Grant Hill wants to win a title by playing less like Michael and more like Earvin
At the outset of his six years with the Pistons, Grant Hill was expected to be the second coming of Michael Jordan. Now that he's playing for Orlando, he hopes to take after another MJ. " Magic Johnson is the person I idolized and tried to be like," says Hill, who played only four games for the Magic last season between operations on his broken left ankle. "I can put up 30 to 35 points if we need it, but I prefer the all-around game. I love to pass."
Though Hill steadily improved as a scorer for the Pistons, culminating in a career-high 25.8-point average two years ago, his desire to be more than a scorer led to complaints from many in the Detroit organization—including guard Jerry Stackhouse and coach George Irvine—that he wasn't a leader. Hill is intent on reversing that impression. "When he interviewed with us two summers ago, he talked about using this transition to another team to create a better job for him as a floor leader," says Orlando general manager John Gabriel.
Hill, 29, tried to put his year off to good use. "I had a lot of time to look at myself and the areas I could improve offensively and defensively," he says. "I was thinking in terms of my mental approach and of being a better teammate. I feel like I'm entering my prime. I have the experience, but I still have my youth, I'm still athletic."
Hill claims that his ankle has felt so strong in the preseason that he has occasionally forgotten to tape it. On Sunday night during Orlando's 101-81 exhibition loss to the Hawks in Tampa, he scored 15 points in 29 minutes and looked as light on his feet as any of his teammates. He beat opponents off the dribble and had no problem leading the fast break. "This is the first game in which I thought he had his legs throughout the game," said Magic coach Doc Rivers. "I think it's going to take until midseason for him to get the leg power so that he can jump and dunk all game."
"This has been a good test, with two-a-days and now three games in the last five nights," Hill said on Sunday. "I look at where Jordan was the first time he came back after 18 months off, and he didn't have his legs either. But my lateral movement is good, and so are my slides on defense—all of the basketball moves you can't simulate during rehab."
For at least a quarter per game this season, Rivers hopes to put out a big lineup of two frontcourt bangers alongside Hill, 6'8" Tracy McGrady and 6'9" Mike Miller, last season's Rookie of the Year, with Hill serving as a Magic Johnson-sized point guard. At times Hill will also bring the ball upcourt on fast breaks to allow 6'1" point guard Darrell Armstrong to run ahead.
Orlando cannot assume, however, that the partnership between Hill and McGrady will immediately work One need look no further than Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to see how hard it is to marry superstar talents. Hill was one of the five best players in the league before his injury, and in his absence last season McGrady ascended to that category. McGrady's emergence as a 26.8-points-per-game scorer turned his perceived relationship with Hill upside down. Before last year most observers had assumed that McGrady would defer to Hill. Now Hill calls McGrady "the best player in the game," and he promises to help McGrady continue improving.
"Tracy is the Number 1 option," Hill says. "The guy has unbelievable ability, and we're going to take advantage of that. You look at the old Lakers: Magic ran the show, but the high scorer was usually James Worthy or Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], and other guys would step it up on different nights. I hope that's how we're going to be. All I'm concerned with now is trying to win."
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