The Indiana Pacers probably wish they could have a do-over on the 2011 NBA Draft. The franchise took San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard with the 15th overall pick and then promptly traded him and a couple other players to the San Antonio Spurs for George Hill.
To be fair here, Hill was no slouch. The fourth-year point guard had become a solid contributor for the Spurs off the bench and he was expected to come to Indiana and immediately make a big impact in their backcourt. In five seasons with the Pacers, Hill was a solid contributor, starting most games and averaging double-digit scoring. Last season he was traded to the Utah Jazz where he had another quality season.
Hill has not been Kawhi Leonard, however. For the Spurs, Leonard has become a superstar. In six seasons, he has two All-Star appearances, an All-NBA First Team spot, two NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, and an NBA Finals MVP award in 2014 when he led the Spurs to the NBA Championship. San Antonio is also back in the Western Conference Finals and hoping he’ll return in time to lead them back to the Finals.
We’ve already looked back to find out that some folks didn’t think Leonard was worth the draft pick, but now let’s look back at the time one writer made a case that the Pacers made the right move by trading Kawhi for Hill.
The column in question comes from Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star from the day after the 2011 draft.
On one of the best draft nights in recent Indiana Pacers draft history, the local team didn’t get a single draft choice.
They did a whole lot better than that.
They got George Hill, who not only makes them exponentially better right away and for the near future, but they got a local kid who will put fannies in the Conseco Fieldhouse seats.
From Broad Ripple to IUPUI to the Indiana Pacers.
How’s that for Draft Night 2011?
Now to be fair, the Pacers would win two Central Divisions and go to two Eastern Conference Finals over the course of the next three seasons and Hill was a piece of that puzzle. But one wonders what could have been had the team had a talent like Leonard in the lineup instead. Case in point, in 2014, when the Pacers finished the season with 56 wins, it was Leonard and the Spurs hoisting the trophy.
One minute, the massive crowd at the fieldhouse was muttering, asking, “Who’s Kawhi Leonard, why did the Pacers pick Kawhi Leonard and why should we care so much about the size of his hands?”
Seeing where the Pacers have been for the last three seasons and seeing where the Spurs have been, they probably care nowadays.
Then the word of a trade began to sweep through the place, one tweet and whisper at a time. Less than two minutes after the selection, fans were buzzing, having learned that Pacers president Larry Bird had pulled off the Hill deal. Then, when ESPN reported the trade — a middling first-rounder, a second-rounder and the rights to Erazem Lorbek for Hill — the place went nuts.
For good reason.
“That middling first-rounder…”
Look at it this way: Indiana picked up a top-of-the-rotation player for a draft choice that history suggests is rarely any good. There have been a couple of productive No. 15 choices, the best being Steve Nash, with Al Jefferson a very distant second. But more often, you’re looking at Eric Piatkowski, Frederick Weis and Todd Lichti. And this was a weak draft.
Unfortunately for Kravitz and Pacers fans, you can put Leonard’s name next to Steve Nash’s and not Frederick Weis.
A good night. A big night. The corner has been turned.
As we said, this was true in the short-term. But the Pacers never turned the corner quite enough and now find themselves building back up again. Meanwhile, Leonard is in fourth conference finals looking to get to his third NBA Finals.