The Indiana Pacers’ selection of Arizona Wildcats forward Solomon Hill with the No. 23 pick in the NBA draft seemed like a reach.
Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard immediately could tell it wasn’t.
“We had multiple, multiple calls immediately trying to trade for the kid,” Pritchard said in a news conference Thursday night.
That’s a good sign that other teams were hoping to be the one to sneak in with a pick of Hill, often projected as a mid-to-late second-round pick.
“You can’t get caught up into the mock drafts,” Pritchard said. “There are mock drafts and then there’s reality.”
The same skills that made Hill such a valuable and popular player for Arizona over the past four seasons served him well leading into the draft. He’s versatile, offensively and defensively. His work ethic is unchallenged. He made himself into a college 3-point shooting threat.
“There are two traits that we really identify for our whole team — toughness and unselfishness. As we went through the process, we felt that he was as tough as anybody,” Pritchard said.
“One of the things that we thought was pretty special about him was his willingness to do anything to win. … We talked to his coach, Sean Miller, quite a bit. Sean just kept saying, ‘He’s a winner. He’s just an absolute winner.’ And that’s how we felt about him. We feel he will fit our culture perfectly that way.”
Hill (6-7, 220) averaged 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a senior, earning first-team all-conference honors. He shot 39 percent (57 of 146) from 3-point range, a big improvement from his freshman season, when he attempted only 18 3-pointers, making four.
Hill said his range will only improve with all the extra time he can now devote to basketball.
“I feel there are a lot of guys in the NBA that didn’t have a 3-point shot when they got there, but they had the time to really put that work in,” he said. “I feel I can be a guy who can improve his 3-point shot, but I definitely feel I have an NBA 3-point shot.”
On top of that, Pritchard said the Pacers’ organization loves Hill’s defense, figuring he can guard all three perimeter positions. The GM said the team had been actively scouting Hill since November.
“As we watched every game, he got better, and he got better shooting, too,” Pritchard said. “That was one of the questions we had; could he be a consistent knock-down shooter, because we need that.
“He can defend multiple positions. … As we graded out his defensive positions, we thought he was terrific defensively. We feel good that he’s going to be a really good defensive player, and that’s our culture, right? That’s us …
“It was just a matter of whether his offense would come, and we think it is. He’s an unbelievable kid and he’s an unbelievable worker.”
Hill lands on an Indiana team that is building on a pair of young players — wing Paul George and center Roy Hibbert. The Pacers took eventual NBA champion Miami to the seventh game in the Eastern Conference final. Hill wouldn’t figure to have to play a huge role as a rookie, but he gives the Pacers a first-year player who is physically and mentally ready to be on the court as needed.
“I love it,” Hill said on a teleconference.
“My job will be to play defense and to spread the floor. Roy Hibbert is one of the best big guys, if not the best big guy in the NBA. … They can only get better. Being a part of this franchise is really big and I have a lot of respect.
“I have to get there early, show up, work hard and play hard to get that chance to be that guy who comes off the bench.”
Hill is tied with former teammate Kyle Fogg for the most games played in Arizona history with 139. Hill and Sean Elliott are the only players to reach 1,400 points, 750 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 3-pointers for the Wildcats.
Hill is the 18th first-round pick in Arizona history.