Hill was selected 26th overall by San Antonio in this year’s draft, but was virtually unknown to most NBA fans because he played collegiately at IUPUI of the Summit League. His playing time was limited until Tony Parker’s injury, along with the absence of Ginobili, prompted coach Gregg Popovich to insert Hill into the starting lineup earlier this month.
In his sixth and most recent game as a starter, Hill scored 20 points against Denver on Nov. 19, and he hasn’t slowed down since returning to the bench for the last three games. He’s averaged 20.7 points in that span—the Spurs (8-6) have won each game—and the 6-foot-2 Hill had his first double-double Wednesday with 19 points and 11 rebounds in a 98-88 victory over Chicago.
“Anytime you get into a rhythm and start to get comfortable, that’s a huge step,” Hill said. “I think that I can only get better in this program.”
Hill is averaging 11.7 points to rank eighth in the NBA among rookies.
“George has had a good season for a rookie that is learning his position, and coming in and having the pressure on learning that position, I think that he’s done fantastic,” Popovich said.
Ginobili also has played well in two games since rejoining the Spurs after offseason ankle surgery.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year had 12 points and four rebounds in 12 minutes Monday in a 94-81 win at Memphis, then had 15 points, four assists and three boards in 18 minutes Wednesday. Ginobili has shot 8-of-12 from the field.
“He’s an amazing player,” Hill said. “I asked him if he played soccer or learned his moves from a DVD or something and he said it was just natural. I’ve been spending time trying to get steps like him, so I guess I’m going to have to take ballroom dancing or something, because I need those steps in my game.”
While San Antonio has won six of seven after a 2-5 start, Memphis (4-11) has gone in the other direction.
The Grizzlies have lost eight of nine and have been particularly bad on defense lately, allowing their last three opponents to shoot a combined 52 percent.
“We are losing games and it is getting tougher every night, but we have to pick it up somehow,” said rookie center Marc Gasol, who has scored in double figures in eight straight games.
The other first-year player showing a lot of promise for Memphis is O.J. Mayo, who tops all rookies with 20.7 points per game. He’s averaged 23.7 in the last three games but has shot 2-of-11 from 3-point range.
“We have enough talent to compete in this league night-in-and-night-out,” Mayo said. “You need to continue to play hard and compete hard. You never know what can happen.”
Rudy Gay led the Grizzlies with 27 points in a 117-100 loss at Utah on Wednesday, two nights after being held to 13 against San Antonio.
The Spurs have won 11 of 13 versus the Grizzlies and seven straight meetings in San Antonio.