OKC Thunder: George Hill embracing role on young, rebuilding team
George Hill quickly realized he was the old man of the group as Thunder players went around the room introducing themselves.
“It started to be eye-opening for myself having guys that were born in 2001 and 2000,” said Hill, who was a high schooler in Indianapolis around that time.
Hill blended in last season with the Bucks, one of the oldest teams in the NBA, but now he’s an outlier compared to the Thunder’s young core. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley are 22, 21 and 20.
First-round pick Aleksej Pokusevski still is two weeks away from turning 19.
“To be that leader out here is much needed with the young locker room that we have,” said Hill, a 34-year-old point guard set to begin his 13th NBA season.
Hill has accepted his situation despite being traded from an established title contender that finished atop the Eastern Conference standings last season to a rebuilding team that’s likely to finish at or near the bottom of the West.
“One mistake we could make is to expect that every player that’s got a lot of experience wants to take on a verbal and active leadership role,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “I think that’s something that those guys have to choose. But George enjoys that.”
“You can tell he has your best interests from the moment you talk to him,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
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In some ways, Hill and center Al Horford could help fill the leadership void left after the trades of Chris Paul and Steven Adams. Horford, a month younger than Hill, is expected to arrive at training camp later this week after being traded from Philadelphia.
Hill and Paul were two of five recipients of the NBA Cares Community Assist Award last season for their work off the court. Both were prominent voices in the bubble after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
After the Bucks decided to sit out their playoff game against the Magic in protest, it was Hill and teammate Sterling Brown who read a statement condemning racial injustice and demanding change.
On the court, Hill averaged 9.4 points, 3.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 22 minutes per game off Milwaukee’s bench. He led the NBA in 3-point shooting (46%).
The former Spurs, Pacers, Jazz, Kings, Cavaliers and Bucks guard has started 449 career games, but he said he doesn’t care if he starts or comes off the bench for the Thunder.
When Daigneault was asked how to balance playing a veteran like Hill versus developing young players, Daigneault said it’s not an either/or situation.
“Proven veterans can help the development of your team,” Daigneault said, citing last season as an example. “Proven veterans can help you function… We don’t necessarily view those as two different things. Those can be merged.”
Hill has two years left on his contract, for $9.6 million this season and $10 million ($1.3 million guaranteed) in 2021-22. He’s a trade candidate who will almost certainly draw interest from a contender as the season progresses, but right now there’s more on his mind.
“We can’t promise wins or losses,” Hill said, “but we can promise that we can play hard night in, night out and impact the community. And that’s the biggest thing.”