a starting five that ranked near the top in the same category.

In light of that circumstance, it’s not unfair to attribute the Pacers’ failed, albeit spirited, bid to reach the NBA Finals on the deficiency of their second unit.

Fixing it is one Bird’s top two priorities. The other is re-signing David West. With limited cap money, the latter will be easier than the former, but Bird is determined to find a way.

Some of the improvement could from within, particularly if Hill can contribute and if Danny Granger returns from a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire season.

But Bird intends to explore all options.

“The (next) moves will be to strengthen the bench. Our starters are pretty well set, especially if we can get Danny back,” he said. “There’s still some uncertainty there; but if he comes back, automatically our bench gets getter. And we’ve just got to get the other players to play better or bring in some guys that we think are going to help us.

“For us to talk about beating the great teams in this league, you’ve got to have a stronger bench. Our bench didn’t produce last year the way we needed them to produce. We’ve definitely got to fix that one area.”

Time will tell whether Hill is part of the fix. But if he can play defense, he’ll likely get to play.

And being a double-figures college scorer certainly doesn’t hurt.

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