Sixers improved their team through Hill trade, just without making huge splash


First things first: George Hill is no Kyle Lowry.

There are many reasons why the possibility of Lowry being traded before Thursday afternoon’s deadline captured the NBA’s attention. The six-time All-Star remains capable of turning playoff series with ball handling, three-point shooting, hustle, leadership and all the other qualities that make him a beloved player who embodies Philadelphia basketball spirit. 

Raptors president of basketball operation Masai Ujiri fielded offers from the Sixers, Lakers and Heat, according to multiple reports, and he wasn’t satisfied. Ujiri reportedly wanted young talent and first-round draft picks for Lowry, who turned 35 years old Thursday and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. This is one of the periods on the NBA calendar when executives have to view every player as having a price. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey couldn’t be guided by sentimentality or the thrill of pulling off a flashy trade.

Instead, Morey added Hill in a three-team trade with the Thunder and Knicks.

At 34 years old, Hill is still a good player who has a legitimate chance to boost the 31-13 Sixers’ odds of contending for a championship this season. He’s also under contract for approximately $10 million next season but with only $1.3 million guaranteed, meaning his financial situation shouldn’t be burdensome when it’s time for Morey and company to construct the 2021-22 roster. 

Hill profiles quite well for the Sixers’ bench. In the 2019-20 campaign with the Bucks, he scored 132.0 points per 100 shot attempts, according to Cleaning the Glass, which was best among all players classified as combo guards. It just so happens that new teammates Seth Curry and Shake Milton ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in that category, respectively. Hill shot an NBA-best 46.0 percent from three-point range, including 50 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. 

In addition to efficient bench scoring and high-level outside shooting, Hill provides defensive solidity and sensible decision-making. It’s an attractive overall package. 

The move wasn’t devoid of risk. The Sixers parted with Tony Bradley, who’d shined as the team’s starting center with Joel Embiid sidelined by a left knee bone bruise. Embiid, Dwight Howard and rookie Paul Reed are the only big men currently on the roster, though the Sixers do have an open spot and approximately $4.8 million to spend on the buyout market.

Power forward Mike Scott, who’s had an injury-plagued and mostly ineffective season, is still on the team. If the Sixers don’t sign a center, there would seem to be further momentum behind the idea of lineups with Ben Simmons at the five as a postseason option in non-Embiid minutes.

Hill’s health also qualifies as a mild concern. He hasn’t played since late January after having surgery to address a mallet finger injury on his right thumb.

"I wouldn't say day-to-day,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault told reporters Monday. “There is a rehab process that happens after you're out of the hard cast with the surgery that he had."

We’ll learn more in the coming days about how Hill mixes with the Sixers’ culture. He’s been part of organizations with strong reputations like the Spurs and Bucks and has done impressive, important things off the court. Hill last season was one of five players who won the NBA’s Community Cares Assist Award, being recognized for his social justice and COVID-19 relief work.

His decision not to play in Game 5 of Milwaukee’s first-round series against the Magic after the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, led to the Bucks’ boycott, with other teams in multiple sports following suit. The playoffs ultimately resumed after the NBA and NBPA made commitments related to social justice and racial equality, including the formation of a social justice coalition. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers is part of that coalition.

As a player, Hill won’t address all of the Sixers’ deficiencies. They’re not suddenly the undisputed favorite to win the Eastern Conference because of him.

However, the Sixers improved their roster through the addition of Hill, even if the transformation wasn’t dramatic. In light of what the Raptors reportedly wanted for Lowry, that was a reasonable path to take. We’ll see if getting a bit better is enough, especially with other teams like the Heat making aggressive moves. 

For a team that leads the Eastern Conference and has won nine of 10 games, it might be. 

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