Minutes before the NBA trade deadline came to a close, it appeared as though Kyle Lowry would be heading home to Philadelphia. The final buzzer sounded without a deal. Now that the dust has settled, the 76ers may have actually gotten the veteran point guard they needed after all.
While more high-profile names like Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Rajon Rondo captured the attention of the basketball world, it was George Hill that slid under the radar on Thursday. Hill was traded to the 76ers as part of a three-way deal that involved the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks. Several other names and draft picks were exchanged in this deal, but the headliner was the two-way guard heading back to the Eastern Conference.
Hill has been out for two months after undergoing hand surgery in late January, but the 34-year old is another reliable difference-maker for Doc Rivers to utilize in his closing lineups. Having spent the majority of his professional career playing off the ball, the Indiana native is the ideal backcourt fit next to Ben Simmons.
Philadelphia currently holds the top spot in the East, even with their superstar Joel Embiid still sidelined. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey said he feels really good about their roster after the trade was announced.
“I think we upgraded ourselves a lot today,” Morey said. “And we’re going to be one of the top few teams to win the title.”
Morey has a solid track record since arriving in Philadelphia. He essentially swapped Al Horford for Danny Green, Josh Richardson for Seth Curry, and Zhaire Smith for Tony Bradley. Bradley, who had been playing very well, was part of the deal to acquire Hill. Toronto’s asking price for Lowry was reportedly very high, as they wanted Mattisee Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and two first-round draft picks from Philly.
Both Lowry and Hill are terrific defenders at their positions, essentially the same age and add valuable playoff experience. While Lowry does have a championship to his credit, Hill has appeared in more playoff games and been far more consistent. They share many similarities but there is a stark difference in one particular area.
Lowry is making $30 million this season and will be a free agent this summer. Not only would Philadelphia have to negotiate a new contract if they wanted him back for next season, but they would also have had the difficult task of matching the salary to make a trade for the longtime Toronto Raptor.
Going forward, Philadelphia has some flexibility with this trade. Hill has a lightly guaranteed contract (only $1 million of his $10 million price tag) for next season. The organization could guarantee that and keep him, use the veteran in a trade or just waive him to reduce their payroll. This is where the acquisition of Hill instead of Lowry truly comes to light.
According to a report last week from the Daily Thunder, Hill is close to returning to the floor. With his cast now off, it is only a matter of time before he makes his 76ers debut. Not surprisingly, that will start with some spot minutes off the bench as he ramps up his conditioning and familiarity with the rest of the team.
Last season in Milwaukee, Hill led the league in three-point percentage as he shot 46 percent from deep. He is shooting 39 percent this season in just 14 games for the Thunder, a team that had absolutely no spacing at all. Sharing the floor with Embiid, Simmons, Tobias Harris and either Curry or Green, Hill will no doubt increase that percentage even more.
But Hill is more than just a spot-up shooter from distance. Only five players have a better percentage on drives to the basket this season as he is finishing 61.5 percent of those.
While his offense is valuable, Hill’s greatest impact will come on the defensive end of the floor. The 6-foot-4 combo guard has the ability to switch, stay in front of his man and use his length and athleticism to his advantage. Hill ranks eighth among point guards in terms of Defensive RPM this season. His steady presence in tight situations will provide dividends for Rivers and the team as they navigate through the postseason.
Another benefit of this deal for Philly is the continued development of their young guards like Maxey and Shake Milton. They now have an established veteran that they can learn from as they progress through the rest of the season, through the playoffs and even into next season.
Hill also provides Philadelphia to experiment with pick-and-pop sets with Embiid and pick-and-roll opportunities with Simmons that will be tough to stop down the stretch of games. Hill is a better ball handler than Curry and is not as one-dimensional. Ultimately, it is just one more tool that Rivers has at his disposal to go along with their top three players.
Philadelphia’s Big Three will be making a combined $99,2 million next season. It’s difficult to fathom the organization being able to commit another high-level contract to Lowry in free agency when they a trove on the books already for their top three players. Hill’s contract situation and ability to provide much of the same value on the floor should allow Philly some flexibility for next season.
You don’t always get what you want. Philadelphia was longing for Lowry but sometimes things have a funny way of working out. The championship window for the 76ers is clearly still open. Clearly, it actually could be open for longer with this move.