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NBA AM: Jordan Hill Sheds Lottery Pressure

As a top-ten pick in 2009, Jordan Hill once dealt with massive criticism for not living up to his pick. He’s since changed all that…

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Jordan Hill Glad to Have Kicked Lottery Pressure

When the New York Knicks made Jordan Hill the eighth overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft there was no question, even with Hill coming off a wildly successful junior season at the University of Arizona, that he was a risky lottery pick.

His rookie season as a Knick proved that he was in fact a project, as he averaged only four PPG and 2.5 RPG through 24 games with the team. Those disappointing early numbers made it incredibly easy to include him in a deal midseason that ultimately landed New York an aging Tracy McGrady.

Just like what happened with former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett in both Cleveland and Minnesota, Hill’s employers didn’t need much time to know that they weren’t interested in the young big man.

Unlike with Bennett, however—so far, at least—Hill was able to prove those employers wrong.

“I think back to when I was in college. When I first came in, I was an unknown and nobody knew who I was,” Hill said. “I basically took the same grief I took when I was in New York, but every year I progressed. My first year I progressed, second year I got better and third year I exploded.

“I think the same thing has happened here,” he added. “Every year I kept progressing toward being a good player. I’ve let everyone see what I can do.”

The progress in Hill’s development has been tangible. Last season, his sixth in the league, was a career year for him, as he averaged 12.0 PPG and 7.9 RPG in 70 games (57 as a starter). Thinking back to the heat he took as a rookie, Hill knows exactly how far he’s come.

“If you’re a young player, it’s tough (to take that kind of criticism), especially growing up, in high school, college, being the best. Everybody praises you, but then you get to the top level and people are telling you that you’re not doing well enough, that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do. It’ll put a damper on people’s careers and their lives,” Hill said.

“You just have to overcome that and keep working, keep getting better. I think I’ve been doing that, just staying focused on what I need to stay focused on.”

Now, of course, he finds himself on yet another team, this time the Indiana Pacers. Head coach Frank Vogel has plans to start Paul George at the four, Hill’s natural position, but that doesn’t mean he won’t still see big minutes either there or at the five spot that Roy Hibbert so recently vacated.

“I’ll do whatever [Vogel] wants to do,” he said. “I want to come in and help the team win, play my game. If I don’t play the four, I’ll play the five. I can rebound, block or alter shots, score in the post, shoot the midrange. I can help a lot of different ways.”

The hope is that his help goes a long way toward getting the Pacers back into the playoff picture. According to Hill, the team’s talented roster is plenty good enough to get there. That talent actually is what drew him to Indianapolis in the first place.

“Seeing all the guys that Indiana had, bringing in Monta with Paul (George), C.J. (Miles), Myles Turner – all the talent is enough to make some noise this year,” he said. “With me coming in this year, I can boost it up a little more. We can go out there, have fun, play our game and do the things to go out here and be competitive. We’re going to be good.”

However good the Pacers may be, Hill has hit his stride as a professional basketball player, which wasn’t something anybody saw as a given back at the start of his rookie season in 2009. Under the spotlights in New York and L.A., he could have crumbled under the pressure of his high draft status, but he never did. Instead, he got better and carved a niche for himself in this highly selective league.

Maybe someday Anthony Bennett will figure things out, as well.

Why Milwaukee Paid Henson So Handsomely

On Friday the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to a four-year extension with reserve big man John Henson that will be worth between $44-48 million, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

If that seems like a lot of money for a player who has averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game over the course of his first three seasons, that’s because it is. But there are a number of reasons why Milwaukee paid Henson so generously before actually seeing what he could do with real minutes over the course of a full season.

The first of them is Henson’s actual ability, which has been nothing short of stellar in his limited minutes. Last season, playing only 18.3 minutes a game, Henson averaged two blocks per game, good for fifth in the league and ahead of respected shot blockers like Nerlens Noel, Andre Drummond and Roy Hibbert. Per 36 minutes, his blocks double to four blocks per game, a ridiculous number that suggests he could easily become one of the top two or three shot blockers in the NBA in time.

He also has averaged 15.0 PPG and 10.2 RPG per 36 minutes over the course of his three-year career, and he continues to improve his offensive efficiency by boosting his field goal percentage by at least a few percentage points every year. As a rookie he shot .486 from the floor, and last year he finished at .566.

In other words, the promise for success absolutely is there, and without Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia in the lineup this year to block Henson’s minutes he actually should see a reasonable uptick in playing time and production. He’s on his way, which is why he’s set to earn an average of $11-12 million a year (the contract is front-loaded) over the course of the next four seasons.

More importantly, though, that is the market for big men these days, especially with Henson facing restricted free agency in a summer when every team in the league is expected to have chasms of cap space. DeAndre Jordan will make exactly double what Henson makes, while Omer Asik and Amir Johnson also just signed contracts for $12 million a season. Enes Kanter inked a deal this past summer paying him an average of $17.5 million per year, while Aron Baynes signed in Detroit for just under $7 million a season.

Henson is better than Baynes and less established than Kanter or Jordan, but paying him in the neighborhood of Asik and Johnson feels fair. Milwaukee is betting that their young big will have a huge year, meaning this contract could ultimately look like a considerable bargain a year or two from now. Ask Golden State how good a team can be with several team-friendly deals.

The most important thing to remember is that Milwaukee sees Henson as a foundational piece to their lineup, along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams, so they paid him like one. He was, after all, a former lottery pick, and he quietly has been one of the better reserves in the league the last few years. All there is left to find out is whether he can build on that early success now that he’s got his first big NBA deal.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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