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Jazz notebook: Hill has shown leadership, shooting are keys to Jazz success

SALT LAKE CITY — So, just how much difference does it make having George Hill on the floor for the Utah Jazz?

Well, with him, they're now 6-3 following Friday night's 95-68 rout of the Atlanta Hawks. Without him, though, the Jazz were 3-5 after suffering a four-game losing streak that they finally snapped Wednesday with a 108-83 rout of the Denver Nuggets — a team that had beaten the Jazz by 14 points just three nights earlier in Denver.

The biggest difference in that 39-point turnaround? Sure, this one was in Salt Lake City, but it was Hill's first game back after missing eight games with a sprained thumb on his shooting hand. And he had 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, along with five rebounds and three assists in the 25-point victory.

When asked what was different in Wednesday's win, Hill said it was the team's mindset.

"We have to come in night in, night out with the will to win and doing whatever it takes to win the game," he said. "That's the only thing that matters. It doesn't matter about self-stats, what's going on in your life. When you step on this court, we got to win basketball games."

Speaking of stats, Hill's have been darned impressive. In the eight games Hill played in before Friday, he averaged a team-leading 20.6 points and 4.6 assists per game. He had 23 points, five rebounds and two steals against the Hawks.

"The leadership, the shooting," Utah coach Quin Snyder said when asked what the biggest difference is when Hill's on the court. "I think you saw his ability to space the floor and hit a shot. It makes people much more difficult to load up on Rodney (Hood) and Gordon (Hayward). And then really just his command of the group, and that's something that he's done and understands how much we need him. He feels that."

Hill, who came to Utah as part of a three-team deal involving the Hawks and Indiana Pacers this summer, has displayed that invaluable ability to make everybody else on his team better when he's on the court.

"That's what leadership does," Snyder said. "He just elevates everybody's play because the person that provides it is usually conscious of the things that his teammates need to do in order to improve their play. If we were to break leadership down, it's communication, his ability to talk to his teammates and tell them to do things, ask them to do things, be receptive to them needing him to do different things. So it's essential."

Boris Diaw, the big man who had his best game in a Jazz uniform Wednesday with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists, agreed that having Hill back on the court was vital in the team's victory.

"That's big," Diaw said. "You see what he does when he's on the court and the lift he can bring us offensively and defensively. It's always good to have everybody, you know, and we wish to have that all season long, for sure."

BIG ENOUGH: Paul Millsap, the forward who spent his first seven NBA seasons with the Jazz, has flourished since signing with Atlanta in 2013.

He was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in each of his first three seasons with the Hawks and, after averaging 12.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in his seven years in Utah, he averaged 17.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in his first three years in Atlanta.

What's more, after making just 31 3-point shots during his time with the Jazz, Millsap has shown he can indeed shoot the 3-ball with 241 makes from beyond the arc in just three seasons with the Hawks.

Thus far this season, Millsap has averaged 17 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game entering Friday's matchup with the Jazz. And in six previous career games against Utah, Millsap's averages were a robust 21.3 points and 10.2 boards per game. On Friday night, though, he had just 11 points and five boards.

"It's a completely different situation," said Snyder, who was an assistant on the Hawks' coaching staff during 2013-14, Millsap's first season in Atlanta. "He was used in a different offense, a different style of play. You can look at his 3-point numbers from the time that he was here (in Utah), that's probably the most obvious difference.

"The spacing on the floor, the way Atlanta plays, is very, very different ... and he's able to play in the post, his game, which is more of a face-up game as opposed to just a bury you down low, although he can do that, too.

"And then the last thing is he's a playmaker," Snyder said. "They play through him a lot, particularly in pick-and-roll when he pops, so it has everything to do (with style of play). He didn't reinvent himself as a player, just the circumstances around him are different."

When the 6-foot-8 Millsap played for the Jazz, people often wondered if he was a little undersized to play the power forward position.

As it turns out, he may have been much more under-appreciated than undersized, especially with the way the NBA game is trending toward smaller lineups these days.

"He's actually big for a power forward because he's bigger than all the small guys," Snyder said. "That's actually an advantage when people go small, and when people are 'big,' he can compete with anybody on the boards. He's 250 pounds, so that's not small in my mind.

"He's strong and what he gives up in height, which is probably an inch, he makes up with his athleticism and his quickness. He's probably got the best hands in the league of anybody at his position."

UTAH-ATLANTA TIES: The common threads between the Jazz and Hawks run deep. Along with Snyder being a former Atlanta assistant coach and Millsap's seven years spent in a Utah uniform, Atlanta shooting guard Kyle Korver spent two-plus seasons (part of 2007-08 through 2010) with the Jazz, and Atlanta forward Kris Humphries also played in Utah (2004-06).

On the other side of the coin, Diaw was Atlanta's first-round draft pick in 2003 and played there from 2003-05, while current Jazzman Joe Johnson spent seven seasons (2005-12) with the Hawks and Jazz guard Shelvin Mack spent parts of four seasons (2012-16) in Atlanta before being traded to Utah last season.

And current Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer coached Diaw (part of the 2011-12 season through 2013) and Hill (2008-11) while serving as an assistant on the Spurs' staff.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com