Pelicans' Solomon Hill knows the mental toll of injuries and how Anthony Davis can win NBA MVP

All of a sudden, the New Orleans Pelicans are different. No longer is Rajon Rondo running the offense; in his place is Elfrid Payton, who is absolutely not the same style of point guard despite their shared reluctance to shoot 3-pointers. After missing the Pelicans' playoff push and their brutal beatdown of the Blazers due to an Achilles injury, DeMarcus Cousins left for the Bay Area; in his place, sort of, is Julius Randle

If you're unsure about what New Orleans will look like this season, you are not alone. The players, however, know exactly what kind of team they are trying to be. 

"Nobody expected us to do what we did in the playoffs, as far as being able to play at the rate that we did, with the energy," Pelicans forward Solomon Hill told CBS Sports. "I just know that we're going to be one of the most competitive teams out there. We want to be a top-10 defensive and offensive team, and we also want to be the fastest team in the NBA. We also pray for health."

That last sentence is no throwaway. The Pelicans have dealt with injury issues forever, and Hill missed the majority of last season rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn hamstring.

"It was one of the toughest things I ever did in my life because I've never been injured or missed games like that," Hill said. "It really just taught me that you have to put things in perspective, respect the game, respect the ability to even, like, be able to walk. It wasn't even about basketball. Like, I had [times] when I wasn't supposed to walk anywhere. I had to use crutches even to use the bathroom. So it really just was like, don't take anything for granted. I enjoy and I love the game. I love the game of basketball. It was good to see the guys be successful. And I'm just glad to be part of the team now."

On the phone, Hill said the time away from the game "took a mental toll on me," as basketball had always been "my saving grace." Now healthy, he was happy to look at what lies ahead for him and the Pelicans. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity and flow. 

CBS Sports: I picked Anthony Davis for MVP. What do he and the team need to do to make that happen?

Solomon Hill: If we find our rhythm early and we can stay in that top four and be competitive all throughout the year, his numbers speak for themselves. I think it's just if we find a nice rhythm and consistency through the year, that puts him right there. He does everything, as far as being a guy that's first-team All-Defense, first team All-NBA, so if he wanted to score five more points, he could do that as well, but I think we just have to be consistent as a team and be able to put him in those big-time games and have those big-time moments. 

CBS: The team opened lots of eyes in the playoffs. What can you take from that?

SH: That ability to be able to play defense and be a top-rated defensive team. We're going to find ways to score on offense. But knowing that we can play really good defense in the postseason means everything. 'Cause you can go out, you can score a bunch of points, but in that postseason, when you really need some dogs to be out there, it's really good knowing that we have AD and Jrue [Holiday] out there on the floor. 

CBS: Is there a sense of calm when you're out there with them and you absolutely know you can trust them?

SH: Oh, for sure. Some teams don't want to put AD in the pick-and-roll. Some teams don't want to put Jrue in the pick-and-roll as well. Or the switch. We've had situations where other teams wanted to get our guys off of their best players. And that really is a calming situation because they give you confidence. When AD's behind me, he can meet anybody at the rim. He gives me the confidence to be able to guard somebody for five seconds, five dribbles, whatever it may be. I know that if by chance I do get beat, as long as I'm right there, AD is going to be there and that changes their whole drive pattern and how they finish. I love Jrue in the open court. You can try to make one move in the open court and he's beating you to it. He's a guy that really lets you know how to defend. He shows you that all you have to do is put your mind to it and know what you're doing and you can be a really good defender. 

CBS: In the second half of last season, was that just Jrue running with the opportunity when the team needed him to be aggressive?

SH: That's what he does. Jrue, he's taught me a lot about family and priorities in life. And I think him putting family first honestly -- some people say, "God, family, basketball," and really don't live it and embrace it -- Jrue is somebody that really embraced that. And I think his time away from being with us, and also before that, being [injured], it was kind of like out of sight, out of mind. But now that he's here and he's able to be out there and showcase what he does, I think he's just back to the Jrue that people love and knew before the injuries. That's something that's always been there.

CBS: You're also familiar with being out of sight, out of mind. What did you learn from missing so much time last year?

