Solobling: How Solomon Hill went from benchwarmer to free agent commodity

In the span of two seasons, Solomon Hill went from leading all Indiana Pacers players in minutes to being stuck to the bench and from having Larry Bird waive the 4th-year team option on his cheap rookie deal to becoming a crucial part of the Pacers rotation down the stretch and in the playoffs.

This Solocoaster of sorts (please, forgive me) has been a bumpy ride for Hill, but his late season performance has more than likely put him out of the Pacers price range if they want to retain him. Here’s a look at his past two seasons with some lyrics from the Hotline Bling parody, “SoloBling,” sprinkled in throughout.

In 2014-2015 as Hill started 78 games and led the Pacers in minutes, his performance was mediocre at best; while he averaged 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists, he also had a Pacers-worst -9.6 on/off rating. He played his usual solid defense, made the occasional surprising forceful drive to the rim for a dunk, and struggled mightily with his jump shot (shot under 40% for the season).

🎶  Ever since the Summer League,
I wasn’t in the rotation as a wing now.
Everybody played and I felt left out,
but GR3 too young, and where is Chase now?
🎶

Then, Solomon Hill made the curious decision to volunteer to play in the Orlando Summer League against the league’s recently drafted, some young players looking for more experience, and countless guys just trying to find a way in the league. It’s unlikely that you’ll find another case of a player leading their team in minutes and playing in the Summer League after that season.

Hill explained his rationale for why he still fit in at Summer League by saying, “Last year was like my rookie year. I’m basically going into my second year of playing.”

But it was clear from the start that Hill perhaps didn’t take his competition as seriously as he should have, he played in three games in Orlando and averaged 4.7 points, 3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 26 minutes. Hill shot an anemic 18.2% from the field, making only 4 of 22 shots. Solo’s defense wasn’t great either as he was getting outplayed by rookies eager to make a mark like Justice Winslow and Stanley Johnson.

Frank Vogel and Larry Bird both suspected that he didn’t take the competition seriously, but it was clear by the start of the season that his poor summer play had pushed him to the end of the bench that now had many wings fighting for his minutes.

🎶  You used to keep me on the bench, Vo.
I’d only play in blowout games.
🎶

“I’m probably at the bottom of the depth chart, bottom of the rotation,” Hill told Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports. “Just there if you need me.”

The Pacers had to make a decision on his 4th-year team option on his cheap rookie deal in early November, and Bird decided to waive the $2.35M option. A move at the time that surprised basically no one as many wondered if Solomon would even be able to find a place in the league next year.

Bird would later say in his season-ending, Vogel-firing press conference that putting a boot up Solo’s butt (by waiving his option) was the best thing to happen to Hill.

That positive effect didn’t show much early in the season. His minutes were sporadic as he remained behind Chase Budinger and Glenn Robinson III on the depth chart, and Hill shot only 39% from the field and 18% from deep. He started to show value as a source of energy before the All-Star break and ended up playing in every game after the break.

🎶  Ever since the All-Star break,
I’ve guarded stretch fours and I played more.
Passes of the rock out from Paul George,
Making some shots I barely made before.
🎶

The Pacers struggles against stretch fours like Marvin Williams eventually led Vogel to try Solo as a stretch-four defensive specialist against smaller lineups. This gave Solomon Hill new life in the rotation and suddenly he found his offensive game for the first time in his career. Take a lot at his splits from Pre-All Star break (top) to Post-All Star Break (bottom):

At the minimum this ended up making Solo a lot of money, and it might have even saved his NBA career. Hill improved in nearly every aspect of his game in the second half of the season. The shooting percentages were boosted by a late season hot streak that ended with making 7 threes in the final game of the season. For perspective, Solomon Hill only made 7 jump shots from farther than 15 feet before the All-Star break.

img_0235
Solomon Hill Pre-All Star Break

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Solomon Hill Pre-All Star Break
Hill found the role that he was meant to play and could take advantage of the slower power forwards he was guarding on the offensive end while being able to both not get bullied in the post by stretch fours and keep up with them in the perimeter (It was one or the other with all the other Pacers options at the four during the year: CJ Miles, Lavoy Allen, and Myles Turner.)

🎶  Ever since we lost the series,
I can’t stop thinking about Game 5.
If I got it off, we’d still be alive.
That 4th quarter collapse will haunt me ’til I die
🎶

Hill kept up his solid play and hot shooting during the playoffs in the first-round matchup against the Toronto Raptors, averaging 7.7 points and 4 rebounds per game. Hill made 11 of 19 3-pointers (58%) and was 0.1 seconds from saving the Pacers from their game 5 collapse with a tying three at the buzzer. He even put Raptors stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on the floor with this emphatic dunk in Game 7:

🎶  These days all I do is
wonder why you waived my team option for someone else,
getting all these contract offers from someone else,
doing things you taught me next year for someone else
🎶

Solomon Hill’s play was so impressive in the series that these were various thoughts on his upcoming free agency and potential contract:

Austin Croshere once signed a 7 year, $51M deal with the Pacers.

Solomon Hill went from a player that Larry Bird didn’t think was worth $2.3M to someone that’ll get a nice contract in the offseason from some team. The Pacers most likely will not be able to resign him if they want because they can only offer the $2.3M that was waived in the first year of any new contract. This will be especially true with the cap skyrocketing in for the next season and every team having loads of cap room.

🎶 When I hear that SoloBling that can only mean one thing: SOLO’S GETTING PAID. 🎶

If you’re completely lost on this song, here’s Drake’s original, “Hotline Bling.”

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