Thursday, December 11, 2008

G-Hill, You're A Blessing

-On the brink of war, Hill de-scrambles-

Gregg Popovich will teach his young point guard, George Hill, many things.

Such as Black Sea geopolitics.

This week, Popovich, ever the student of Russia, guessed where Hill would be playing today if he had continued to perform as he did in the summer league.

South Ossetia. The disputed region between Russia and Georgia.

Told of that possibility, as well as the location of South Ossetia, Hill shook his head and smiled. “I don't do wars,” he said.

Everybody laughs now, but no one did last summer. Hill's showing then was so depressingly awful that no one within the franchise wanted to hear how the kid was learning a new position, or that low first-round picks often need time.

For the Spurs, Hill was a symbol of something more. Which is why Wednesday night was a symbol of how everything has changed. Then, Popovich benched Tony Parker for the final seven minutes of a tight game.

And went with Hill.

Hill didn't star. He had a few impressive sequences in the third quarter, and he finished with seven points and five assists in 22 minutes. But at the end, he was mostly playing defense and watching Manu Ginobili.

Still, finishing off Atlanta said more than any numbers could. Popovich ran a play for Hill, and he put his arm around him during a timeout and called him “Georgie.” And he trusted him.

In July, Popovich could never have seen this happening. Then, Hill was a deer caught in Vegas lights, shooting 2 of 25 over three games, and other NBA execs were telling stories.

From one Eastern Conference exec: Had the Spurs not taken Hill, he would have likely dropped to the middle of the second round.

“We wondered, geez, is this guy going to be able to do it?” Popovich said.

The Spurs reacted accordingly. They brought in another point guard, Salim Stoudamire, and they tried to sign another, Jannero Pargo. They also delayed signing Hill to a contract.

The Spurs also tried to counsel Hill. According to Popovich, they talked to him about “not being a place taker.”

A place taker?

“He was a zero. Not doing anything. We could go out there and pass the ball from A to B at the top of the court and not do anything. You have to try to make things happen. Go ahead and turn it over. Get a feel. Do something.”

The words reflect the frustration of that time. The Spurs had needed to find someone with this draft pick after coming up empty in previous years, and all they had was, well, a place taker.

Could R.C. Buford have been the one sent to South Ossetia?

“I'll take on a pass on that one,” Popovich joked Wednesday.

Again, Popovich had fun with that question because of what has followed. The Spurs began to see a few bursts from Hill in practice, and then he started to throw in some 3-pointers with the set-shot form of Magic Johnson.

“We thought,” said Popovich, “does he have a little skill here we didn't know he had?”

Then the games began, and Popovich saw something he loves. Toughness. “He wasn't intimidated by anything.”

He was coachable. He absorbed information. And when he made a mistake?

“Not a change of expression, not a change of body language, not a change of emotion or intensity,” Popovich said. “He just went on to the next play, and that's a helluva skill for an NBA player.”

Then Parker sprained an ankle, and Hill showed something else. A 23-point game against Utah, a 19-point, 11-rebound game against Chicago.

ESPN ranks rookies every week. And right now, Hill is fourth, ahead of Greg Oden, Michael Beasley and others.

So what was going on in the summer? “His brain was scrambled,” Popovich said.

Hill admits to all of this now, and he admits to something else. “I didn't want the organization to be asked, ‘Why did you pick this guy?'”

Now others are asking why they didn't. Now Hill is finishing games while an All-Star sits, and now Buford is remembered as the one who also found Parker and Ginobili.

Now it's clear Hill has come a long way.

From South Ossetia to South Texas.

p.s.: [Chris] Paul is the most talented point guard in the game, but [Tony] Parker is the best point guard. (-Jalen Rose)
p.s.2: I hope you caught the Greatest Show on TV on Tuesday night - C-Webb, GP and Ahmad on NBA-TV - when GP called out Luol Deng for robbing the Bulls with the $70 million extension, followed by C-Webb asking if Deng wore a mask during the robbery and GP answering that not only did Deng walk in there without a mask or a gun, he had his finger pushing into his coat pocket and pretended to hold a gun as he committed the robbery. Now THAT, my friends, is comedy gold. (-Bill Simmons)
p.s.3: Since he drafted Kevin Garnett with the fifth overall pick in 1995 - an outstanding choice, obviously - [Kevin McHale's] his reign [in Minny] has rivaled that of Isiah Thomas in New York for sheer idiocy. (-John Hollinger)
p.s.4: [Dan] Gadzuric jumped around, and fouled out in 9 minutes. (-Charley Rosen)

By Buck Harvey, rewritten by Foreigner in CS - Dec 11 2006 4:50PM

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