SH: It's almost like when you try to teach your kids things like don't touch the fire, and you don't want them to touch the fire because you know that fire burns. But sometimes they need to touch it in order to understand. And I kind of went through that with my injury. My preparation, things that I have to do to take care of my body to put myself in the best position, it was kind of like one foot in, one foot out. But after the injury, two feet in. From how I slept, how I ate, what I'm doing before practice, what I'm doing after practice. And it taught me a lot about the game. 

CBS: Do you think people really understand what that's like? No one is seeing all that stuff you're going through -- to fans, media, you're just gone for months. 

SH: And that goes into even, like, the mental health aspect that's really been on the forefront of news and some of the players' concerns. It's something that I've done since I was like six years old basically every year, around the year. And we're talking about being in a position where I was home and it hit me. I was rehabbing in L.A. -- like, I haven't been in L.A. since I was like 17 years old during Christmas. So I was thinking, you get in these patterns, you get in these rhythms, you're used to being on the road, you're used to being with the guys. It's weird being in a group chat and you're not even there. There's a lot that goes on behind that. Just for me to be able to be cleared was one thing. And then, you've gotta think, guys go through training camp, preseason, the whole regular season, and then we're talking about me coming back at the end of the year where guys are at their peak condition, guys are already 50 games in. You're just playing catch-up the whole year. 

CBS: When you look at where you were at in the aftermath of the injury and where you're at now, just in terms of mood and living your life, is there a marked difference?

SH: Oh, man, it's a full 180. Before, just being cooped up in the house, the most I was able to do was open a window and catch a breeze. I couldn't drive anywhere. I couldn't walk. My mom was there. It was just like, you're so used to being able to do things, but the thing is, I didn't want to have a setback: Oh, Solomon tried to go to the store, he's set back two more weeks just because he tried to do too much. You're used to being able to get shots up before practice, lift, as opposed to you have to sit down and just stare at a TV for most of the day and take pills and we'll see how you feel tomorrow. So, most definitely, even how I interact with people. Everybody's asking me, "How's the hamstring feel? How's the hamstring?" A lot better than it used to. It's crazy in a year how things can change.

CBS: The team has been starting three guards. In the past you've defended the KDs and LeBrons of the world. Do you look at this roster and see an opportunity for you?

SH: Before my injury, I was the starting 3. We found success [with three guards], and so now I've just gotta find my role doing that: being available to guard whoever they need me to guard. And being ready to step up in whatever situation that comes. Anything can happen. And that role is something that we need: Being able to switch, being able to play the 3, the 4, whatever they need me out there to do.

CBS: People always talk about the pace of this team. You were on the Pacers when they tried to push the pace and it never quite stuck. What kind of commitment does it take to be able to play fast at a high level?

SH: You can say you want to play fast, but if you don't have the personnel to play fast, something's gotta give sooner or later. One thing that we did here is we said we wanted to play fast, we played fast last year and then we added guys that can play fast. Elfrid Payton was like No. 2 in paint finishes, Julius Randle was a guy that gets the rebound and he's downhill. A lot of what we do here is we implement it and we also get guys to do it. You can't be a team that likes to throw it in the post if your whole team is composed of wings and guards.

CBS: How do you see Elfrid fitting in?

SH: I think he's huge because of his ability to get to the rim. That changes the game for everybody. And he finds people. He has great court vision, and with AD out there living above the rim, that just adds to his game. It makes it easier for him and it makes it easier for Jrue to be out there and do what he does because he has a guy who's going to give him the ball. He just makes the game smoother and easier for a lot of guys on our team. 

CBS: How do you see Julius meshing with AD?

SH: They're still working just to get that timing down. A guy like AD, who, like Julius, likes to get to the basket. Switch pick-and-rolls, they can do all that stuff together. And they have a friendship. When you have a friendship with a guy and you know a guy off the court, it makes it easier for you guys to play and compete out there and go together and I think that's huge. I think that's a big reason why he even came here was to play with Anthony Davis.

CBS Sports Writer

James Herbert is somewhat fond of basketball, feature writing and understatements. A former season-ticket holder for the expansion Toronto Raptors, Herbert does not think the NBA was better back in the... Full Bio

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