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Ranking The Roster: George Hill Returns, This Time in Eighth

Miami Heat v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Five Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

By a comfortable margin, George Hill falls into eighth place in our little exercise as we move into the postseason-rotation zone of seven guys. During his previous stint as a Buck, George Hill was voted the 5th most important Buck by our readership the last time he was featured in this annual poll ahead of the 2019–20 season, beating out Wesley Matthews and Pat Connaughton.

What’s changed for him since then? For one, Hill is now 35 instead of 33, though age didn’t seem to be an issue last year between Oklahoma City and Philadelphia. He also only played 30 regular-season games owing to a thumb injury, so his legs should be decently fresh. The first 14 came with the Thunder, where he posted a .508/.388/.840 line much like he did as a Buck just months before, while also enjoying a scoring uptick to 11.8 PPG. That was thanks to an extra 2 FGA/game and 4 MPG after being promoted to a starting point guard role for the first time since leaving the Cavs.

Hill wasn’t long for OKC, though, since he sprained his shooting thumb just a month into the season. That might not sound like a major injury, but he wouldn’t appear in another game for almost three full months, perhaps because the Thunder didn’t want him to reaggravate things while they shopped him to contenders. During his recovery, he was traded for some deep bench players and second-round picks to the Sixers, who hoped he could shore up their point guard depth as a key bench contributor. He wouldn’t appear for Philly until nearly a month after they acquired him, but they got some decent play from him in their final 16 games as he shot .442/.391/.760 in 18.9 MPG, good for 6 PPG. In the playoffs, though, he was a massive disappointment for a team desperate for offensive production from their starting point guard (sound familiar?!?!?!) as they flamed out to Atlanta with a Jeff Teague-like 2.4 PPG in 15.7 MPG on terrible .304/.222/.333 shooting while appearing in all 7 games.

While I don’t think Hill has declined to that extent—as an ardent fan of his, I hope he’s still the player we came to love as a Buck—I personally think Hill is clearly behind Grayson Allen for the purposes of this poll: determining who is most important to playoff success. We just saw the Bucks win a freaking championship (always feels good to say) while sparingly using a backup point guard. When Teague did play, the results were negative more than even neutral; forget positive. So what good does another PG do if Jrue Holiday is healthy, not to mention that both Khris Middleton and Giannis can easily assume primary ballhandler/initiator roles when Holiday sits?

Furthermore, Allen appears to be the superior player right now and is nearly ten full years younger: Hill will turn 36 early in the 2022 postseason. Many Bucks prognosticators see Allen claiming the starting shooting guard spot in place of the injured Donte DiVincenzo, perhaps due to their similarities. Many laud DiVincenzo’s defense, and Allen didn’t have a good reputation on that end for a few years, but those narratives deserve to be re-examined. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with Allen’s defense using this great article, complete with video.

DiVincenzo’s advanced defensive metrics paint him as highly effective in spite of his visible deficiencies as an on-ball defender, so he gained a reputation from ball-hawking and gambling, a game where he hits more often than he busts. As you’ll see in those clips, Allen is not all that different, and I think it’s reasonable to say that he could have been just as effective a defender these past two years had he been in DDV’s role as a Buck.

Back to Hill: he’s also enjoyed a reputation as a good defender in years past, but Allen actually edged out Hill in defensive rating, defensive win shares, and defensive box plus/minus last season. Athleticism, age, and less mileage on Allen’s legs mean he may trend upwards defensively, while Hill does the opposite. A three-month recovery time from an injury—even when it’s to something as important as a shooting hand—is also worrisome.

Allen is coming off a very good shooting season from deep, and despite the disparity in overall FG% between the two, Allen’s TS% is just 1% lower than Hill’s very strong 59.6% on much higher volume. His perimeter shooting in the playoffs also held close to his regular-season figure—something the Bucks are infamous for not doing. Hill is still likely a great three-point shooter, which is priority number one for any Bucks bench guard. We’re just barely a year past the end of his previous tenure when Hill shot a crazy 46% from deep and was easily the best backcourt option the Bucks had during the bubble playoffs. This time he’s not supplanting Eric Bledsoe’s annual postseason debacle, though, so the expectations needn’t be nearly as high.

However, I think many Bucks fans are assuming he’ll still be that player we saw leave Orlando last September, and it’s fair to question whether he’s capable of such things even a year later. While Hill’s production took a huge step back upon being traded from Cleveland to Milwaukee nearly three years ago (his 3P% dropped from 46.4% to 28% on similar volume), by that year’s second-round series against Boston he’d proved indispensable to the team by averaging 14.2 PPG on 47.4% from behind the arc, then 10.7 PPG on 42.1% while Bledsoe imploded against Toronto the following round. Last year in Philly, though, his shooting numbers crashed big time once they got into a competitive series.

In summation, I strongly disagree with the readership’s placement of Hill above Allen... but can see the reasons why. Like many, I had a completely different idea about what kind of player Allen was until digging more deeply into his most recent year in Memphis. More conspicuously, as a Badger alumnus you can imagine how I felt about Allen in 2015 when Duke defeated Wisconsin in the national title game, thanks in part to his big second half. That opinion only soured after years of poor sportsmanship, tripping, and tantrums between both college and the pros thereafter. To those of you who still agree with that assessment of his personality, I direct you to this Allen podcast interview from this past year; he genuinely seems past all that. I expect Allen to be a more crucial player than Hill in the postseason, just like Bryn Forbes was far more important to the Bucks than Teague was come playoff time, even prior to DiVincenzo’s injury. This might sound wild, but I can even see a world where Allen is a more important player to the 21–22 Bucks than DiVincenzo.

This is not to say that Hill has no place on this team—he definitely does, at least in the regular season. He’ll be a welcome addition to a team that had no credible ballhandlers in the backcourt after Holiday, given DiVincenzo’s struggles in initiating offense when given the keys—though I’ll add that Allen seems to be a better choice at the point over DDV. Hill is likely still capable of running second units on a playoff team even if the results for Philly last year were poor (just 1.7 APG as a Sixer). Plus he makes for a nice fit in lineups alongside Holiday, the man he was traded for: Hill has long shown to be just as—if not more—effective when not running the point, plus Holiday once expressed a preference to be an off-ball guard with New Orleans, where he often started alongside other (true?) point guards like Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, and Elfrid Payton.

I’m definitely glad to have Hill back on this team, but I definitely don’t expect him to put up the same numbers and have a similar role with the Bucks as he did after arriving in December 2018 through the end of the 2019–20 season. The good news is that he doesn’t need to do either of those, especially in the playoffs, given how much better Milwaukee’s backcourt has gotten since he left.

With that, let’s move on to the seventh spot!

Poll

The 7th Most Important Player to Milwaukee’s Postseason Success is...

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Pat Connaughton
    (189 votes)
  • 42%
    Donte DiVincenzo
    (176 votes)
  • 1%
    Jrue Holiday
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Brook Lopez
    (1 vote)
  • 9%
    Bobby Portis
    (41 votes)
412 votes total Vote Now

This poll will close at 7 am Central on Tuesday, September 21.