The NBA restart isn’t going as planned for the Kings. They're 0-3, looking at extremely long odds of recovering and competing for a playoff spot.
Individually, it’s a mixed bag for Sacramento. De’Aaron Fox has had moments and he’s averaging nearly 27 points per game in the bubble, but others are struggling.
Buddy Hield tops that list. The Kings' sixth man scored 21 points in the team’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, but he hasn’t looked like himself throughout the restarted season.
“It hasn’t looked great at times, but we haven’t looked great at times,” coach Luke Walton said of Hield’s play during the latest episode of the "Purple Talk" podcast. “None of us played basketball for four months. Certain teams have handled it better than others, but there’s part of it that, it’s just that rhythm isn’t there for certain groups yet.”
[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]
The Kings’ second-leading scorer tested positive for the coronavirus on June 22. He was mostly asymptomatic, but was forced to quarantine for two weeks before games began. When he rejoined the team on July 12, Walton said Hield looked good and confirmed that he played well through the build-up to scrimmages and games.
“Buddy had a great training camp out here,” Walton said. “He really was locked in. He was passing, he was getting to the rim, he was knocking down shots. And I think like a lot of us, he was so anxious to play and then we lost that first game and it put us in a little bit of a rut.”
Hield hit just 2-of-13 shots in the opener against the San Antonio Spurs on July 31, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Without his 3-point shooting, the Kings lost and began the restarted season in a hole.
The loss wasn’t all on Hield, but his overall play in the next two contests has been erratic as well. Hield’s turnover numbers are up, hit shooting numbers are in the tank and his defensive struggles have been glaring.
Through three games, Hield is averaging 13 points on 32.6 percent shooting from the field and just 27.6 percent from long range. He has also turned the ball over 3.3 times per game, despite playing just 23.5 minutes.
Are the Kings asking Hield to do too much?
“We know his primary thing that we want him to do is be that big-time shooter for us,” Walton explained. “Kind of starting with his role, coming in with that second unit and then depending on what kind of game he’s having, how well he’s shooting, finishing games.”
“We also need him to continue to focus on playing defense, do coverages,” Walton continued. “He gets blitzed, so we need him to continue to work on his playmaking ability and being able to pass out of those blitzes, which he’s gotten much better at.”
The problem might not be that the Kings are asking too much, but that Hield is overcompensating for his shooting struggles by forcing things. It also appears that he is allowing his offensive woes to carry over to the defensive end.
Walton and his staff want Hield to keep it simple. If the shot is there, he has the green light. If the shot isn’t there, give up the ball and move.
“What we need to continue to clean up is that when the shot is not there and there is not the direct line drive to the basket, we don’t want the 1-on-1 play,” Walton said. “We want that ball to move back and then turn him into a weakside shooter again or we’ll send another pick for him.”
Hield is a flashy scorer, and the Kings love that about his game. He has a penchant for getting loose with his handles, but he has also improved greatly as a distributor since coming into the league.
There is a happy medium somewhere, but Hield presses when his shots aren't falling and that compounds the issue. But like any great shooter, Hield will eventually find his stroke.
For now, the Kings are willing to allow Hield to play through his struggles.
“With Buddy, there is going to be some wild plays, but it’s also what makes him great,” Walton said. “In his mind, he’s not afraid of anything. So you’ve got to live with some of it.”
Expect Fox and the rest of the Kings to continue to feed Hield in an attempt to get him going. When he’s on, Hield is a tremendous asset to the team and he opens up spacing for everyone else.
Hield isn’t broken, but he’s pressing. If he can settle back into his role, the Kings have at least a shot to pick up a few wins in the bubble and come home on a high note.