Grant Hill might play this week.
No joke, Grant Hill might play this week.
(Want to check that over one more time? Okay, I’ll give you a second.)
A game-time decision means it might not happen by Saturday against the Magic, but at this point, a Hill return seems imminent, something we weren’t even saying as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
He might be the second-oldest player in the NBA (the Knicks’ Kurt Thomas is exactly one day older), but that doesn’t mean that Hill is over…himself? Well, the hill. At least, he didn’t play like it last year with the Suns.
In fact, Hill was as good last season as he ever was in Phoenix. And his athletic, versatile, team-integrated style should slot perfectly into the Clippers’ bench rotation.
With no NHL, the Clippers have almost stepped into the Kings’ role in Los Angeles, playing like a left-coast hockey champion in 2012-13. Instead of playing a usual seven or eight or nine man rotation and mixing players in and out of the game like a basketball team usually would, the Clippers have lines, teams that play different styles.
Two lines to be exact. There are the starters and then there’s the bench. And often, they play independently of each other.
According to 82games.com, the Clippers’ two most used lineups are the all-starters lineup of Chris Paul, Willie Green, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan and the all-bench lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, and Ronny Turiaf. In fact, no other lineup comes close to those two in terms of minutes logged on the floor together. And because that bench unit has had so much time to play together, the cohesion has had a chance to develop and show.
The five-man, bench lineup is averaging a pretty decent 1.06 points per possession on offense, but defense is where they really dominate, allowing a mere 0.9 points per possession on the other side of the floor.
It’s all ball hawking, right? It’s Bledsoe’s tenacious defense, Crawford trying to cut off passing lanes, Barnes’ physical play getting players out of their comfort zones. And because of all those turnovers that the defense causes, along with Odom’s unexpected elite rebounding and expected elite outlet passing (See? I don’t forget about Lamar), this lineup has turned into a dominant force in transition.
And that’s where Hill comes in.
Hill is one of the best transition players in the game and has been for a long time. His grace running the floor is understated, yet, eloquent and his ability to finish at the rim is as good as anyone’s. Transition opportunities provided Hill with the second-most amount of his shot attempts last season. He used about 19 percent of his overall shots on fast breaks and averaged an impressive 1.29 points per possession in those opportunities, while shooting 66.7 percent on those attempts. Meanwhile, he shot 63.5 percent in transition over his final three seasons in Phoenix.
Last week, I pointed out how the Clippers’ second line has positively affected Matt Barnes’ numbers in transition. Barnes has improved his shooting percentage by about 25 points (25!) and has astronomically progressed his points per possession from 1.05 to 1.4. When plugged into the same role as Barnes, why shouldn’t the same thing happen to Hill?
Of course, Hill’s numbers won’t improve as much as Barnes’. That wouldn’t be realistically or mathematically plausible. But development is possible. It’s not so much teaching an old dog new tricks at age 40. It’s more of a perfect example of taking an old dog, gathering up the old tricks that he’s proven to be really good at and saying, “Hey, you’re great at this trick and so are the other four people around you so you’re going to get even better at it!”
A new trick on the other side, though, is something the Clippers might need. Namely, they’re yearning for just one more perimeter defender. And that’s got Grant Hill’s name scribbled all over it.
The Clippers defense is still good. Actually, it’s quite good however you cut it. 35 games into the season, the Clips find themselves allowing only 93.1 points per game (fourth in the NBA) and giving up only 100.7 points per 100 possessions (third in the NBA). But all good teams still have weaknesses and one for the Clippers is that opposing players that hang out on the wing have proven capable of catching fire from the outside.
The Clips have seen guys like Kobe go for 38 and then 40. Kevin Durant has dropped 35. But that’s okay. That’s Kobe and Durant. They do that. The bigger problem comes when Steph Curry goes 6-for-8 from three. Or when Dion Waiters sinks seven threes and walks out of the Staples Center with 28 points. Or when Randy Foye posts that same point total along with five made long-range shots.
Barnes has been the Clippers’ sole long, wing defender. Now the 6-foot-8 Hill can help chase down shooters racing around the perimeter and coming off screens. Hill is a pro in both of those situations. Over the past two seasons, shooters coming off screens have hit only 34.4 percent of their threes against Hill. Even better, spot-up shooters have hit only 32.7 percent of threes.
So as dominant as the Clippers have been, Hill can still provide help. And as unified as that second line has been, Hill can only add to that interconnectivity. He won’t need too many minutes early. Surely, Vinny Del Negro will ease him into various lineups. Some will fret about a clogged rotation, which can always lead to a flood. But in reality, Hill brings a transition game that’s complementary and one last desperately-needed defender to help on the wing.
For what more can the Clippers ask?