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Pacers hope Hill can step into rotation in 2nd season

The Pacers don’t have a first-round pick in the NBA Draft Thursday night, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t have a promising young talent to develop, and quite possibly add to the mix, in 2014-15.

You remember Solomon Hill, don’t you?

The 6-7, 225-pound forward from Arizona was the No. 23 pick in 2013 and, as has become the recent trend for Pacers rookies, spent most of his first season buried on the bench. Hill appeared in 28 games (43rd among NBA rookies), averaging 8.1 minutes (51st) and 1.7 points (tied for 63rd).

As a combo small forward-shooting guard, Hill was stuck behind Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Danny Granger/Evan Turner, and Rasual Butler in the rotation, so the absence of opportunity was understandable.

With Granger, Turner and Butler all gone and Stephenson a free agent, things could change dramatically this season. If needed, would Hill be ready?

“I was talking to Frank maybe a month ago and I said, ‘If Solomon Hill had to play right now, I think he’d handle himself pretty well.’ He’s improved a ton,” said Larry Bird. “He’s a hard worker, he’s out there every day beating it. He’s going to be valuable next year.

“I thought early in the season he wasn’t ready for it when he got to play but he’s ready for it now. He’s going to put in a hard summer, we’ll have a shooting coach back in to work with him, his shot’s gotten a lot better but there’s other thing he has to work on. I think he’s going to be a good player for us.”

Hill entered Arizona as an undersized low-post power forward but when the Wildcats needed a greater perimeter threat he went to work on his jumper and shot 39 percent from the 3-point line his final two seasons. He struggled from the arc in limited play with the Pacers, going 7-for-23 (.304), but that’s hardly a meaningful sample size.

The coaching staff already likes Hill’s defensive ability; if he can become even a modest offensive threat he could earn meaningful minutes.

“I’m really excited about what Solomon Hill can do for us,” Frank Vogel said. “I think if he was pushed into a situation where he had to play 15-20 minutes a game all year he could’ve been a difference in our playoff run. He’s got the ability to be an elite defender – an elite defender, not just an average defender.

“I think he can be exceptional. His shot really looked like it was coming in the second part of the season. I think he’s got a great ability to impact this team next year and we’re really looking forward to seeing how he does in the summer league and how he grows coming into training camp next year.”

Before you scoff at the notion of Hill becoming a significant contributor, consider the case of the Pacers’ 2012 first-rounder. Miles Plumlee played even less than Hill as a rookie because the team was so deep at power forward and center. But after being traded to Phoenix in the deal for Luis Scola, Plumlee found the opportunity to not only play but start and became one of the biggest surprises of the NBA season, averaging 8.1 points and 7.8 rebounds for the resurgent Suns.

Even if Stephenson is re-signed, the need for a backup will be acute. There seems little chance Turner, also a free agent, will be brought back. Because Butler was a solid pro in the locker room and had some nice moments when called upon to play, he may well get another contract but at 35 wouldn’t stand in Hill’s way, if the younger player proved capable.

The Pacers haven’t had a draft pick make an impact since 2010, when George and Stephenson joined the team. It appears Hill will get the opportunity to become the next.

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