No better compliment exists when a legend like Larry Bird, the ultimate gym rat when he played, calls you a “gamer”.
That’s how Bird described former Arizona forward Solomon Hill this morning during a press conference introducing Hill to the Indiana media.
“If you are going to be a good player, it doesn’t really matter where you are drafted, it’s just that if it’s a good fit,” said Bird, who recently returned as the Pacers’ director of basketball operations after taking last season off. “A lot of kids drafted this year are good players but the teams they go to are not the right fit.
“We feel (Hill) is the right fit for our team. If he is the right fit, if he feels comfortable, he’s going to play better. We’ll work on his weaknesses. He will be a better player because he is a gamer. He likes to play.”
Hill, the 23rd selection overall by Indiana in the first round last week, will start training with the Pacers’ coaching staff tomorrow. Hill will participate with Indiana in the Orlando (Fla.) Pro Summer League from July 7-12 and remain most of the summer in Indianapolis to work on his game.
Judging from Bird’s assessment, the Pacers love Hill’s work ethic and character. Bird opened the press conference by saying Hill is “very athletic” and he “played all kinds of different positions in college.” He also mentioned that Hill’s strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.
During his pre-draft analysis by NBADraft.net, Hill received criticism for lacking speed and quickness to play on the wing or the size and strength (at 6-7 and 220 pounds) to contain true power forwards. His ability to move side to side was also discussed. Some scouts suggested to NBADraft.net that Hill can be careless (77 turnovers in 35 games last season) by over-dribbling and forcing the issue on low-percentage pass attempts.
In response to a question at the press conference about how Hill will work out any deficiencies, he responded by saying “it’s all basketball from here on out.”
“Without school I have a lot more time to be on the court, a lot more time to get with trainers and put my body in the best shape,” Hill said. “It is a longer season. I will get with coaching staff and figure how best my minutes will be served once I get to practice.
“I will live in the gym. There’s no more school and study hall sessions.”
Bird said he hopes by the All-Star break in February that Hill will “be a lot better player than he is today.” He indicated that Hill’s maturity level, being a four-year player in college, will better prepare him for the rigors of the NBA.
Moreover, Bird likes Hill’s fit with Indiana’s culture of bringing in four-year college players and their record of developing players such as Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and Paul George.
“You see our M.O. (method of operation) … We like to draft four-year guys,” Bird said. “We like to draft kids who are tough that are willing to sacrifice a lot of other things to stay in the gym and work on their games, develop their games.
“So it’s no secret we went out and got a kid that was at Arizona for four years/ It’s easy to watch the draft and think of the type of player that’s gonna fit with your team, but to get that individual in here after a few days, you find out more about him.
“We can sit here and talk about living in the gym all we want but until you do it, there’s a lot of distractions out there. We’ve been pretty fortunate. Roy was here for three years (working out with Indiana’s staff during the off-season). Lance has been around here. We keep a close eye on Paul George out in California. We know he is working out and who he is working out with.”
Hill remained composed on the stage with Bird, maintaining a stern expression, with his Indiana Pacers cap worn low, covering his face as he looked down. He is intelligent and mature enough to realize a rookie keeps things serious with a legendary figure sitting next to him.
“It’s definitely very motivating,” Hill said about sitting next to Bird and listening to his praise and assessment of his work ethic. “Hearing he’s the legend and the work he put in when he was playing to stay being the great player that he (was) … Hearing about him being at the gym hours before the game getting a bunch of shots. …
“I have no excuse being a player that is very hungry to get better. Like (Bird) said, I can talk about it but I definitely in the next few days really have to go out there and show it.”