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George Hill staying steady with bigger role, looming payday

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“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

-Jacob Riis

Gregg Popovich has made that quote, the Stonecutter Credo, a mantra for the Spurs. Six years after he left San Antonio, George Hill has not forgotten it.

“One thing that Coach Pop really taught me when I first got to the NBA is keep pounding that rock, no matter what,” Hill said. “When times get rough or you got goods and highs and lows, never get too high. Never get too low. But always stay subtle and humble and keep getting better.”

Hill has followed Popovich’s keep-pounding-that-rock advice. In a more literal sense.

A combo guard with the Spurs and mostly an off-ball point guard with the Pacers, Hill has carried a bigger load for the Jazz this season as a true lead guard who pounds the rock – dribbles – to create offense far more frequently. He’s averaging a career-high 17.2 points with 4.1 assists per game while playing his usual staunch defense. Utah has outscored opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions with Hill on the floor, a net rating that would trail only the Warriors (+11.6) among teams.

“We anticipated it being a good fit,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “But he’s exceeded that.”

Here’s the secret of Hill’s “breakout season:” He has done this before.

In 2014-15, with Paul George injured and Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, the Pacers gave Hill a larger role. Like this year, he excelled in it.

The 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons are Hill’s only two in his nine-year career with an above average usage rate. They’re also the two seasons with his highest effective field-goal percentages and lowest turnover percentages.

Long perceived as a limited player who’d wilt with too much ball-handling responsibility, Hill has been even more efficient in bigger roles.

“I think I’ve established myself now and showed everybody what I can do,” George declared in 2015. “There’s no turning back now.”

Indiana had other ideas. George got healthy, and the Pacers signed Monta Ellis. Hill’s offensive role shrunk last season.

“It’s humbling,” Hill said.

Hill insists him spacing the floor off the ball was best for Indiana last season, that he accepted that role.

But it’s also clear he hungered for more – as did the Pacers. They traded him last summer to the Jazz in a three-team deal to land the, seemingly, more offensively dynamic Jeff Teague.

“I just thought it was a great opportunity for me to go to a place where you know you’re wanted and who’s going value your play and use you the right way,” Hill said.

Hill, an Indianapolis native who played collegiately at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), returns to Indiana for tonight’s Jazz-Pacers game with the same mindset that helped him reach this point.

“Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low,” Hill said. “It’s just another game for us.”

It’s the same mindset Hill keeps as he heads toward his first unrestricted free agency.

After the Jazz make their first playoff appearance in five years and likely win their first playoff game in seven years, they’ll have to evaluate the value of the point guard who helped get them there.

Likewise, Hill will face major decisions about his priorities.

He and Utah were eligible to sign a renegotiation-and-extension that could have paid him $88,684,652 through 2019-20, but they didn’t strike a deal by last month’s deadline. Now, Hill could land a much bigger contract – having a projected max of $177 million over five years if he re-signs or about $132 million if he leaves.

Will anyone offer that much to a 31-year-old who has missed 27 games this season? The Kings, Knicks and 76ers are desperate for point guards and could have major cap space. At minimum, Hill could use those teams for leverage.

Will the Jazz pay up? Would he actually leave Utah for a cellar-dweller? Will another good team court him?

Hill has never dealt with these questions before. The Spurs drafted and traded him. He was a restricted free agent when he re-signed with the Pacers, who traded him to Utah. He’ll have unprecedented freedom next summer.

A renegotiation-and extension could have kept him off the market, giving him security with a team that uses him well. But Hill isn’t dwelling on it.

“It’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it now,” Hill said. “But I’m here to help the Jazz win basketball games. I’m not focused on a contract right now. We’ll get to that when the season is over, but right now, our main focus is to win basketball games and me to play my butt off.”

Why should George fret? Whenever he’s granted more leeway, he thrives.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.