So He's Not Michael
Grant Hill settles into a role
Tyus Edney buoys the Kings
Sir Charles would move—to the right address
The career path for Piston star Grant Hill was preordained: Be the next Michael Jordan, or else. Such lofty expectations were thrust upon the Duke alumnus because of his fluid—and airborne—game, as well as his extraordinary marketing potential.
The comparison was of immediate concern to Hill, who experienced considerable angst about succeeding in the NBA. "It didn't seem fair to me," says Hill, last season's co-Rookie of the Year. "No matter what I did, if I didn't score as many points as Michael, or win a title in as many years as him, I would be a failure. Besides, I was never a scorer. Getting 30 a night has never been what I'm about."
Hill was certain that Doug Collins, hired last spring to be the Pistons' coach, would understand. Collins, whose son Chris plays at Duke, knew Hill well. Hill also thought that Collins would see that he was different from Jordan, whom Collins had coached for three seasons in Chicago.
Yet it was not a kind or gentle Collins who greeted Hill in training camp. The coach was critical, demanding and relentless in his assault on Hill's alleged shortcomings as a floor leader. Collins repeatedly diagrammed plays for Hill to take over games in the final minute. But while his coach implored him to take it to the hole, the reluctant Hill passed off instead. After a loss to Boston on Nov. 29, Collins publicly questioned why his best player was hesitant to drive into the teeth of the defense to initiate contact. "I was," says Collins, "a real shock to this kid."
Collins says the "tough love" was by design, as were constant references to Jordan's ability to carry a team. But now, as Hill continues his adjustment to a more aggressive role, Collins, too, has adapted. In other words, the Be Like Mike campaign has been terminated.
"Grant doesn't have the killer instinct in scoring that Michael has," says Collins. "He can dominate a game more subtly, by getting the ball to open people, by rebounding and, with two dribbles, getting his team into the open floor the way Magic [Johnson] did as a rookie."
Collins has made Hill into a point forward, which reduces his opportunities to pick up transition baskets and high-percentage shots in the paint. On defense, Collins has, at various times, assigned Hill to guard muscular Knick forward Anthony Mason in the post and to harass Magic point guard Anfernee Hardaway in the backcourt. Because of Hill's success in these diverse roles, Collins now compares him not to Jordan but to Julius Erving and another Bull—Scottie Pippen.
Hill's numbers through Sunday were indeed Pippen-like: he led the Pistons in scoring (21.2), rebounding (8.9) and assists (6.2). Yet the most critical aspect of Hill's development is his evolution as a leader, a task he initially found awkward with veteran Joe Dumars on the roster. "Grant is a protocol guy," Collins explains. "He was brought up to wait his turn. I told him, 'Your turn is now.' "