To say that Darrun Hilliard’s first two years as an NBA player were uneventful would probably be an understatement. After getting selected with the 38th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he was stuck to the back of their bench for the majority of those two seasons as he averaged 9.9 minutes per game. While that lack of playing time might’ve been due to him putting 3.6 points on 38% from field and 32% from 3, you can also argue that he really never got an opportunity to actually get warmed up because of that limited playing time.
For most young players, that lack of playing time at the big league level usually means that they’re spending a bulk of their time in the G League to help grow their game. However, that wasn’t exactly the case for Hilliard as he only played a grand total of seven games in the league with the Grand Rapids Drive, Detroit’s G League affiliate, during his time with that organization
Hilliard being stuck on the Pistons bench combined with him not playing much in the G League made it clear that he didn’t really have a future with the team. That came to a reality on June 28th when the team traded him to the Houston Rockets for cash. Just a few hours later, the Rockets traded him and six other players (Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams and Kyle Wiltjer) to the LA Clippers in exchange for Chris Paul. Unfortunately for Hilliard, the Clippers waived him last one day later.
For most of the offseason, Hilliard remained uncertain about what team or even which country he’d play in during the 2017-18 season. It took until September 11th until his immediate basketball future was set in stone as that was when the San Antonio Spurs signed him to a two-way deal.
As G League fans soon realized, that lengthy wait was definitely worth it as Hilliard helped push the Austin Spurs to G League dominance as they finished the regular season with a league-best 32-18 record. During the regular season, Hilliard just lit it up as he put up 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1 steal on 47% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc in only 29 minutes per game.That playing time was somewhat limited due to Austin’s deep backcourt that also featured Nick Johnson, Derrick White, Jeff Ledbetter and Olivier Hanlan.
Although those players had the talent to break out every now and then, Hilliard definitely stood as that one player that you could depend upon to perform on both ends of the floor. That performance on the offensive end is clearly evident from his aforementioned averages or how he maintained a great 59% True Shooting Percentage.
Another stat that backed up that claim was how the Spurs were five points better per 100 possessions when he was on the court (111.8 points per 100) compared to when he was on the sidelines (106.4 points per 100). Those five points per 100 mark the difference between him being the 2nd and 10th best offense in the G League.
Hilliard’s great impact is also evident on the other end of the floor as opponents are nearly six points worse when he’s on the court (100.4 points per 100) compared to when he’s on the bench (106.3 points per 100).
Although Hilliard’s value was definitely apparent from some of the numbers that I pointed out, his impact goes beyond just a few statistics. For a more insider view of the team, Spurs on Sixth’s John Diaz gives his opinion on how valuable Hilliard actually was.
“His numbers weren’t record breaking and his game isn’t highlight reel inducing, but Darrun Hilliard was as valuable to the Austin Spurs as any player was to their respective team in the G League,” Diaz stated.
“Whether it was shouldering the offensive load or barking out defensive assignments, Hilliard encompassed everything it means to be a Spur. Even head coach Blake Ahearn acknowledged the “contagious” culture and Hilliard’s ability to take it upon himself to be a leader without being asked.”
“While the Austin Spurs thrived on riding whoever was hot on any given night, they would not have survived without Hilliard’s consistency and leadership,” he said.
As John mentioned, Hilliard wasn’t the flashiest player or put up the best stats in the NBA G League, however his value to the Austin Spurs is honestly just 2nd to none. On both ends of the court, he stood as the team’s leader, whether it was being able to light it up from beyond the arc or defend the opposing team’s best player.
Due to his ability to shine on both ends of the court and being the leader of an elite Spurs team that went on to win the G League title, Ridiculous Upside is proud to name Spurs guard Darrun Hilliard as their NBA G League Most Valuable Player of the Year for the 2017-18 season.