Solomon Hill’s stat sheet hardly ever matches his lofty contract.
Through 66 games, the Pelicans’ splashiest free agent acquisition has been held scoreless as often as he’s cracked the 15-point barrier. His averages of 6.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists don’t scream out as someone deserving of a four-year, $50 million contract.
But, if you ask those on the Pelicans coaching staff and in the locker room, Hill’s value becomes clearer.
In fact, the 6-foot-7 forward is one of the Pelicans’ most praised performers thanks to his versatile and dogged defens effort as he matches up nightly with the opposing team’s best wing player, routinely a difficult matchup.
“I think he’s done a great job for the most part,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “The guys he’s guarded have always been the best perimeter player, unless it’s a point guard, and then we obviously feel comfortable with Jrue (Holiday) there. But between the (shooting guard) and (small forward) he always guards the best perimeter player of those two, and I think he’s done a really good job.”
The past two weeks have served as an illustration of Hill’s impact beyond the box score. He’s successfully covered Portland’s C.J. McCollum (eight points on 12 shots), Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan (14 points on 15 shots), Utah All-Star Gordon Hayward (23 points on 20 shots) and San Antonio MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard (31 points on 26 shots).
And his addition has helped propel the Pelicans to the NBA’s sixth-best defensive efficiency rating, allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions, after finishing last year at an abysmal No. 28.
“I’m kind of just taking it personal,” Hill said after Tuesday’s win over the Trail Blazers. “I respect whoever is on the other end of the court, but that can change the game. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard can average 65 together easy, and if you take away one head of that snake, it changes the game. Dame can go out and score as much as you want, but if stop C.J., they’re a different team. Doing that affects the game and it makes me go harder.”
It’s something the Pelicans will need in particular when they host the high-scoring Houston Rockets at 7 p.m. Friday in the Smoothie King Center.
The looming question remains: Does Hill’s defensive impact make up for his offensive absence?
According to the more nuanced numbers, it doesn’t. His offensive plus/minus rating of minus-2.2 overwhelms his positive 1.5 defensive plus/minus, leaving him with a minus-0.7 net rating. As much improvement as New Orleans experienced defensively, it lost nearly as much ground at the other end, slipping to No. 27 in offensive efficiency.
And although those numbers are dependent on many factors, including the teammates around him, there’s no denying Hill’s offense hasn’t reached the Pelicans’ highest hopes for him. His torrid shooting in last year’s seven-game playoff series — making 11-of-19 3-pointers (57.9 percent) with the Indiana Pacers — prompted lucrative offers from the Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies this offseason.
However, except for rare exceptions, it hasn’t carried over.
Instead, he’s reverted back into the career 32 percent 3-point shooter he was during three prior regular seasons.
And the misses have been particularly damaging since the All-Star break. Hill has converted just 9-of-39 3-pointers (23 percent) since the Pelicans added center DeMarcus Cousins to the roster, hampering the offensive spacing and allowing defenders to collapse into the lane.
Gentry theorized that Hill’s defensive focus is actually affecting his shooting. It’s an issue emblematic of Hill’s tenure in New Orleans thus far.
“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Gentry said. “I think he has to stay into his shot. He has a tendency to shoot it sometimes and then he’s running back on defense, but we talked about just staying into the shot until he releases and it’s halfway there. Then you still have an opportunity to get back.”
The Pelicans return to the Smoothie King Center for a 7 p.m. tipoff against the Houston Rockets on Friday night. Here are three things to know.
1) STRING SNAPS
Winning streaks have eluded the Pelicans during 2017. New Orleans last won three consecutive games on Dec. 30, despite tallying back-to-back victories three times since then. The most recent streak attempt was dashed Wednesday, losing to the Miami Heat 120-112 after tallying consecutive wins.
2) BLAST OFF
The Rockets have scorched the Pelicans in their two matchups this season, recording a pair of blowout wins. Despite emptying the bench during the fourth quarter, Houston outscored New Orleans by a combined 251-199 and even broke an NBA record for 3-pointers attempted and made in a single game.
3) SHOOTING STARS
Houston has claimed many victims with its offensive firepower this season, recording the NBA’s best offensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference. The Rockets’ 115.6 points per 100 possessions is fueled by 40.3 3-point attempts per game, on pace to smash the all-time NBA record.