PHOENIX – It’s not easy finding an impartial viewpoint on Grant Hill’s impact on the Phoenix Suns among the people in control of the franchise.
“I’m probably not the right guy to ask about that because I’m probably the most biased guy in the world when it comes to him,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “He is a guy that I’ve coached for the majority of his career. He’s one of those guys that comes along once in a lifetime. I think he is all about winning. I think the one thing that he’s proven is he still has a lot in the tank.”
Added Lon Babby, “You’re asking the wrong person that question. I’ve known him since 1994 when I began representing him, and as much as I appreciated him over the course of the years and as important as he has been to be personally and professionally, I underestimated him. Even I underestimated who he was and what he does for a team and what he does for a community.”
Hill gave Gentry and Babby much to gush about during one of the better all-around seasons a 38-year-old has ever produced.
Offensively Hill became the seventh player of that age to average at least 13 points per game by going for 13.2 ppg along with 4.2 boards per game and 2.5 assists. He joins a list that includes luminaries such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Robert Parish and John Stockton.
But Hill’s offensive efforts were merely the cherry on top of a stellar defensive season in which he finished seventh in Defensive Player of the Year voting while defending everyone from MVP point guard Derrick Rose to Rookie of Year power forward Blake Griffin. At 38.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Hill’s man scored 0.83 points per play. Hill was best defending hand offs (ranking 6th in the league after allowing 0.6 ppp), and he was very consistent, yielding between 0.8 and 0.9 points per play on nearly every play type. For the season players guarded by Hill shot 36.8 percent from the floor, very impressive considering the quality of players he defended.
“I think he’s the most versatile defender,” Gentry said. “I don’t know anybody else who has guarded a one, two, three and a four this year. When you talk about a four you’re talking about guarding Amare Stoudemire and Blake Griffin and then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce and then you talk about Tony Parker and Derrick Rose, and I don’t think anybody else has that much of a variety. There’s guys that can guard great at their positions, but this guy has been able to do it at multiple positions.”
When pressed as to whether he’s surprised Hill has been able to produce such a monster defensive season, Gentry admitted it may be somewhat surprising to everybody else but it really isn’t to him due to the kind of person Hill is and how hard he works in the training room (Suns trainer Aaron Nelson said Hill puts in more time than any player he has ever had).
Although Hill will be 39 before taking the floor in another NBA game, Nelson feels he is in such good shape there’s no reason to believe he can’t play another couple years.
Hill has now missed a mere three games the past three seasons after injuries nearly derailed his career in Orlando, and he shows no signs of slowing down after morphing into a stud role player following his superstar past.
Now the question that must be asked concerns how Hill fits into Phoenix’s future.
As spectacular as he was this season, he’s at an age where players often decline in a hurry (see the 39-year-old Shaquille O’Neal). Hill says he wants to return although he may test the free agency waters as he did two years ago, but if Nash comes back and the Suns stick with their current core a Hill re-signing is likely. Then again, Hill is such a spectacular role model for the younger players the Suns may want him back even if they start rebuilding this summer.
His long-time agent Babby plans on recusing himself from negotiations because it’s “not fair to Grant or this franchise for me to be negotiating,” although he had previously said he “can’t contemplate the notion of going forward without having [Hill] here. That’s our mindset.”
Babby will get no argument from Gentry, who understands as well as anybody the numerous ways Hill can impact a team from leadership to lockdown defense.
“You get to coach one of those players once in your life,” Gentry said.
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