After spending 14 seasons nestled into the starting lineup of whatever team he was on, Grant Hill graciously moved to the bench to make room for Matt Barnes. Although we’ve all seen the movies where the hero unselfishly steps aside for the group and everyone goes on to live “happily ever after,” that didn’t quite happen in the Valley of the Sun.
Barnes stepped into the role as the Suns’ starting small forward and filled the position admirably, but it had a less-than-stellar effect on Hill’s game. Although Barnes is averaging 12 points, 5.8 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from downtown, Hill has been hard-pressed to find his rhythm. As a reserve, the seven-time All-Star has only posted 8.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 24 percent from behind the arc.
When comparing those numbers to the 13.1 points, five rebounds and 2.9 assists on 50 percent shooting from the floor and 32 percent accuracy from three-point land a year ago, the effect on Hill becomes more apparent. Then, when one factors in the fact that all of his numbers rise dramatically when he’s in the starting lineup, one can see why Porter made the adjustment to make Hill a starter again.
After giving Hill the nod against the Jazz on Saturday, Porter indicated that the decision to start Hill will most likely end up being permanent, although it is nothing against Barnes.
“Matt’s done an unbelievable job for us,” Porter said. “He’s done everything you can ask from him, Grant’s just never done it (come off the bench). We just want to jump-start Grant a little bit.”
Since Barnes is accustomed to coming off the bench in his career, the adjustment for him to return to the bench wasn’t as great as it was for Hill to move to it.
Porter said that Barnes was very open-minded to the idea, “He’s had success coming off the bench in the past and he’s been really great in saying, ‘Coach, whatever you need. If we really need Grant to get going I have no problem coming off the bench. I’ve done it before and I’m very comfortable with it.’”
Not only has Hill never played the role of reserve before, but at 36-years old, it’s harder to get that engine re-started after warm-ups than it is for a younger player.
“It’s tough at his age, once you get that body warmed up, you like to keep it warmed up,” Porter said. “You do all of that preparation to get warmed up, then you shut it down and then you have to worry about having to warm it back up. It becomes tough at times.”
Hill concurred with that as well, attributing his struggles to his age as well as his lack of experience in being a reserve.
“I wanted to ride it out and try to get better at it by the end of the season, but I play better as a starter and Matt has been great either way,” Hill said. “I was hoping I’d get better at it and I really tried.
“I’d come to the back and do sprints in the hallways to try to get loose, but I’m honestly just more comfortable with starting. He’s been great and I’ve been his biggest fan and biggest cheerleader. We both want to see this work, but both of us want to see us do well and to win.”
After Saturday’s victory, the Suns are 5-2 with Hill in the starting lineup.