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Hill takes first steps in climbing the Spurs' ladder

7/23/2008

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah -- He walked out of a Salt Lake Community College locker room backward, dragging an overstuffed equipment duffel along the floor with one hand and a sizeable personal travel bag with the other.

Oh, he's a rookie, all right -- using the summer to prep for what his 2008-09 NBA season is bound to become, which is six-plus months' worth of toting luggage for the veterans, making doughnut runs and being sure to remember everyone's birthday with a song and sometimes even a dance.

George Hill, in other words, still must prove he can handle real-deal minutes -- especially after being taken 26th overall by San Antonio in June's NBA draft. The Spurs' choice of Hill was so surprising to some that he wasn't even mentioned in the NBA's official pre-draft media guide. He was an early-entry after his junior year at IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, in his hometown).

"He's very NBA-ready defensively, and offensively he's got a ways to go,'' Spurs summer coach Mike Budenholzer said. "He's got a lot to learn and improve on.

"His athleticism and his length and his strength -- I think those are the things he has. And I think he's fundamentally sound. And now we've just got to get him to learn how to create and attack and be a little bit more aggressive -- both for himself, and creating for teammates.''

Even Hill readily admits as much.

"I've got a lot of things I can get better at,'' he said, "and when training camp comes, hopefully I'll be ready for it.''

Yet the point guard has utilized his July for much more than mere rookie responsibilities.

A microcosm of what the month really was all about for Hill came in the final two minutes of the Spurs' last summer-league game, an 83-82 Rocky Mountain Revue victory over Atlanta on Tuesday that pushed San Antonio's final Revue record to 3-1.

At 1-of-7 from the field on the day, Hill's oft-contested shot wasn't exactly falling. Such was also the case during three games at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, where he hit just 2-for-25.

But during those last two minutes Tuesday, with the Spurs down by three points when he re-entered the game, Hill dished to teammate Anthony Tolliver for a 3-pointer from the left corner, drew an offensive foul, deflected an inbounds pass and hit two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining to deliver the lead.

That's not all.

Hill then clamped down on defense in the final few seconds, tying up Acie Law IV for a jump ball as the Hawks' backup point guard drove the lane. Moments later, Hill soared to win the tap from Law, sealing the win.

Never mind that San Antonio struggled to inbound the ball in those last couple minutes and that Hill stumbled his way down the lane before getting bailed out with the call that led to his game-winning free throws.

"I'm not worried about his shot at all,'' Budenholzer said. "What makes me happy and impressed me is that stop he got at the end -- not fouling [Law], getting the jump ball and then winning [it].''

Whether Hill can win backup minutes at the point from veteran journeyman Jacque Vaughn behind two-time NBA All-Star Tony Parker next season in San Antonio, however, remains to be seen.

"It's still early in the summer to say that,'' Budenholzer said. "He's still got all of August and September and training camp, and we'll see how much he grows and develops between now and then. But he's very competitive, and Jacque's very competitive. I'm sure it will be a great training camp watching those guys battle.''

"I'm not coming in there to bash anybody's head in,'' added Hill, who did lead San Antonio's Revue team in scoring with an average of 12.8 points over four games. "I'm just coming in and playing my role -- whatever my role is -- and just trying to get better. I've got two great point guards to learn from in Tony Parker and Jacque Vaughn, so I'm gonna sit back and learn a lot from them.''

Including, but ideally not limited to, where and when they prefer their bags to be delivered.

Who's hot

Undrafted Utah State product Jaycee Carroll bounced back from a 1-for-7 shooting performance Monday to hit 9-of-17 from the field and score a team-high 22 points in New Jersey's 87-79 Revue loss to Utah on Tuesday.

Tolliver, who played 25 games last season for Iowa of the NBA Development League, had 21 points off the bench to lead the Spurs over Atlanta on Tuesday. Undrafted out of Creighton in 2007, the super-shooting power forward played last preseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers -- and should have a good shot this season at sticking with the Spurs.

Law scored a game-high 27 points Tuesday and took over the scoring lead of Atlanta's Revue team with an average of 15.0 points per game.

Anthony Morrow had a 27-point, 10-rebound double-double and shot 9-of-16 from the field as Golden State beat Dallas 90-73 on Tuesday, improving to 2-0. The undrafted ex-Georgia Tech guard also scored 23 in the Warriors' Revue opener.

Gerald Green scored 17 reserve-role points as Boston's first-round 2005 draft choice led the Mavericks in scoring for a fourth straight Revue game. Green, signed to a one-year deal earlier this month, is averaging 19.8 points per game.

Who's not

Center Brook Lopez and power forward Ryan Anderson of the Nets -- both first-round draft picks this year -- combined to shoot just 5-of-22 from the field against the Jazz. Lopez did grab 11 rebounds in 30 minutes, and Anderson did hit 11-of-12 from the free-throw line, but Lopez looked especially worn down playing against Utah's bigs.

Notes

Four days into the Revue, we have a trade.

Had it happened Monday, Marcus Williams might have swapped uniforms at halftime. Instead, the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday shipped Williams to Golden State for a conditional future first-round draft choice.

The deal was prompted by Jersey's sign-and-trade acquisition Monday of former Orlando Magic guard Keyon Dooling.

The Warriors, needing a backup for projected starter Monta Ellis at the point after losing Baron Davis to the Los Angeles Clippers via free agency, picked up the 2006 first-round pick from UConn.

Williams had 14 points, shot 6-of-16 from the field and dished five assists in the Nets' Revue loss to Golden State on Monday. He didn't play in Tuesday's Revue game for the Warriors, and isn't expected to play when they finish summer-league action later this week.

•  Veteran Hawks point guard Speedy Claxton, playing in the summer league while trying to overcome a knee injury that cost him all of last season, left the Revue on Tuesday to tend to a pressing family medical matter in Atlanta. He won't rejoin the summer team, a Hawks official said. His knee held up fine in three Revue games, though, and he's fully expected to take part in Atlanta's fall camp.

•  Jazz summer point guard Kevin Kruger, who played last season for the D-League's Utah Flash, is done for the Revue because of a badly sprained left ankle sustained in Monday's victory over the Iranian Olympic Team. The Jazz also beat New Jersey on Tuesday without University of Utah product Britton Johnsen, who missed a second straight game with a severe thigh contusion. The former Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers forward, still looking for a contract for next season, was said by a Jazz spokesman to be improving and might play again before the Revue concludes.

•  Big man James Lang was supposed to play for the D-League Ambassadors all-star team at the Revue, but because of blood-pressure issues he's not taking part. The beefy Lang played 11 games for Washington during the 2006-07 season, and spent last season with the Flash. He also missed the 2006 Revue, after the Jazz sent him home because of high-blood pressure.

Tim Buckley covers the Utah Jazz for the Deseret News.