INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers need a big year from George Hill to help make up for the absence of Paul George, and Larry Bird thinks the point guard is ready for the challenge.
With Indiana set to open the season on Wednesday against Philadelphia, Bird singled out Hill as one of the players who could have a bigger role this year with George sidelined by a broken right leg.
”We got some guys we think are going to step up and play well,” Bird said Saturday night at a charity event. ”I thought George Hill was excellent during training camp; he’s gotten a lot better. I’m just amazed by how much better (Hill) has got.”
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Hill is beginning his fourth season with the Pacers. He averaged 10.3 points in 76 games last year, when Indiana went 56-26 and lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
Indiana got down to 15 players on Saturday by cutting rookie C.J. Fair and forwards Arinze Onuaku, Chris Singleton and Adonis Thomas. Despite an injury-riddled roster, Bird is optimistic heading into the season.
”We’ve got some young kids we want to see get more time, last year our bench didn’t play a whole lot, so they’re going to get a great opportunity this year to play more,” he said.
Bird, the president of basketball operations for the Pacers, was the guest of honor at one of the Indiana’s biggest annual fundraising events.
Set up by two Indianapolis-based charities, the Masquerade benefits at-risk youth through critical education and mentoring programs. The Pacers Foundation and the Simon Youth Group have received more than $8.5 million in donations through the event.
George was one of several Pacers on hand for the festivities. The foundations received $800,000 in donations.
”You’ve got to balance it and try to do as much as you can. It depends on timing, my wife and I try to do as much as we can,” Bird said. ”You can never do enough. Playing in Boston, living in Florida part-time, here and even back in my hometown, you’re spread pretty thin at times but you’ve got to give back. That’s what it’s all about.”