That’s what the Utah Jazz acquired on Wednesday, at the modest cost of a mid-first round pick: an extra year of relevance. George Hill is a Jazz player1, and as a result, the Jazz get twelve months’ worth of a really solid NBA starting point guard, and a 12-month boost in their team-building timeline.
And here’s why it matters:
Celtics Shopping No. 3 Pick For Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton: https://t.co/G9Z3Rnk4dR
— RealGM (@RealGM) June 22, 2016
Sources say Phoenix, in its failed trade pitch to convince Utah to surrender Gordon Hayward, tried to pair Eric Bledsoe with a lottery pick
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 23, 2016
Teams are coming hard for Gordon Hayward. For now, the Jazz have the ability to send those suitors packing, but next summer they won’t. If teams are willing to give up lottery picks and nice young players like Bledsoe2 to get Hayward this week, they’ll be coming at the Butler product with open checkbooks next summer, and all the Jazz can do at that point is make their own offer and hope their best player is bought into the program.
The Jazz need to be good now. Not cute good. Not “on the rise” good. They need to be good, and they can’t wait 365 more days, or it might be too late to convince Hayward that he’s part of a project that’s headed somewhere.
Sure, the former Pacers guard only has a year left on his contract, but that’s a big year for the Jazz, who for the past couple of years have ranked at or near the very bottom of the league in point guard production. Now they get a solid starting PG — #10 last year by Win Shares, #17 by RPM — who can help the healing Dante Exum ease back in after missing an entire season to ACL rehabilitation.
Your faithful SCH columnist is a big-time Exum believer, but the Australian guard wasn’t likely going to be ready for 30+ nightly minutes in October anyway. Hill gives Exum the luxury of progressing back on his own timetable and not feeling the pressure of an NBA calendar bearing down on him. He is also someone who, at 6’3″ with solid shooting and above-average defense, can share the court with X Like Xenopus.
In fact, Hill is a really nice fit for the Jazz stylistically, probably moreso than Jeff Teague3. Hill can create, but is also comfortable as an off-ball threat: he shot a hair under 45% on catch-and-shoot threes. He will also mesh well with Utah’s defensive identity. He’s big, strong, and smart in terms of team roles, but he is also a good individual defender. Of 76 players who guarded at least 200 plays where the possession was used4 by the P&R handler, Hill held his guys to the 13th lowest PPP.
He’s a willing passer who doesn’t need the ball to stick to have an impact. After a 22-point outing in Game 4 of this spring’s series with Toronto, Hill told the media, ““It’s not really about me. I’m just here trying to do my job. [Playing with the pass] gives everybody the opportunity. Wherever the ball lands, guys gotta be aggressive and be shot-ready on the weak side.” Sounds a lot like Quin Snyder’s mentality. Play with the pass was erstwhile Pacers coach Frank Vogel’s whole mantra, so Hill should fit in just fine in a Jazz system that values movement, quick decisions and a democratic approach to shot allocation.
Hill also lends instant legitimacy to Utah’s backcourt. He has appeared in 75 playoff games, more than twice the combined total of all of the other players currently under contract for 2016-175.
But David Smith’s piece from yesterday has more on Hill’s basketball fit, so let’s shift back to that extra year of relevance.
The Jazz won 40 games last year, but their point differential indicates that — even with all the injuries — they play at the level of a 46-win team. Dennis Lindsey made it clear in April that he’s treating that 46 number as their baseline going forward, which means he’s holding himself accountable to improving on that number. When you add back in all the games missed to injury, you certainly recoup an extra handful of wins on top of that, which means that even before this trade, a case could be made that Utah was not far from 50-win territory. They have to solve some late-game woes and they need to keep everybody healthy, but they were in that ballpark.
Whatever that baseline is, they just added a player who has consistently been a 5-8 Win Share contributor for the last seven seasons, including two in which he primarily came off the bench for the Spurs. This move absolutely gives Utah permission to dream about cracking 50 — and they probably aren’t done yet with roster moves.
Utah still likely needs a little more depth at the wing and on the frontline, but they also have plenty of room to chase what they need in free agency or via trade.
It’s widely presumed that the Jazz will continue to try and find a trade for Trey Burke, who fell from the rotation last season. Even if that happens, Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto leave the Jazz with four point guards. Mack was better after a midseason trade brought him to Utah, but his salary is fully non-guaranteed by July 7. That makes it easier for Utah to cut ties, either via waiver or trade. If they decide they preferred Mack, it’s not like they couldn’t afford to swallow Neto’s guaranteed $938K, or find a taker somewhere. It’s also not out of the question that they could keep both and plan on playing small more often.
As for Hill, his camp is talking as though this fit makes sense beyond the 365 days in question, too, which presents some interesting questions. Utah has come difficult math coming in a couple of seasons, but just as importantly, they have to ask themselves at what point they envision Exum being ready to take his presumed spot as the point guard of the future. If that’s a year from now, then Hill’s short-term contract makes perfect sense, although a lottery pick is a bit steep a price for just one year. Should Utah decide that Exum needs a longer runway — or that Hill is an ideal backup to the Aussie guard — it sounds like they’ll have a chance to keep him.
On an open market, Hill could easily command starter money, which in this new cap environment is $15 million or so annually, and a bidding war could easily drive that price higher. Utah will need to decide whether they want to pay that much to someone who might project as the long-term backup, but they certainly have some time to weigh that out.
Hill is eligible for a contract extension, but because the limits on extend-and-trades are tighter than typical veteran extensions, the receiving team is limited in terms of the extension they can offer until six months after a trade. Either way, the extension would start well below Hill’s expected market range. Some have suggested a renegotiate-and-extend, similar to what we’ve talked about for Derrick Favors. But it’s unclear if that’s permissible under NBA rules6.
However’s Hill’s longer-term future in Utah pans out, the Jazz got what they needed for now: a significant upgrade at PG, a potentially happier Hayward, and 365 extra days of being good.