The Indianapolis Star reports that the Pacers’ late first-round selection of former Arizona forward Solomon Hill was a gamble, but to those who know him, it is a wise investment.
Hill is not a player who would embarrass an organization as we have seen from some professional athletes lately. He is quite the opposite — a tireless worker and consummate team player who keeps to himself. He fits in well with the type of mentality we saw from Indiana in the playoffs — tough and unyielding, taking Miami to seven games before elimination in the Eastern Conference finals.
We never saw upstart talent Paul George taunt or talk trash with an opponent. He went about his business in the playoffs. Hill is that type of player.
Hill, the 23rd pick overall, is also not similar to today’s generation of players who believe they know more about their game than their coaches. Instead of coming off as a know-it-all, Hill is a sponge to others who know more.
Indiana general manager Kevin Pritchard told the media that he kept an eye on Hill since November. Arizona coach Sean Miller provided insight for Pritchard, who kept in contact throughout the season.
Miller told Pritchard and Indiana’s brass, which now includes director of basketball operations Larry Bird, that Hill was willing to do anything to win.
“Sean just kept telling us, ‘He’s a winner. He’s an absolute winner,’ ” Pritchard told the Indianapolis Star. “We feel that he’ll fit our culture perfectly that way.”
Hill was the third senior chosen in the draft behind Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum (10th pick, Portland) and Duke center Mason Plumlee (22nd pick, Brooklyn).
A total of 17 seniors were among the 60 players chosen. Eight one-and-done freshmen were selected, including Arizona’s Grant Jerrett, the 40th pick overall by Portland. Jerrett is one of only two freshmen who were not chosen in the first round. Providence’s Ricky Ledo, the 43rd pick taken by Milwaukee, was the other.
Safe to say Jerrett should have stayed and declared himself for the NBA draft after his junior season or stay until the end. If Jerrett stuck it out and paid his dues in college — working closer to a degree in the process over four years — he would have become a first-round selection like Hill.
If he weathered the addition of forward Aaron Gordon and assumed Gordon’s starting role in 2014-15, after Gordon potentially leaves to the NBA after one year, he would have built a character and skill resume similar to Hill.
Traded from Portland to Oklahoma City after his selection, Jerrett is with a talent-laden franchise that can take its time to develop him. That approach, however, is more of a risk — or gamble — than the path Hill took by staying all four years in Tucson. Indiana knows what it’s getting from Hill. Oklahoma City is in a wait-and-see mode with Jerrett, with potentially some of that grooming at its D-League affiliate in Tulsa.
The NBA is a business where players are dispensable, especially those who are unproven young players on a team that will challenge for an NBA title. Where is Jerrett’s fit with the Thunder? He will not unseat Kevin Durant, with whom Jerrett shares a similar size but Durant is far more diverse with his skill set. Durant is 6-9 and 235. Jerrett is 6-10 and 232.
Jerrett is now one of three power forwards listed on Oklahoma City’s roster. The others are Serge Ibaka, 6-10 and 235 pounds, and Nick Collison, 6-10 and 255.
Oklahoma City assistant general manager Troy Weaver is quoted on the team’s Web site that the Thunder is “really intrigued” by Jerrett. Not impressed as of now, but really intrigued.
“We’re really intrigued,” Weaver said. “He really piqued our interest during the process. The guy can really shoot the ball. He shot 40 percent from three as a big in college, which rarely happens for a 6-foot-10 kid. We like his tools and his skill set. We believe he’s a player that can continue to grow with the program.”
Ibaka signed a four-year contract extension starting in 2013-14, paying him $49 million over the span of the contract. Collison, a nine-year veteran who has played exclusively with the Thunder franchise, is signed through the next two seasons with a contract worth $4.8 million.
Oklahoma City can also utilize Kendrick Perkins (signed through 2014-15) at power forward if the Thunder want to use a big lineup.
Jerrett looks to be in at least a two-year holding pattern with Oklahoma City, the same amount of time he could have stayed at Arizona and elevated his stock.
Hill will share the small forward spot potentially with three others, including George next season, but his path to immediate minutes and game-time development is not as obstructed as Jerrett’s with Oklahoma City.
George has two years left on his contract. Danny Granger, who underwent knee surgery and is questionable for training camp in October, is signed through next season. He has been a subject of trade talks especially with the way George established himself in the postseason this year. The other small forward, Sam Young, is an unrestricted free agent.
Hill can become George’s backup next season, depending on how the Pacers handle the Granger situation, and earn quality minutes. As a first-round selection, Hill has hope for career longevity. As a second-rounder, Jerrett has more of an uphill climb.
Of the nine first-round selections in Arizona history who are no longer in the NBA, they averaged a career of 8.3 years. Mike Bibby (14 years), Damon Stoudamire (13) and Sean Elliott (12) lasted the longest.
Jason Terry (14 years) can become the longest-tenured first-round selection in Arizona history next season. He was traded in a blockbuster deal to the Nets last night. As a side note, I wonder what Terry will do with that Celtics leprechaun he got tattooed on his arm last year.
Arizona has 23 second-round selections in its history, including Jerrett, the first that left after his freshman season. Twenty are no longer in the NBA. Their average career span: 4.5 years. And that’s including Steve Kerr, a second-round pick in 1988 who is the longest-tenured former UA player with 15 years. Twelve of the 20 players chosen in the second round have lasted three years or less.
It’s an unforgiving business.
For Jerrett to be like Kerr, Gilbert Arenas (11 years as second-rounder), Jud Buechler or Sean Rooks (both of whom second-round picks that lasted 12 years), he must no longer be an intriguing prospect. He must establish himself and fit the culture of the organization — such as Hill with Indiana — with no time to waste.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.