TORONTO – George Hill and Jason Smith were just happy to be in the right place, on time and off an airplane for a little while, anyway.
Acquired by the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-way trade Friday night, both Hill and Smith completed their physicals in Milwaukee late Saturday before meeting the team in Toronto on Sunday. They went straight to Scotiabank Arena for the team’s matchup with the Toronto Raptors.
“It’s been a little bit of chaos, but I’m here now,” Smith said in a pregame interview. He joined the Bucks after playing two-plus seasons for the Washington Wizards.
“I’m getting acclimated, getting with the coaches, getting with the training staff, trying to get some plays in. Really just trying to get a sweat in to relax a little bit.”
Although neither player was certain if all the bureaucratic hurdles would be cleared in time, both were active for Sunday’s game. However, their busy travel schedules combined with the fact the Bucks didn’t practice Saturday or hold a shoot-around Sunday, meant Hill and Smith both came into the game without any on-court experience with their new teammates.
As veterans with more than a decade of experience each, though, both were confident they’d be ready to contribute if called upon by coach Mike Budenholzer.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” said Hill, who came to the Bucks from the Cleveland Cavaliers. “At the end of the day, the court doesn’t change sizes, the basket doesn’t get taller or anything like that. You’ve still got to do the things that you know how to do and that’s just play basketball.”
Hill, a 6-foot-3 guard who is joining his sixth team in his 11th season, has a leg up on Smith due to his prior experience with Budenholzer. Budenholzer was an assistant coach in San Antonio during Hill’s first three NBA seasons from 2008-’11.
That personal connection is something Budenholzer expects will ease the transition. It helps, too, that Hill is the type of player – a tough, versatile defender and capable shooter – who fits well with what the Bucks do.
“(Hill) is another guy that can defend multiple positions, help us on that end of the court,” Budenholzer said. “I think he takes great individual pride in his defense. Then offensively, another guy that can play pick-and-roll, can attack the paint and score there and play with spacing and make spot-up shots. …
“He’s certainly going to be a big part of our rotation, a big part of what we’re doing.”
Smith may not have the same type of connection – he did intersect with Bucks assistant Josh Longstaff with the Knicks during the 2014-’15 season – but the 7-foot center has tried to get up to speed by watching film. He spent time learning Milwaukee’s system on both ends and figuring out which spots he needs to be in to best help Giannis Antetokounmpo on drives.
Like Hill, Smith also would seem to be a good fit for Milwaukee, mostly because of his development as a three-point shooter. His three-point attempts per 36 minutes took a jump over his two-plus seasons in Washington, resulting in 37.5% shooting on 45 of 120 attempts while playing 12.5 minutes per game predominantly off the bench.
“It’s keeping me in the league; that’s the way things are,” Smith said of his shooting. “Everybody wants to see shots, shots, shots, run in transition, threes, threes, threes. It’s no longer a big man’s game of pound it down low. So for me, for Brook (Lopez), for Thon (Maker), for Ersan (Ilyasova) that’s what bigs do nowadays. You either do that or you’re going to find yourself without a job.”
Hill and Smith will make their Fiserv Forum debut on Monday when the Bucks host the Cavaliers at 7 p.m. That contest will be a reunion for both sides, as Hill faces his former team while Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson make their first return to Milwaukee since the trade.
“Even though I was in Cleveland and things may not have looked well, my teammates there were phenomenal,” Hill said. “The young guys there were phenomenal, the organization has been phenomenal, so I was fine with that.
“But getting the opportunity to come here, to compete for a championship and things like that it gives you a new meaning of life. You embrace it with open arms, you have fun on the new journey and just try to do the best you can.”