POP Season Preview: Hilliard Looking at a Reduced Role
On June 25th, 2015, the Pistons were two months removed from yet another mediocre season. Finishing at 32-50, 12th in the conference, their sub-par record earned them yet another mid-lottery pick, at #8. With that pick, they selected Arizona standout Stanley Johnson. Detroit also had the 38th pick at their disposal, which they used on Villanova alum Darrun Hilliard.
Hillard, a versatile guard, wasn’t projected to have much of an impact on the Pistons upcoming season, and was expected to spend a significant amount of time in the D-League. But the Pistons already rail-thin second unit, paired with early season struggles from recently acquired backup shooting guard Reggie Bullock, Hilliard was given a shot to backup starting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Hilliard had a small role, albeit bigger than what most people were expecting, for the playoff contending Pistons. With averages of 4 points on 40/38/73 shooting, 1.2 boards, and 0.7 assists in 38 appearances, including 2 starts, Hillard proved to be a decent option for the Detroit bench in the first half of the season, which struggled mightily throughout the course of the 2016 regular season.
While the Pistons were figuring who would be their backup wing next to Stanley Johnson, Hilliard didn’t get very much time on the floor, spending time with the Pistons D-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive through December. He had a successful stint with the Drive, putting up nearly 26 points a game. Hilliard was used sparingly after the sudden rise of Bullock, and didn’t see the floor in the following playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 2015 second rounder is looking at even more of a reduced role, especially if Reggie Bullock can be successful for an entire campaign. With an improved second unit, which includes a backcourt of recently signed Ish Smith, Bullock, Stanley Johnson, and one of Ray McCallum Jr, Trey Feldman or Lorenzo Brown, Hillard is looking at a long stay with the Drive during the upcoming season. Unless one or more of the second unit guards struggle mightily to the point where they will be pulled from the rotation, I don’t see Hillard cracking more than 20 games.
Hilliard missed the summer league with a stress fracture in his back, which prevented the Pistons to get a closer look at him, worsening his chances of having an upgraded role with the team. Hilliard did show flashes of a player that will have a future in this league, but he’ll need to polish his game and continue to improve on his weaknesses before he can be a rotation mainstay.
Hilliard could become a piece of the Pistons’ future plans, but for a team rising to contender status and possibly a home-court advantage in the upcoming playoffs, he just doesn’t have the talent or experience to make an impact this year.
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