When you think about the Milwaukee Bucks and their playoff success, it’s obvious that much of that is due to their All-Star players Giannis and Khris Middleton, along with the coaching of Mike Budenholzer.
But little did everyone know that an early season trade that barely made a blip on the radar would have such an impact. Then, the Bucks traded little-used backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson for George Hill along with another player and draft picks. At the time, the Cavs seem to have given up on Hill, especially with GM Koby Altman looking to rid the Cavs of some of the players and contracts they took on to surround LeBron James with better talent.
Re-connecting coach with pupil
The Bucks were taking on a hefty contract and most thought Hill would be making a brief stop in Wisconsin as he was eligible to be traded again before the trade deadline. But the Bucks were patient with Hill as he recovered from injury and head coach Mike Budenholzer knew exactly what he had in the veteran.
Budenholzer was an assistant in San Antonio during Hill’s time there before he was involved in a draft-day trade for Kawhi Leonard.
In Cleveland, the Cavs offense wasn’t really a great fit for Hill. The Cavs ran a ton of iso ball, and Hill is much better bringing the ball up the floor at times while he spaces the floor and is involved in a motion-based offense with a lot of ball movement. He did well in that type of offense with San Antonio, Indiana and Utah.
In Cleveland, he just never seemed to find his role. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had averaged 17 points and four assists per game in Utah. His minutes also started to drastically fall since Utah.
Finding a fit in Milwaukee
While Hill had to deal with an injury before he made it on the floor in Milwaukee, and while it took time for him to find where he fit offensively, he made an impact before he even played a single minute in a Bucks uniform.
“He’s a really, really good vet on and off the floor,” Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon said then. “He’s not one of these vets you bring in that’s a great locker-room guy. He’s a guy that’s going to contribute on the floor, lead by example with his voice, really help contribute this year.”
“He knows who he is. He’s a very confident guy, but he also knows what it takes to win. He’s been part of winning teams, winning cultures. We need someone like that in our locker room and he’s going to serve as that.”
Many other Bucks players sang Hill’s praises early for his leadership, and while the scoring didn’t come right away, what he brought to the Bucks on defense was apparent right away.
Showing up at the right time
He had his best month of the season in April as the Bucks were fighting to retain their top record in the league. In just 24 minutes per game, Hill averaged nearly 14 points per game. He had a few good games in Milwaukee’s four-game sweep of Detroit, but he came up especially big against Boston as Eric Bledsoe had bouts with inconsistency and with Malcolm Brogdon out.
While it wasn’t his highest-scoring game of the series with Boston, Game 4 really stands out. The Bucks had lost home court advantage, dropping Game 1 at home, and they were down two points in the third quarter as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were on the bench with four fouls apiece.
It could have been a pivotal time for a Boston run on their home court with Milwaukee’s top two players out. Hill scored nine points and led Milwaukee’s bench on a run, giving them a 10-point lead as he checked out at the end of the quarter. Hill ended up finishing with 15 points, five assists, and four rebounds. He also had 21 points in Game 3 as Milwaukee swept their road games during the series.
“That’s my man,” EricBledsoe said. “I’m always proud of George. Coming in, picking up the slack. He came in, without Malcolm playing, and played a hell of a game. He’s been a vet in this league. He knows what it takes. He’s been to the championship. He’s been to the Eastern Conference finals. It’s no surprise what he’s doing.”
It’s no surprise to Bledsoe and it’s likely no surprise to Budenholzer. He knew Hill the person as well as he knew Hill the player. He just needed to provide the environment for Hill to succeed in and Hill did the rest.
“On the road in this environment, I think that’s when coaches and organizations talk about needing guys that have experience, that have been there, that understand what it takes,” Budenholzer said. “George Hill, his performance is a prime example of that.”
And even as Malcolm Brogdon returns to the Bucks lineup, don’t expect Hill’s role to change much. Budenholzer knows the impact he has had and he and Hill have seen the conference finals before. Budenholzer will rely on that experience as the Bucks tipoff with the Raptors tonight.