For this post, we’re going to hijack (and tweak ever-so-slightly) an idea from our dear friend Devin Kharpertian, the proprietor of the YES Network’s Brooklyn Nets blog The Brooklyn Game.
There should be a “5th-man” award to best role starter that allows players around him to maximize. *Cough* Shaun Livingston. cc @robmahoney
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) January 17, 2014
Here’s the tweak: rather than just giving out a 5th-Man Award to one player, we’re going to blow it out and create the All-5th Man Team.
The team will be composed entirely of those players who are the 5th option in their team’s starting lineup – the glue guy who holds the lineup together, supplementing the primary options in a way that makes the unit click. If there’s a discrepancy between two players who could be considered the 5th option (like in Golden State, between Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala), we’ll use usage rate (the percentage of the team’s possessions a player uses while on the court) as a tiebreaker. We had to choose a way to break ties, and that way made more sense than “I just feel like this guy is the 5th option.” Without further ado…
PG: George Hill, Indiana Pacers
Hill’s points and assists numbers are down on both a per-game and per-minute basis this season, but that owes far more to his changing role than it does to any level of ineffectiveness. Hill has become Indiana’s point guard in name only, at least on offense. He’ll bring the ball up the floor and sometimes initiate the offensive set, but Paul George and Lance Stephenson now handle the majority of the ball-handling duties. This shift has resulted in Hill’s usage rate falling to a career-low 15.5 percent, as he’s been freed up to mostly do only what he does best: shoot outside shots.
Nearly 44 percent of Hill’s shot attempts this season have been of the three-point variety, and he’s hit those shots at a 39.4 percent clip, his best mark since the 2009-10 season in San Antonio. More than half of those three point attempts have been come on spot-up chances, and he’s hit 41.7 percent of those shots, per mySynergySports. According to SportVU player tracking data released by the NBA and STATS LLC, Hill’s effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot attempts stands at 62.5, which is good enough to place him inside the top 15 of the 156 players who attempt at least 2.5 catch and shoot shots per game.
The Pacers generate these shots for Hill in all sorts of ways, starting with screen and rolls between George or Stephenson and Roy Hibbert or David West, or by posting one of those players on the block and setting a flare screen for Hill on the wing or near the top of the key.
George draws the attention of multiple defenders no matter where he is on the court these days, and both Hibbert and West still command fairly consistent double-teams on the low block. Having a player like Hill who excels at taking above the break three-point shots is key to making the defense pay for committing extra defenders inside.
That spot on the left wing has become his sweet spot, particularly since the Pacer so often run that flare screen action to that side of the floor because it allows their right-handed post-up players to attack defenders with their strong hand or make quick, easy kick-out passes to the perimeter.
Defensively, Hill is a major part of the stingiest unit in the league. Indiana’s starters allow only 92.7 points per 100 possessions, the best mark of any of the 25 five-man lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together this season. Indiana’s opponents shoot worse from the field and from 3, score fewer points in the paint, on fast breaks, and off turnovers, and don’t draw as many fouls when Hill is on the court compared to when he is off.
While Hibbert is Indiana’s anchor inside and George is the one most often tapped with the responsibility of defending the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, the import of Hill’s defense at the point of attack cannot and should not be overlooked. The Pacers generally* play a conservative strategy of pick and roll defense, preferring to force ball handlers into a pocket of space near the free throw line while having the off-ball defenders stay close to their man so as to not allow open three-point looks.
*Re: generally, the Pacers have Hibbert and backup center Ian Mahinmi sink back near the free throw line on pick and rolls, the better to utilize their size and minimize their relative lack of foot speed, while David West and occasionally backup power forward Luis Scola will jump out further toward the ball handler as he comes around the screen
Hill’s ability to - in conjunction with Hibbert – force ball handlers into that pocket of space is the first step in smothering the pick and roll action. His long arms aid him in both deterring drives to the basket and contesting shots when his man decides to pull up.
He’s the least heralded member of Indiana’s starting five – likely the only one who won’t get at least minimal All-Star consideration this season, but his skill set and his willingness to defer to his more accomplished teammates helps make everything click into place, which is exactly what we’re looking for on our All-5th Man Team.