Weight: 225 lbs
Position: Small Forward
Stats: 10 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg
Unlike most freshmen, Solomon Hill hit the ground running in his first collegiate game. Hill, the most highly rated player in Sean Miller’s vertebral 2009 recruiting class, had 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists in an efficient 25 minutes in his debut for Arizona. Just three games later, he posted another 17 points on 66% field goal shooting, while converting a cool 9-9 from the free throw line against Vanderbilt in the 2010 Maui Invitational.
After the game, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings told PointGuardU in perhaps his most serious tone, “Solomon Hill gave us the business. That kid really gave it to us tonight.” It was a statement that belied Stallings’ normally jovial and light-hearted demeanor, but more importantly it was the first real sign that Hill could be a major contributor for the Wildcats all season long.
Up to that game, which marked the one month point of the regular season, Hill was averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds on 55% shooting from the field. He had put up two 17 point games, and was looking like one of the team’s best scorers, rebounders, and passers.
But for the next four months of the season, Hill saw a precipitous decline in his minutes, numbers, and his overall role on the team. He did not reach 17 points or 8 rebounds again for the rest of the season. Was it a conditioning problem? Was he having trouble adjusting to Miller’s system? Did he just hit the proverbial freshman wall?
The answer, as it so often turns out to be, was surprisingly simple. Certainly, Kevin Parrom’s return from a stress fracture cut into Hill’s minutes. But a Parrom on the mend shouldn’t have been able to unseat Hill so quickly, even if Parrom did have some very solid games after being sidelined for most of the year.
Hill’s real problem had nothing to do with a freshman wall or getting demoted, it was all in the way defenders began to play him. As the year went on, especially during conference play, opponents found that the best way to neutralize Hill was to back off him and let him shoot. While Hill started off the season scoring the ball well, it became increasingly clear that he lacked a reliable jumpshot. Defenders sagged, his lanes were taken away, and all of a sudden he was a completely different player. He was forced to play to his weaknesses or watch the game from the sideline.
Hill’s 2010-11 season has been marked by offensive efficiency, as he’s shooting a remarkable 58.5% from the field so far. He’s been hard to stop off the dribble, and has made opponents pay when he gets into the paint. Hill has converted 20 of his 22 free throw attempts, which is a team best.
Hill is also averaging 5.3 rebounds per game, but he has been particularly good on the offensive glass. After being a terrible offensive rebounding team last year, Arizona now has a much better offensive rebounding percentage thanks to the improved rebounding efforts of Derrick Williams and Hill.
Though he’s only averaging 2.6 assists per game, Hill has been a capable play maker for the Wildcats this season. With the lack of stable production at the point guard position, Hill has been able to create for others more this season. He’s also one of the few players on the team that has consistently been able to get Williams the ball in the half court offense.
Needs to Improve:
As stated earlier, the most glaring weakness in Hill’s game is his shot. Until he forces defenders to respect his jumper, Hill will always be fairly easy to neutralize for opposing coaches. When he can use his quickness and ball handling ability to get into the paint, Hill is a very different player. He simply cannot do that, though, when defenders can back off him all they want.
Hill also needs to cut down on his turnovers. Though he’s a good passer, Hill’s assist to turnover ratio was forgettable last year. He’ll have to do a better job of not forcing passes and protecting the ball from the defense if major minutes are coming his way. To his credit, there were plenty of times that Hill made a crafty or surprising pass and his teammate was not ready or able to handle the ball, so his turnover numbers may be a bit higher than they should. As the year goes on we should see his assists go up, but whether Hill can keep his turnovers in check will decide if he can be a legitimate playmaker for Arizona.