In the wake of their nearly simultaneous retirement announces, there have been a lot of articles written about co-1995 rookies of the year, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. I’ve watched the two of them over their entire 19 year careers, and I’m a fan of both of them. If you’re reading this, and you’re under 25, you’ve probably never seen either player at his best. In this post and the next, we’ll look at the types of players Hill and Kidd were at their primes, how they played, how they stacked up against the competition, and where their best seasons rank all-time.
Hill entered the league at age 22 after a hugely successful college career at Duke, where he went to three national championship games in the tournament and won two of them. At 6-8, Grant was one of the most complete players to ever to play the game. He had a great handle with a devastating cross-over move that left defenders in the dust, explosive leaping ability, great touch around the rim, terrific rebounding instincts, and spectacular passing skills. He played a high-usage point forward role and carried a rebuilding Detroit Pistons team to the post-season 4 years out of his 6 seasons on the team. The best modern comparison to young Grant Hill would be a young LeBron James.
His first 6 seasons in Detroit, Hill was one of the top swing men in the league statistically. His PER among guard / forwards for that time frame (1995-2000) is second only to Michael Jordan, and his total WS is second only to Reggie Miller (MJ missed most of ’95 and all of ’99 and ’00 with an acute case of retirement). It would not be out of line to make the claim that Hill was the 2nd best swing man of the late ’90s, though it would require some thoughtful defense.
Per Game Averages Age 22-27: 21.7pts 54.4%ts, 7.9rbd, 6.3ast, 1.6stl, 0.6blk, 3.3tov
Only two other players match those per game stats from ages 22-27, Oscar Robertson and LeBron James. More impressively, Hill’s best years came in an era where the perimeter wing was not emphasized the way he is today. Strategically, coaches have a better handle on how best to utilize multi-talented penetrating small forwards thanks to the example of players like Hill, Scottie Pippen, and Clyde Drexler.
The no-hand check rule has also aided perimeter players in drawing fouls, where in the late ’90s most of the big foul-drawing stars were power players like Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. Hill is one of those players where if you could transform one of his missed field goal attempts or one of his turnovers into a pair of free throw attempts, his TS%, PER, and WS would skyrocket, and I sincerely believe a change of eras might do that for him. Even ignoring a hypothetical era adjustment, Hill’s stretch of seasons from age 22-27 ranks among the 10 best by a swingman since the introduction of the 3 point line in 1980.
Guard/Forward Metrics Age 22-27 (1980-2013):
After his foot / ankle injuries that held him down in his stint in Orlando (Hill had only one good year as a member of the Magic, putting up a 20 PER in 35 minutes per game over 67 games), Grant went to Phoenix and reinvented himself as a defense-first off the ball wing who complemented Steve Nash by making smart cuts and spacing the floor with shots from the short corners. Grant became one of the most effective and productive veteran swing men ever in the third act of his career.
Guard/Forward Metrics Age 35-39 (1980-2013):
You’ll read a lot about Grant Hill, the person, in the fallout of his retirement announcement. By all accounts he’s one of the most upright, intelligent, and respected players ever to have laced up sneakers, a modern day David Robinson. That’s a wonderful thing and deserves plenty of attention. But don’t lose just how good Hill really was on the court under the wave of appreciation for his personality off the court. Grant’s game stands on its own even with the injury that derailed his career in his prime (and ruined the Magic for half a decade), and Hill should be recognized for the great player that he really was.
Tags: adrian dantley, advanced stat, brent barry, bruce bowen, career, clyde drexler, detroit pistons, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Julius Erving, kobe bryant, lebron james, mario elie, Metrics, Michael Jordan, NBA, orlando magic, Paul Pierce, phoenix suns, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, retirement, Scottie Pippen, steve nash, syndey moncreif, tracy mcgrady, tyrone corbin