Fact or Fiction: Illini guard Malcolm Hill will play in NBA

Will Malcolm Hill play in the NBA? Derek Piper and Jeremy Werner weigh in.

Fact or Fiction: Malcolm Hill will play in the NBA.

Derek Piper, lead basketball reporter

Fiction. Malcolm Hill was third in the Big Ten in scoring last season. He joined Big Ten Player of the Year winner Denzel Valentine as the only players in the conference to rank top-10 in points and rebounds per game. Hill is an undisputed contender to win the award during his season.

On paper, the 6-foot-6 senior would figure to have a good shot to be drafted in 2017. According to the Draft Express 2016 NBA mock draft, the Big Ten is in line to have seven players selected on Thursday. The league produced at least five picks in the previous three drafts. Hill is certainly one of the top five returning players this year.

But college production doesn't necessarily equate to an NBA future. Hill has an old-school game, and his mid-range repertoire is about as good as you'll find at the college level. He is versatile as well, which allows him to make plays in a variety of ways. That will enable him to stuff the stat sheet in Champaign this season, but that doesn't make him an NBA player.

http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1675757-piper-q-a-with-malco... The main issues with Hill at the next level are his athleticism, explosiveness and quickness. Hill put in countless hours in the spring with Illini head strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher to improve in those areas. John Groce told the media last week that Hill has added more than four inches to his vertical jump since the offseason began. He's cut body fat and he's upped his squat to 440 pounds. Those are major improvements.

But in a league where some of the best athletes in the world dwell, there are questions about Hill's ability to keep up -- literally and figuratively. He does not possess NBA-level lateral quickness, which would plague him greatly at the defensive end on the wing. He doesn't have the body to play the four. He is not explosive enough to get by most defenders and create his own shot. He's also not a knock-down shooter from the outside, as he shot 31.4 percent from deep last season.

Hill has the opportunity to improve in his areas of deficiency. And he will certainly get his fair share of looks. Former Illini such as Rayvonte Rice, Nnanna Egwu and Brandon Paul all signed to play in the NBA Summer League following their senior seasons. Egwu appeared in five preseason games with the Orlando Magic this past fall before being waived.

Hill is going to have a successful career of making money playing basketball. He's a sure-fire bet to be on a Summer League roster. But only a select group of players get to suit up in an NBA uniform for a regular season game. That may not be in the cards for Hill -- despite being a very good basketball player.

Jeremy Werner, publisher

Fact. I don't know how long he will play in the NBA. But I'm starting to think Hill will be on a regular-season NBA roster at some point, meaning he will play in the NBA.

So why would Hill be the first Illini since Meyers Leonard -- who was picked 11th overall by the Portland Trailblazers in the 2012 NBA Draft -- to make an NBA roster? After all, Brandon Paul and Rayvonte Rice were more athletic and better defenders.

First, Hill has size (6-foot-6 and muscular). For the Illini, he's mostly played as a forward. In the NBA, he'd play his more natural shooting guard. The current Illini roster makeup should give him more time exclusively on the wing as a senior.

Also, Hill is entering an NBA where skill and versatility are more of a priority. Hill has both in spades. Hill can score at all three levels of the court. He posts up smaller players and finishes at the rim. He has a mastery of the mid-range game, gets to the free-throw line often and converts a high rate (career 80.0 percent) there. He also is an OK three-point shooter (career 34.8 percent). Hill is an underrated defensive rebounder, takes care of the ball well for how much he handles it and has developed into a good passer. He also has played every position on the floor for the Illini.

Hill has two things holding him back. First, he must improve as a three-point shooter. To make it in the NBA, he has to make threes at a 37-plus percent clip. Secondly, his athleticism is a negative. But as Piper said, he's made large gains in that department. That, in my opinion, is the key. While his natural athleticism ceiling is limited, Hill has the undeniable work ethic that will help max out those abilities under the right tutelage -- which he's getting under current strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher (who's a good dude but still terrifies me).

Don't get me wrong, Hill has an uphill battle to make it in the NBA. I do believe he'll be drafted next June in the second round -- which comes with a non-guaranteed contract. Like previous Illini second-round picks Robert Archibald, James Augustine and Dee Brown, Hill likely will make most of his professional dollars overseas. But I do believe Hill will have a huge senior season and be in the Big Ten Player of the Year conversation. That will give him -- like Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff -- the opportunity to make an NBA roster.

DraftExpress.com ranks Malcolm Hill as the 24th best pro prospect of the NCAA junior class, just six spots behind Indiana's Troy Williams and ahead of Nebraska's Andrew White and Valparaiso's Alec Peters. We also must remember that Hill won't celebrate his 21st birthday until late October, so he is young for his age group and still maturing.

If he receives the right opportunity at the right place, I think Hill will play some regular-season games in an NBA uniform.


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