Even after 14 seasons playing in the NBA, even after a series of seemingly career-ending injuries that denied him and us the chance to enjoy the career of a player destined to be one of the greatest, Grant Hill is still playing a significant role as a starter for the Phoenix Suns. Yet, amidst the Suns recent struggles there hasn't been much time to focus on him, even though the veteran's performance is probably the best representation of the Suns season: a sparkling start followed by a dire descent into reality.
During the first stretch of the year, after his excellent '07-'08, Hill continued to inspire Suns fans. His stellar play left us wondering how in the world a 37 year old with an history of grueling injuries could play so well. In fact, he was arguably playing like an All-Star. He scored in double digits in eight of his first nine games and the only game with less than 10 points was his scoreless game in Orlando, on the tail end of a back-to-back. As impressive as his scoring was, the real incredible part of Hill's game was his ability to rebound, something reminiscent of his golden years in Detroit, when he was a triple-double threat day in and day out. In what was the biggest statistical surprise of the season, he grabbed more than 10 rebounds in four out of the first seven games.
He has somewhat maintained his scoring numbers, posting double digit games in ten of the last fifteen but his rebounding numbers have dwindled considerably. Since the first seven games he has grabbed 7 or more only in six of the last seventeen outings. And things have gotten even worse lately, as he's corralled 5 or more in just two of the last ten games. He is still the Suns second-highest rebounder with 6.2, which is 1.3 rebounds per game more than last season. Overall, we can't say he's struggling in this department because he is still having the best rebounding season since 2003.
The biggest area of concern, though, is Hill's shooting. His 45.2% from the field is a far cry from the career high he posted last year (52.3%) and he's below .500 for the first time in four years. His lower than usual field goal percentage is the result of inconsistency: he has shot 40% or below in nine games and he has never shot better than that in more than three consecutive games all year long. On the plus side he has learned to pick his spots when shooting three pointers: his 40% from downtown is a career high. He's also extremely careful with the ball, turning it over only 1.3 times per game, another career best.
However, as we all know, numbers don't tell everything. We can't gloss over the fact that he is the Suns best defender and the one who gets chosen to guard the opponent's best scorer most of the nights. A clear evidence of his defensive prowess was the Denver game when he played Carmelo Anthony as good as anybody this year, limiting him to just 4 field goals in 12 attempt in the first half. Also, his basketball IQ is off the charts and he's still the fastest 37 year old you'll ever see, allowing him to outrun opponent on fast breaks more often than not.
For all these reasons, it's probably not fair to say Grant Hill is struggling. The truth is we were spoiled by his past and somehow underrated performances. He is still one of the most important players on this team.
If we take a look at his game splits we can easily note Hill's importance in the team. He scores 4.3 more points in wins (13.4) than losses (9.1). The difference in rebounding is also considerable: 7.1 when the Suns end up in the "W" column compared to 4.4 when the Suns end up biting the dust. The most stunning stat is the difference between his field goals percentage in wins, a solid 48.5%, as opposed to the poor, to say the least, 37.5% in losses. Judging by these numbers it's clear how Hill might be the ultimate Suns "litmus test": when he plays well, the Suns win.
It's also clear that his production has slightly dropped over the past few weeks. It might be a consequence of a simple road bump in yet another long NBA campaign, or maybe it's the fatigue resulting from his 106 consecutive games stretching back to last season. Either way, even if we might dare to say that he is "struggling", he is still one of the keys of this Suns team and the best 37 year old around. And that's no small feat, even for a guy who was destined for more greatness than what fate allowed him to reach.
We just can't dismiss what he's doing after all he's been through. Yeah, he might have fallen a little bit lately. But don't rule him out. As a true Phoenix, Grant Hill might very well rise from the ashes again. After all, he's already done it plenty of times.