After an off-season that seemed to last for years and saw the departure of team president and chief architect Larry Bird, the Indiana Pacers are finally ready to unveil their game plan for 2012-13. But before the Blue and Gold tip off their preseason schedule on October 10, head coach Frank Vogel spoke to local media members about some of the changes that we can expect from a team that hopes to make a deep playoff run next spring. One of the most encouraging tidbits that Vogel "leaked" is that local product George Hill will open the season as the Pacers' starting point guard, which should warm the hearts of Hoosiers everywhere. Ever since Indiana traded for Hill on draft day of 2011, we have been waiting for him to step to the fore, and it appears that his time is now.
Hill grew up in Indianapolis and stayed home to play his college ball at the nearly anonymous IUPUI. By the time he was done with the Jaguars in 2008, he had made the Indy campus a little more relevant on the national sports scene by orchestrating a 26-win senior season. In the process, he picked up Summit League Player of the Year honors and parlayed his success into a first-round draft slot with the San Antonio Spurs. An immensely popular bench player in San An, Hill nevertheless found himself headed out of town when the Spurs swapped him for the Pacers' first pick last year, Kawhi Leonard out of San Diego State. Hill was valuable but imminently expendable because big-name Tony Parker blocked his path to a starting role.
In his first season with the Pacers, Hill continued to jostle for a solid position, splitting his time between shooting guard and the point. He finally emerged as the starting point guard toward the end of the season and guided the Pacers on the floor through most of their playoff run that ended in the conference semi-finals against the eventual champion Miami Heat. Now, Hill will be the starting point man from the get-go, and I think he will provide a stable presence for a maturing team that can stand toe-to-toe with most clubs on most nights.
Of course, taking over a starting role on a team with high aspirations holds a certain amount of pressure, and it will be up to Hill to manage the new level of responsibility and the glare of the spotlight. If he succeeds, then the Pacers likely will, too.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Pacers fan since the early 1980s and has witnessed the rise and fall of a great NBA franchise. He follows the current club closely but harbors secret hopes that Larry Bird will someday drain a three wearing Blue and Gold.