If Grant Hill Stayed Healthy....

When LeBron James was a middle schooler, Gant Hill was finishing third in the NBA in points per game (ppg). Kobe Bryant was just 21, and Kevin Durant was a boy still shooting in his driveway, with distant aspirations to someday play professionally. Tragically, Hill in his prime endured an injury that almost ended his career and frankly should have. Through trials and tribulations he is somehow still starting in the NBA and still averaging double digits in scoring. At 39, he is the second oldest player in the league (just a day younger than Kurt Thomas). When it’s all said and done, Hill will end up in the Hall of Fame, but I couldn’t help but wonder just how dominant Hill would have been had he stayed healthy?

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Grant Hill’s father Calvin had a successful career in the NFL, to say the least. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1969, and was a three time All-Pro running back for the Dallas Cowboys. With a strong blood line and incredible potential, Grant was a highly touted high school hoopster. He decided to take his talents to Durham to play for “Coach K” at Duke University. During his four year career as a Blue Devil he went to three National Championships, won two, and was named as the nation’s best defender his junior year. He became the first player in ACC history to collect more than 1,900 points, 700 rebounds, 400 assists, 200 steals and 100 blocked shots. Due to his success he became the 8th Duke Player to have his jersey retired.

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In 1994, the Detroit Pistons drafted Hill 3rd overall. Grant certainly didn’t disappoint, averaging nearly 20 ppg, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists and shared the NBA Rookie of the Year honors with Jason Kidd. With Hill’s production came his popularity. He had such a fan base that he received the most All-Star votes in the league (the first rookie to do so in any major sport). I remember getting a turquoise Pistons Hill jersey when I was a little kid. The jersey went down to my knees at the time, but I didn’t care. Grant Hill was one of my heroes, and for good reason.

His second season his popularity didn’t waiver either as he led the NBA in All-Star voting edging out some guy named Michael Jordan. He also earned ten triple-doubles to lead the NBA in that category. In his third season he had his best production yet averaging over 21 ppg, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. He became the first player since Larry Bird in the 89-90 season to average 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists a game. He led the NBA in triple-doubles again with 13, 35% of the league total. That means he had over one of every three triple-doubles by anyone the entire season! He finished third in the MVP voting behind that Jordan guy and The Mailman.

The 98-99 season was shortened due to a lockout, but that certainly didn’t slow Hill down. He led the Pistons in scoring, rebounding and assists for the third time in his career. Hill and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players to do so for three years. The next season, was Hill’s last as a Piston. He put up the best numbers of his life averaging over 25 ppg, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Only Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal averaged more points per game.

Things were great and only getting better for Hill, and then out of nowhere it happened. A week before the 2000 playoffs Hill injured his ankle. He continued to play all the way until game 2 of the first round of the playoffs against the Miami Heat, until his ankle was too bad to continue playing. The Pistons were swept that series 3-0. With his first six NBA seasons in the books, Hill etched his name into a record book that few have earned the right to be mentioned in. Hill had tallied a total of 9,393 points, 3,417 rebounds and 2,720 assists. Only Oscar Robinson, Larry Bird, and LeBron James have put up the same amount of production after their first six seasons!

[caption id="attachment_154" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons"][/caption]

The 00-01 season looked like it was going to be the best yet for Hill. After last season with the Pistons ended, he became a free agent. On August 3rd 2000, the Orland Magic signed Hill to a seven year deal worth nearly $93 million. But he was only able to play the first four games that year before his injured ankle sidelined him the entire remainder of the season. Meanwhile Joe Dumars and the Pistons management looked like they were clairvoyant in the trade that sent them Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace for Hill. As the Pistons continued to assemble an NBA title contending team, the Magic stayed mediocre. In ‘03 the Pistons beat the Magic in the playoffs as Hill was forced to watch from the sideline. The next year, with Grant missing the entire season, the Pistons became World Champs for the first time since 1990.

