The 2015-2016 NBA season just ended and I’m already not liking where 2016-2017 is heading. That’s because the Indiana Pacers just shipped starting point guard George Hill in return for Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. But Hill isn’t going to Atlanta — he’s off to Utah in return for the Jazz’s 12th pick in the draft.
I genuinely hope I’m wrong, but I don’t like the Pacers shopping one hometown boy, George Hill, for another hometown boy in Jeff Teague. Yes, Teague has been an All-Star, but is he better than Hill? He’s 2 years younger, has more speed and is a better passer (or so we’d hope), but on the defensive end Hill is in a different class. And unless the Pacers can trade Monta Ellis as well, opposing guards will be salivating to feast on the Pacers’ backcourt next season. How the two ball-dominant guards will mesh — not just with each other but also Paul George — is another big question mark.
The numbers paint half the picture. Last season, Hill averaged 12.1 points, 4 rebounds and 3.5 assists with 1.4 turnovers while playing lockdown defense every night. He shot 44% from the field, 76% from the foul line and a career-best 40.8% from three-point range. Teague, on the other hand, put up 15.7 points, 5.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds with 2.8 turnovers while shooting 43.9% from the field, 40% from three and 83.7% from the charity stripe.
On the face of those numbers, Teague is the superior player. But how much of that is due to differences in Atlanta and Indiana’s systems? Remember, when the Pacers were depleted the previous season due to Paul George’s injury, Hill averaged 16.1 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 47.7% from the field and still only committing 1.6 turnovers. Hill’s problem has always been one of lack of aggression and assertiveness on offense, though you wonder how much you have to chalk that up to the Pacers’ system under former coach Frank Vogel.
Then you look at the analytics, and the numbers start flipping in Hill’s favor. Hill registered a usage rate of 15.8% last season compared to Teague’s whopping 26.6%. Hill contributed 6.2 win shares compared to Teague’s 5.9, and Hill’s VORP (value over replacement player) is 2, whereas Teague’s is 1.3.
In other words, the Pacers have swapped two players who are roughly similar in size (Hill is an inch taller and has more length), one who is better defensively for one who is better offensively. The only thing I can say for sure, before this trade at least, is that Teague is definitely the more aggressive player. Teague ranked 5th in the league last season in attacking the league 11.1 times per game, whereas Hill ranked 100th on 3.7 drives per game. That could translate in ways that will benefit the team in ways that are difficult to quantify. Interestingly, Hill’s and Teague’s salaries match perfectly (both are making $8m for two more years) How will this affect the team moving forward, especially in terms of chemistry? I have a feeling the Pacers aren’t done yet reshaping their team, though for now I can only grade this lateral trade a C+.
PS: The irony of all of this is that the Pacers could have had Teague on draft night in 2009, but instead went for Tyler Hansbrough (and we all know how that panned out). They also could have never had George Hill, and instead kept Kawhi Leonard — sigh, let’s finally put that one to bed.