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George Hill is a gift for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, giving Sixers their most complete team of this era

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George Hill is an archetype. He gives you 3s, he gives you D, he can create when needed but is content to keep the offense organized and stay out of the way. Dating back to his days with the Indiana Pacers, he’s been the kind of guy you’d pencil in next to a ball-dominant wing in fake trades. As the nominal point guard of a 56-win team that went to the conference finals in 2014, Hill not only had a lower usage rate (14.6 percent) than everybody else in the starting lineup, he had a lower usage rate than all but two players on the roster.

With the exception of the year Paul George missed recovering from an injury in Indiana and Hill’s his lone, injury-shortened season in Utah, his game has essentially remained the same. Approaching his 35th birthday, in his 13th year in the NBA, he is not quite the lockdown perimeter defender that he used to be, but he remains 6-foot-4 with a 6-9 wingspan, capable of fighting over screens and switching onto taller players. And his shooting has never been better: Last season in Milwaukee, he shot 46 percent from deep, and, among players who took more than 50 catch-and-shoot 3s, he was the only one to make 50 percent of them. In 14 games with the Thunder this season, he has shot 19-for-40 (47.5 percent) on catch-and-shoot 3s. 

Does this sound like someone who might fit with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons? Hmm!

“I sort of see him as an acquisition like we did with Danny Green,” Philadelphia 76ers president Daryl Morey said after trading for Hill on Thursday. “A guy who’s been through a lot of playoff wars. Guys who can hit shots at a high level, such that when Joel is double teamed or people have to collapse on Ben in the paint, those passes out will be shot at a very high percentage. And then on top of it both Danny and George give you solid defense. Solid, playoff-tested defense.”

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The beauty of Hill’s game is that he can fit on any team. For Philadelphia, though, he helps specifically because it needed another shooter who will not be targeted defensively. Seth Curry is one of the best in the history of the game when it comes to making unguarded 3s, but if he’s on the court at big moments in the playoffs, opponents will pick on him. Shake Milton is another potential option, but Hill’s presence relieves the pressure on the 24-year-old guard and ensures that coach Doc Rivers won’t be forced to turn to 24-year-old defensive specialist Matisse Thybulle and live with the damage he does to their spacing. 

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Morey said the Sixers are excited that they can field a lineup of “five strong, playoff-tested guys who can play both ends” in crunch time. “We feel like if we’re going to win the title we have to be the best defense in the league,” he said. Through 45 games they rank second, allowing 106.8 points per 100 possessions, just a few percentage points behind the Los Angeles Lakers. Naturally, Morey believes they will finish the season in first. 

Hill personifies this Philadelphia team and the ways in which it differs from previous ones in the Embiid-Simmons era. Last season’s roster had elite defensive talent, but its best players didn’t complement one another on offense. The 2018-19 team was more balanced, but top-heavy, so there were only so many adjustments Brett Brown’s coaching staff could make. The 2017-18 team had similar problems with depth, and the playoffs revealed that they needed more playmaking punch. 

Even Hill’s biggest perceived weakness mirrors his new team’s. He is not the sort of guard who puts a lot of pressure in the paint, and Pacers fans used to refer to him as a different person — Aggressive George Hill — when he went into attack mode. Ever since Jimmy Butler left for Miami, the question of who would create offense at the end of tight playoff games has loomed over the Sixers. It is safe to say that Hill is not the answer there. Maybe the answer is that it depends on the matchup and how the other team is defending them. Embiid, Simmons and Tobias Harris are all playing the best basketball of their lives. Green, Curry and now Hill will give them plenty of space to operate. If they can get stops and run, the halfcourt offense will be less of a concern. 

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In every facet of the game besides perimeter playmaking, Embiid and Simmons now have more help than ever. While they were a part of a championship-caliber starting lineup two years ago, their playoff run featured Brett Brown’s coaching staff desperately trying to survive the minutes that Embiid was on the bench, experimenting with Boban Marjanovic, Jonah Bolden, Amir Johnson and one-time starter Greg Monroe on the second unit. Fellow reserves T.J. McConnell, James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons weren’t threatening shooters, and Mike Scott had trouble on defense. You don’t need an extremely deep bench to win a championship, but you typically need at least a couple of steady, two-way players.    

“We feel like we have 12 guys you can put on the floor in a playoff series, which is obviously more than we’re going to play,” Morey said. “So we have some injury protection, some optionality, different ways we can play. I feel—we feel pretty good about where we are.” 

Twelve might be pushing it, but assuming Hill comes off the bench, he’ll join Milton, Dwight Howard, Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz as reserves who will almost certainly see playoff minutes. If Philadelphia needs a stretch big, it could turn to Scott. If Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe or G League MVP Paul Reed finishes the regular season strong, maybe one of the rookies will get a chance. By trading Tony Bradley, Terrance Ferguson, Vincent Poirier and three second-round picks for Hill and Ignas Brazdeikis, Morey opened up a roster spot. That could be used on a buyout guy or a G League player, likely a center, perhaps one who can either shoot 3s or switch. 

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Like last year’s Eastern Conference champs, Philadelphia was reportedly in the mix for Kyle Lowry but ended up improving the team at the trade deadline in a more conservative way. Bradley has played well recently, but if Howard was going to be ahead of him in the playoff rotation, then the Sixers have added a difference-maker without sacrificing anything in the short term, for the price of three second-round picks. “I think this move very materially increased our championship odds, and also kept our ones in the future preserved at a very high level,” Morey said. When you already have the second-best record in the league, it is hard to do better than that. 


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