DAR Sports: The Potential of Grant Hill

By @TrueGodImmortal 

There have been many legendary careers that were essentially stifled by injury. In the NBA, that list is endless from Tracy McGrady to Penny Hardaway to many others over the years. One name that always comes to mind for me is Grant Hill, one of the most underrated players of all time in my opinion. Grant was something special if you actually got to witness him play. I remember his run in Duke where he helped them win back to back championships. He initially wasn't supposed to attend Duke, as his mother and father wanted him to attend Georgetown and UNC, but he became a Blue Devil and the rest is history.

The Duke program suited Hill very well and as I said, the 1991 and 1992 back to back championships were absolutely amazing to watch. Duke would end up going back to the NCAA Title match before suffering a bad loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks in 1994, and then Grant would declare himself for the NBA Draft going forward. There was speculation about where Grant would go in the draft and he would end up selected 3rd by the Detroit Pistons in the 1st round of the draft. Grant seemed like an interesting fit for the Pistons, and many wondered if he could restore them to glory of years past or at least make them a playoff contender. He had all the tools to lead them and the first test would be to see how his rookie season played out.

His rookie season would turn out to be amazing, as he would tie with Jason Kidd to win the Rookie of the Year award, based on solid numbers of 19.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 5 APG. He would be the first Pistons player in over 20 years to win that award, and the first to score 1000 points in his rookie season since the debut of legend Isiah Thomas. Grant made a big impression on the world in his first season for the Pistons and was voted in at the top for the All Star game in his rookie season, becoming the first to do so. He was even ahead of Shaquille O'Neal in voting, which proved he was becoming a star and a fan favorite.

His next season would see him once again lead the All Star voting, even over Jordan, and watch him put up solid numbers once again. Grant would lead the league in triple doubles that season and would also end up garnering a gold medal with the USA basketball team in the Olympics, a huge feat to accomplish. Grant was truly one of the premier players as we hit the mid 90's and he would continue his improvement and ability going forward, with the following season being a career one for him essentially.

The 1996-1997 season saw Grant come into his own and even be in contention for the MVP award, which based on numbers of 21.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 7.3 APG, you can see why. It has always been a rarity for someone to average 20/9/7 in a season, but Grant was able to do so. He led the league yet again in triple doubles this season, and was the NBA Player of the Month during January 1997, and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Karl Malone and Jordan. At this point, the Pistons still struggled overall as a team. Grant was willing them to a playoff appearance or two, but despite his great numbers, they just couldn't always rack up the wins. This pattern would continue even while Grant would rack up solid stats every season. He was the only player to lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists for three seasons along with the legend Wilt Chamberlain.

However, that fact is telling. Grant was the premier player for a team that lacked efficiency and solid role players yet he managed to try and carry the team as best he could. He would have a hell of a season during the 1999-2000 season as he would average 25.8 PPG, putting him just behind Shaq and Iverson for the race to a scoring title. It would be the highest scoring average of his career and he would lead the Pistons to the playoffs this season. However, with Grant finally hitting his stride and truly beginning to get into his prime, he ended up getting sidetracked during the first round of the playoffs with a bad injury. He was forced to sit out with an ankle injury and from there, his career would truly never be the same. Hill would finish his time with the Pistons and move on to joining the Orlando Magic, and what followed from there was an up and down ride.

In his first four seasons with the Magic, Grant played about a total of 47 games. That's not per season. That is overall. With 82 games in each season, and a total of 328 games over four seasons, Grant only played 47 games. That number really puts the issue in perspective. Grant was blessed with the talent, ability and the gift to be a top tier player and as the 90's came to a close, he was just getting into his groove and prime. The injury at the end of the his Pistons run soured his Magic experience, as the thought process was that Tracy McGrady and Grant could combine and make the Magic a true playoff contender. If Grant would have not been injured, there's a chance we may have seen the Magic make a run at the Finals during one of those seasons, but things didn't work that way. Fans watched as Grant missed a full season in his fourth year at Orlando and wondered could he ever come back from that.

The fifth season saw Grant still dealing with injuries, but he returned to form slightly by putting 19.7 PPG on 51% shooting from the field while playing 67 games that year. He was voted as a starter yet again in the All Star Game and it seemed as if he might be back to normal yet again. Unfortunately, that return to greatness was short lived, as a hernia caused him to miss most of the following season and while he played over 60 games the next season for the Magic, he wasn't as efficient or strong as he used to be. Grant was in a huge decline and injuries were essentially the reason.

He would leave the Magic, and sign with the Phoenix Suns, adapting well to the offensive style and fast pace of the Suns, who were led by Steve Nash. Injuries still kept him down some and out of a few games, but his time with the Suns was still productive. He would play a full 82 games in the 2008-2009 season and have a solid stat line, but it was obvious the ship had sailed on his whole elite status and as a player. He would make the playoffs in 2010 with the Suns, who ended up making the Western Conference Finals, marking the first time in his career that he'd experienced a Conference Finals series after 16 years. Grant would stay with the Suns for a few more years, but nothing seemed significant about his role and he would eventually leave the team. He had offers from a lot of contenders, but decided to go with the Clippers for some reason. This would be the final frontier of his career, as he would face yet another injury and end up having to retire in 2013.

The story of Grant Hill is always rooted in "what if". If he hadn't gotten injured, would we have seen him lead the Magic with T-Mac to the 2002 finals? The 2003 finals? Would he have fit in as well in Orlando in those early seasons? What if he kept that fire he had in 2005 when we saw him return to form? There's so many questions that could be asked when talking Grant Hill. The one thing that's clear however, is that he remains one of the biggest examples of potential that never got fully realized. Despite the FILA endorsements and the Sprite commercials, we were deprived of watching a legend form. What if will forever be uttered when we speak of Grant Hill. Forever.



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