While most Arizona fans are focused on the upcoming exhibition game against Cal Poly Pomona on Sunday, a pair of former Wildcats are doing Sean Miller proud in the NBA. Solomon Hill and Aaron Gordon, two of five NBA draft picks Miller has produced at Arizona (so far), are both gaining traction in the pro game despite their youth.
In his second year after being drafted #23 overall, Hill has earned a starting position in the wake of superstar Paul George’s season ending injury. There are more experienced players on the roster that could potentially play the small forward, but the Indiana Pacers have shown a desire to develop Hill and he is firmly entrenched as a starter.
Hill hasn’t disappointed either. Over the last four games, the young forward is averaging 12 points and over 5 rebounds and 2 assists per game. For Arizona fans, that’s a familiar stat line as Hill’s diverse skill set helped form the backbone of the Wildcat’s offense over four seasons.
Most impressive is that he is earning the trust of Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who has granted Hill over 35 minutes per game in that stretch.
While Indiana has been decimated by injuries, it has actually been the perfect storm for Hill’s development as a player. The experience he is gaining now, especially the confidence he builds game by game, will pay dividends down the line even when the roster becomes more healthy.
The way Hill has progressed this year, the Pacers are looking like geniuses for using a first round pick on him when others thought he could have been had much later. In particular, Hill’s three point shooting has become more reliable and his offensive game has opened up as a result. In four November games, Hill is averaging two three’s per contest. While that number may come down, Hill has clearly taken a leap in his shooting ability.
Like Hill, Gordon has also shown some flashes of improvement in his rookie campaign. Although minutes have been inconsistent for the athletic combo forward, Gordon has shown his usual high activity level and finishing ability at the rim. But he has also been used at times as a three point shooter, an area that many questioned his ability in.
Gordon is just 3-7 from beyond the arc on the season, but has shown increased confidence when taking the shot. And he had a breakout performance tonight, scoring 17 points and collecting 6 rebounds in just 22 minutes.
Keep in mind, though, that the Orlando Magic have a logjam of forwards and they are currently without Kyle O’Quinn, another power forward who is set to return from injury soon. Gordon might not have as much opportunity going forward.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As a rookie, Gordon is still figuring out his role on the team, and he has to earn it in his coaches’ and teammates’ eyes before big things can happen on the court. The same way Hill did.
If Gordon can follow a similar trajectory to Hill, he doesn’t need to play big minutes in his first season. He just needs to continue to bring the work ethic, as Hill did, and wait for his opportunity.
Both Hill and Gordon have one all important ace up their sleeve. Their franchise front offices believe in their talent — both the Magic and the Pacers were considered to have “reached” in the draft. That will be a key factor in whether Hill and Gordon ultimately reach their potential, and one that is working in their favor.