Oct 25, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Solomon Hill (9) warms up before the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Pacers defeated the Mavericks 98-77. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Losing Shawn Marion: Blessing In Disguise?

Coming into the 2012-2013 season, it was widely known that then-Indiana Pacers franchise cornerstone Danny Granger would be unavailable due to lingering injuries. Fortunately, Paul George was asked to step in and become the team’s go-to guy. He met and exceeded expectations, so much so that Granger became expendable and was traded in at the 2014 deadline.

Now, the Pacers find themselves hoping for a similar situation with #24, rather #13, sidelined for most or all of this year. As great it would be if it were the case, there’s unfortunately no Paul George-type waiting in the wings, which is why losing out on Shawn Marion to Cleveland as a potential stop-gap is tougher to swallow.

The team’s goal, as outlined by both head coach Frank Vogel and front office leader Larry Bird, is to remain competitive and make the playoffs. Granted, in a media press conference, that’s exactly what they should say. For no reason should the team’s fearless leaders go on a live microphone and say they’re setting up shop in Tankville this season.

But the fact of the matter is, they’d do themselves a disservice by not throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m not talking about trades. As I outline a few days ago, the Pacers shouldn’t make a trade, solely to shed the dead weight, especially if it meant salary cap ramifications later on. I’m talking about Vogel, whose flaws included being too conservative with his rotations, throwing second year pro Solomon Hill in the fray, while not abandoning him and making him figure out the NBA on his own, and seeing if he’s got what it takes.

While I would also love to see Chris Copeland used more as a floor-spacing sharpshooter, this season needs to be about developing Hill. Copeland’s expiring contract at the end of the season means he may not be back next year anyway, and given his lack of playing time, that seems very possible. Solomon Hill should be the focus this year, as he can be kept around on a cheap, rookie-scale contract for up to two years beyond this one. And for a team that has two max-level contracts on the books to Roy Hibbert and George, $8 million a year for two after this year to George Hill, and $12 million a year to David West, bargain contracts are the name of the game for the Pacers right now.

The team arguably gave up on big man Miles Plumlee too early, and shipped him out of town in the trade that brought in Luis Scola last summer. And when you compare Plumlee and Hill, their rookie seasons weren’t all that dissimilar. In Plumlee’s rookie year, he averaged 0.9/1.6/0.1/0.1/0.2 in 14 games, while Hill averaged 1.7/1.5/0.4/0.2/0.1 in 28 contests. In his second year in the Association last season, Plum upped his averaged to 8.1/7.8/0.5/0.6/1.1. Still not mind-blowing, but for a guy on the second year of his rookie deal, not bad, especially having been drafted in the mid-20 range.

Vogel has heaped plenty of praise on Hill this summer, which is both what you expect and what you want to hear. After just one year, it’s hard to know whether the guy really is starter-caliber. But this is his year to do it. He will get plenty of minutes, potentially be the every night starter, for a team that will be experimenting with anything and everything this season. In no way do I expect Hill to be in the Most Improved Player Award category, nor even up his scoring to double-digits. But if he can come in, play some defense, and at least take the pressure off his teammates and give them more space to work on the offensive side of the floor, he will be well worth the rookie scale investment for the two years beyond this one.

Expect Hill to show everyone the same talent and flashes that convinced the team to reach a little bit when they drafted him with their 23rd overall pick, especially when there were players like Glen Rice, Jr., Ray McCallum, Jr., Archie Goodwin, and Tim Hardaway, Jr., still on the board. Just don’t expect it consistently on a nightly basis. That’s a lot to ask for a guy in his second year who played just over 200 minutes of regular season ball last year. He obviously isn’t at the level to even begin the whispers of usurping Paul George like George did to Granger.

At the very least, let’s hope that Solomon Hill, who switched his jersey number from 9 to 44 in August, does better than the last guy named Solomon to wear that number.

Tags: Indiana Pacers Paul George Shawn Marion Solomon Hill

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