Buddy Hield grows on you. After coming over to Sacramento midway through his rookie season in the DeMarcus Cousins deal, the Kings have watched Hield become an elite 3-point threat. In year three, they are hoping for even more signs of improvement.
There are plenty of questions surrounding Hield. Is he a starter or better served coming off the bench? Can he take the next step and become the scoring threat he was at the NCAA level? Will he make the necessary improvements to become an all-around player?
The 24-year-old shooting guard is an exciting player and he puts in the work to improve. It appears he’s part of the long-term core of the Kings, although his long term fit into the overall puzzle has yet to be determined.
Shooters are going to shoot. Hield has yet to become the scorer he was at Oklahoma, but he’s had plenty of moments in his two seasons in the NBA. An elite perimeter shooter and improving slasher, Hield has the potential to be a 20-point per game scorer at some point in his career.
Per 36 minutes, Hield posted 19.2 points per game last season, although he played just 25.2 minutes per contest for coach Dave Joerger. He’s the best 3-point shooter on the team, knocking down 43.1 percent from long range on 408 attempts. His 3-point percentage ranked ninth in the NBA overall.
Hield has worked to improve his ball handling skills to open up more offensive opportunities, but his bread and butter is still the jumper. Of his 933 shot attempts, nearly 600 came from outside of 16-feet and 729 of his attempts were considered jump shots.
Not just a scorer, Hield is a quality rebounder for a shooting guard, averaging 5.5 per 36. He also posted 2.8 assists per 36 minutes, but he needs improvement as a passer.
On the defensive end, Hield took some baby steps forward in his second NBA season, but he’s still a work in progress. He played the passing lanes better down the stretch, averaging 1.5 steals per game in the final six weeks of the season. He has a knack for the dramatic steal and he loves to turn defense into instant offense.
Despite four years of college and two years in the pro’s, Hield is still learning the finer nuances of the game. He spent time last season working on film study with Bogdan Bogdanovic and appears to be growing in his understanding, but these things take time.
Hield improved his overall passing numbers last season, but this has to be an area of emphasis moving forward. With his ability to shoot the ball, he should be a better pick-and-roll player. He struggled in the two-man game, relying heavily on his own ability to score instead of using his big.
The Kings want to push the tempo, which plays perfectly into Hield’s style, but they also added a few athletic bigs that are going to demand the ball in the offense. If he can develop the necessary passing skills, the spacing on the floor will improve overall.
Very few pure scorers come into the league ready to play defense. Hield is no exception. He showed signs of improvement, especially with effort and understanding. There are still too many situations where his opponent blows by him, but the difference between his rookie campaign and his sophomore season was night and day.
Path to Improvement
One of Hield’s biggest weaknesses coming into the 2018-19 season is his inability to get to the free throw stripe. An 87.7 percent shooter from the line, Hield took just 81 free throw attempts in 80 games last year for Sacramento.
Whether he’s coming off the bench as a super-sub or starting in the back court, Hield needs to find a way to draw contact if he hopes to dramatically improve his scoring numbers. It’s an epidemic with the Kings roster. Most of the players struggle to get to the line, but it’s different when you are counted on as a primary scorer.
Hield needs to find a way to get to the free throw line 4-5 times per game, which would equate to an additional 3-3.5 points per game. If you add that number onto his 13.5 point per game average last season and he can hit one more 3-pointer per contest, he’s at 20 points per game.
This season could go one of two ways for Hield. Joerger could continue to bring him off the bench as a primary scoring option with the second unit or he can insert him into the starting group in a three guard set with De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
With the Kings failing to add a seasoned starter at the small forward spot, it’s very possible Joerger goes with plan B. Hield deserves the look with the starting unit. He’s a knockdown 3-point shooter and he is one of the hardest workers on the team.
Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Hield is a breakout candidate for Sacramento. He has the skills to put up a ton of points. He’s improved in each of his two seasons in the league and his shooting is an elite weapon.
Projecting what role he might play is difficult, but it’s very possible that Hield is the Kings leading scorer this season. An early prediction has Buddy Buckets posting 16.5-17.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 30 minutes per game this season for the Kings.