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At the prime of his career Grant Hill suffered a severe ankle injury that cost him stardom with the likes of the NBA’s brightest stars. In his first four seasons with the Magic he only got to play in 47 total games. You hate to see bad things happen to good people. Grant Hill was an ideal role model and a stellar basketball player. He never was in trouble with the law, he wasn’t a partier, and most importantly he was a good guy.An injured Hill looks on

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Hill underwent a major surgery in March of 2003 where doctors had to re-fracture his ankle to realign his leg properly. Five days after the surgery he was rushed to the emergency room where doctors discovered a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. MRSA or a Staph Infection as it’s commonly known, can be potentially fatal if left untreated. Hill was hospitalized for a week and forced to take antibiotics from an IV for six months! But despite all his bad luck, Hill fought back to have a great 04-05 season playing in 67 of 82 games and averaging nearly 20 ppg. He was once again welcomed back as an NBA All-Star game starter, as voted on by the fans. This shows that despite his injuries his fans never abandoned him. Instead they were waiting in anticipation for his triumphant return.

[caption id="attachment_164" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Hill returning to All-Star form in '05"][/caption]

In the 05-06 season Hill was limited to only 21 games, this time due to a nagging groin injury and a sports hernia. He underwent surgery on the hernia and vowed that if he had to get another surgery ever again, he would retire. Following extensive therapy, Hill was able to warrior his way into playing a 65 game season (his second most as a Magic player) in 06-07 while averaging over 14 ppg. At the end of that season he was in the familiar position of being an unrestricted free agent.

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The Magic consistently floated around .500 the entirety of Hill’s tenure there. He managed to play in just fewer than 35% of the Magic regular season games during his seven year stint there. Think about that; your star player, a premier player in the NBA, only plays once every three games over the course of his time there. Can you imagine not only the personal stats, but team stats that Hill and his teammates could have accomplished? Tracy McGrady was on the Magic in his prime the same time Hill was, and they never really got the chance to flourish together. Hill was at the height of his career, and in reasonable conversations as one of the, if not the best player in the NBA at the time. During Hill’s six years with the Pistons he averaged over 21 ppg. During his next seven seasons (6 of which he played at least 4 games in) his average dropped to just over 15 ppg. It makes you empathize with him for having to face so much adversity in the heart of his prime. But it also attests to Hill’s character, showing the world that despite having to play with so many injuries, he continued to be a good scorer in the league.

On July 11th 2007, Grant Hill signed a one year contract with the Phoenix Suns worth just under $2 million, with a second year player option worth about the same amount of money. His first season with the Suns, he was elected as a team captain, sharing the honors with fellow old timer and perennial All-Star Steve Nash. He played in 70 games, his most since being a Piston and missed only 12 games because of an emergency appendectomy. He averaged over 13 ppg and 5 rebounds in the process. Over the next three seasons Hill managed to miss only three total games. Last season, he became the sixth player in NBA history at the age of 38 to average over 13 ppg. Hill is currently in his 17th season in the NBA (it should be 18, but remember, he missed the entire 03-04 season). He has played and started in nearly every game this year and is still averaging double digits in points.

During the course of his long career Grant Hill has managed to put together an impressive stat spread. In 17 seasons he has a career average of over 17 ppg, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal. He continues to be a model athlete as he remains clean from all distractions that many celebrities get tangled up in. He is involved in many charities and organizations including the Think Before you Speak campaign to promote acceptance of the homosexual community. Despite enduring a career full of injuries and “what if” questions, Hill has still managed to compile over 16,000 points. He has even compiled more career points then current teammate and future Hall of Famer Steve Nash. And though a career average of 17 ppg is good, it isn’t superb. Still, those of us that have followed Hill over the course of his NBA tenure will always be left wondering the same question. How good would Grant Hill have been if he had been able to stay healthy?

Think Before you Speak Commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8D_XLCmY0D8

Grant Hill Early Years: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEeYFH-qlvk

11 of Hill's Best Dunks:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSwA1ocUdkE

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