Philadelphia 76ers: George Hill’s debut was quietly encouraging

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

George Hill has played 22,129 minutes in the NBA, plus an additional 4,063 more if you count the playoffs.

He’s been on good teams and bad, played with the starters and came off the bench, and even filled a role similar to Tyrese Maxey in 2022 during his debut NBA season back in 2008-09.

So, to judge Hill off of his first 18 minutes back from thumb surgery would be foolish, right? Well, those 18 minutes just so happened to be his first as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, so pardon me if they don’t hold a tad more weight than any other run-of-the-mill Monday night romp.

Had Hill stepped onto the court and gone shot for shot with Seth Curry, fans would have been parading down Broad Street like it’s February 2018 – or broke out into “fire Howie” chants. But just because things went the opposite way and Hill didn’t do much versus the Warriors doesn’t mean he’s a bust either. If anything, the grizzled vet put enough good film on tape to get Philadelphia 76ers fans the world over even more jazzed on his addition.

George Hill showed enough to get fans of the Philadelphia 76ers excited.

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The Philadelphia 76ers’ 107-96 loss to the Golden State Warriors was a tale of two halves for George Hill.

In his initial six minutes of run, Hill was largely relegated to playing off the ball alongside Shake Milton and, for the most part, looked like a player who hadn’t seen the court since January. His timing was off, his connection with his teammates was non-existent, and his defense on the Warriors’ 3-heavy offense left a lot to be desired.

Had Hill remained sidelined for the second half, reporters like yours truly would have been spending the game’s final quarters trying to make sense of his showing in the hopes of keeping morale high.

Fortunately, Hill turned things around in the second half and already looks like a plus player capable of giving Doc Rivers even more optionally down the stretch.

How? Well, I’m glad you asked.

You see, with Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris out and the team’s top reserve forward, Mike Scott, pressed into starter duty once more, the Sixers opted to run an all-bench unit featuring Dwight Howard at the five and four guards on the wings.

This unit featured multiple ball handlers, a ton of speed, and enough switchability to keep the small-ball reliant Warriors honest thousands of miles from home.

While Hill wasn’t able to anchor the unit alongside fellow basketball oldhead Howard, at least not from a scoring standpoint, his ability to keep the ball moving, keep the defense honest, and drive to the basket to create shots for himself and others helped to keep the Sixers competing when they usually falter.

Hill and Co. were so impressive during their initial run in the fourth quarter that they actually fought back from a five-point deficit to hand the keys off to Embiid with a one-point lead at the seven-minute mark. Granted, the Sixers weren’t able to maintain that lead due in no small part to an incredible performance by Steph Curry‘s right arm, but that wasn’t necessarily on Hill. When he was reinserted back into the game with about a minute and a half left to play – playing the… one in a brand new lineup featuring himself, Seth Curry, Shake Milton, Danny Green, and Joel Embiid – the damage was already done, and the game was too far gone to mount a meaningful comeback.

Still, it’s rather telling that a coach as experienced as Rivers was willing to deploy his 35-year-old trade deadline acquisition as an on-ball isolated defender on, the paraphrase Doris Burke, the “greatest shooter in history,” in his first game back in 84 days.

If this is Hill’s floor as a Sixer, I, for one, am very excited to see the upswing.

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So yeah, as the dust settles and the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves no longer the collective owners of a winning streak, there’s little reason to be downtrodden. Seth Curry showed out well, as did Matisse Thybulle, but most encouraging of all, George Hill went from a rusty work in progress to an end of game closer all over the span of 18 quietly encouraging minutes. Give him a few more games to find his sea legs and the return of both Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons, and suddenly the Sixers may find themselves with a very good rotation that presents a score of intriguing options depending on the matchup.