When a player like Stephen Curry essentially breaks and remolds the game of basketball, its only natural that incoming prospects with similar skill sets will be compared to him. In fact, it was only two months ago that sharpshooting rookie Trae Young was in that exact set of circumstances.
Back in 2016, after a season of extraordinary shooting and scoring performances at the University of Oklahoma, Buddy Hield was also being compared to the two-time MVP. However, just 57 games into his rookie campaign with the New Orleans Pelicans, Hield’s reputation had sunk, no longer was he an untouchable lottery pick. In turn, he was moved to Sacramento as the Pelicans attempted to build the latest Twin Towers with DeMarcus Cousins joining the already-monstrous Anthony Davis.
With the 2017-18 Kings dwelling in the basement of the league, the 24-year-old’s improvement in his second year was went largely unnoticed. This year though, the 6-foot-4 Bahamian guard has taken his game to a whole new plane, and ears around the league are starting to perk up.
After 11 games, Hield is averaging 20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, more importantly he is doing it with remarkable efficiency. Overall he is nailing 51.5 percent of his field goals, while maintaining the 3-point shot that he built his college reputation off by hitting 45.8 percent of the 5.4 triples he jacks per night. The best part of Buddy Hield and his hot start to the season is that it is no longer on a struggling squad, his Kings are 6-5 on the season and playing some electric basketball.
It’s not just Hield though, De’Aaron Fox has become a premium point guard prospect and Willie Cauley-Stein is starting to show the talent that made him a sixth overall pick. Throw in the ever-evolving second pick Marvin Bagley and the future is looking bright. With shooting being the focal point of the league these days, Hield might just be the most valuable of the young core.
Only five players that shoot more than five attempts per game hold a better effective field goal percentage (66.9%) on catch and shoot attempts than the third-year guard. Outpacing shooting wizards like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Paul George. He is an elite off-ball mover, flying off screens and running defenders off their feet before he loads up on a triple.
However, the true mark of his elite shooting is Hield’s ability to get long-range buckets in transition:
The Kings are currently playing with the second fastest pace in the league. Hield’s ability to leak out, pull-up and knock down triples before the defense has a chance to get set is one of the biggest reasons why it’s working like a charm. It’s a talent that few players in the league possess, and one that keeps opposing coaches on their toes every time Hield touches the rock. On the young season, he is leading Sacramento with 6.1 pull-up points per game, shooting a solid 44.4 percent on those tries.
With the aformentioned comparisons to the greatest shooter ever to grace the planet, it’s no surprise that Buddy Hield’s shooting potential is starting to shine through. What is a surprise though is his improvement as a complete scorer inside the arc. Last season, he shot 45.7 percent from 2-point range, including a modest 63.1 percent from within three feet. In his scorching hot start to the 2018-19 campaign, Hield is knocking down 54.6 percent of his 2-pointers, and is converting a career-best 71.9 percent of the field goals he has attempted from three feet and inwards, per Basketball Reference.
When he is forced inside the arc, he is no longer a liability. Instead, Hield has put together an array of step back, fadeaway and floating jump shots to make the defense pay. When the defense takes away his jumpers, he is now able to get to the cup and finish in traffic, giving him a deadly offensive game on all three levels:
With the scoring looking more polished every time he steps out onto the court, effecting the game on the other end of the floor is a vital part of Hield’s growth into stardom. Over the 11 game sample size he has provided, the 24-year-old is showing that he is taking leaps in the right direction.
His 102.0 defensive rating ranks him 17th among players who are averaging 30 or minutes per game, which is a major improvement over the 106.8 rating he posted in last season. On top of that, he is currently holds the most defensive win shares per game and in total on the Kings roster. With his defensive output starting to measure up to league standards, the Sacramento are thriving with Hield on the floor. According to Basketball Reference, when the glowing guard is on the hardwood, the Kings’ opponents post a 107.9 offensive rating. When he is off the floor, they put up a ridiculously high 127.0 mark.
Every single sign in the hoops universe is pointing toward Buddy Hield fulfilling his destiny as an amazing scorer and shooting genius, but him becoming a difference maker on defense so soon was something few people could have predicted. It will be interesting to see if he – and the Kings – can keep it up.
Sacramento used to be a team that made fans turn off their league pass and find something better to do. Now, with Hield and his band of young stars in tow, the Kings have become a must-watch squad. For the sake of the league, all hoop heads hope it continues.