Kings

Kings season in review: Breaking down Buddy Hield's stellar third year

Kings season in review: Breaking down Buddy Hield's stellar third year

The Kings came into the 2018-19 season with question marks all over the court. They came out of it with a defined starting backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, and plenty more to build around.

After sputtering in his second NBA season, Hield stepped into the starting lineup after a late summer injury to Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Bahamian-born shooting guard took advantage of the opportunity and cemented himself as one of the team’s budding young core.

Hield led Sacramento in scoring on the season and set a new franchise record for made 3-pointers. He hit big-money shots and almost single handedly won multiple games for the Kings with his ability to score in bunches.

Offense

Stats: 20.7 points, 2.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, .7 steals, 45.6% FG, 42.7% 3pt, 31.9 min

Hield came into the league a scorer. In Year 3, he joined elite company with his long-range shooting and established himself as one of the best marksman in the game.

The third-year guard set a new NBA record for most 3-pointers hit in the first three years of a career with 602, surpassing Damian Lillard’s mark of 599. He increased his makes from 176 last season to 278 this year while only dropping .04 percent off his shooting accuracy.  

In addition to the bump in long-range shooting, Hield helped himself in a couple of crucial areas. He increased his shots at the rim from 149 last season to 258 this year, while improving his field-goal percentage on those attempts by four percent. Plenty of these shots came in transition as the Kings pushed the tempo and Hield got out on the break.

Hield also increased his free throw attempts from one per game last season to 2.4 per game this year. This is an area that Hield could continue to improve on, which could push his scoring average even higher from the team-high 20.7 he averaged this season.

If there is one weakness in his offensive game, it’s in the 3 to 10-foot range. Hield relies heavily on the step-back jumper, instead of drawing contact or using a floater in the lane. He shot just 24 percent from this range on 121 attempts.

Hield has come back after each summer an improved player and there is no reason to believe he won’t do the same as he enters a contract year.

Defense

On the defensive side of the ball, Hield made strides, but he still needs work as both an on ball and team defender.

Like Fox, Hield did a nice job defending the 3-point line and held his own outside of 15 feet. He limited his opponents to 34.4 percent from long range, 1.6 percent below the league average of 36 percent. On mid-range shots, Hield limited his opponent to -.2 percent, which means he was at least close to average.

Hield shaved 1.5 percentage off his overall field goal percentage against from last season. On two-point shots, he went from a positive 6.1 percent to a positive 3.7 percent this season, which is a huge improvement. Clearly there is more room to grow.

In addition to the improvements in field goal percentage against, Hield posted career highs in both offensive and defensive rebounding.

On the downside, his steal numbers slipped from 1.5 per 36 minutes a season ago to just 0.8 per 36 this season. This is an issue, although many of Hield’s steals came as a defensive gambler last year. He needs to play the passing lanes better and keep his head on a swivel.

Like Fox, Hield would greatly be aided by defensive improvements around him. A rim protector and more experience from the bigs would help everyone’s numbers.

Overall

Hield is a young 26-year-old player and there is still so much room for growth. He can shoot one or two more 3-pointers per game. He could figure out how to draw more fouls. He certainly still has room to develop as a facilitator and defensive player.

Even if he doesn’t improve in these areas, the Kings still have a top 10 shooting guard by most metrics and he’s under team control for the next two seasons at a minimum, and perhaps much longer.

[RELATED: Hield shares surprising origin story about his nickname]

Luke Walton’s Lakers played at a faster pace than the Kings did last season and they did so without a pure shooter like Hield. Expect to see the combination of Fox and Hield running and gunning at an alarming pace during the 2019-20 campaign.  

Don’t expect another 7.2 points per game increase next season, but Hield is an extremely hard worker and he has a desire to improve. He’s also focused on breaking the franchise’s 13-season playoff curse.

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

The Kings would get a chance to end their 13-year postseason drought in a proposal to restart the NBA season that reportedly is gaining momentum among the league's owners.

Sacramento would be one of 22 teams headed to Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports just outside of Orlando in a plan that has "growing support," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported Friday, citing sources. The Kings would also be included in a 20-team format that "remains alive," sources told ESPN.

Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported that the NBA will vote Thursday on a format to restart the season during a board of governors call. The league requires a three-fourths majority to approve any such plan, and the owners reportedly will vote with whichever format commissioner Adam Silver recommends.

The Kings were in the thick of a playoff chase when the NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus' spread, just 3.5 games back of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. Sacramento's game that night was supposed to the be the last before the league indefinitely shut its doors, but the New Orleans Pelicans -- the Kings' opponents that night -- were reluctant to take the court once they learned referee Courtney Kirkland had recently worked a Utah Jazz game. Jazz center Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test earlier that night prompted the league to suspend the season.

Teams that were within six games of the final playoff spots in each conference would be included in the 22-team format, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne. The 20-team format reportedly would only include the top eight seeds in each conference and the four teams, including the Kings, within four games of the eighth seed. If the NBA opts to resume the season with 22 teams, there would be regular-season games and a play-in tournament "to compete for playoff berths in both the Eastern and Western Conference," Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported.

[RELATED: Karl rehashes Cousins meltdown, night Drake dropped by]

The Kings have gotten good news all week, with NBA general managers reportedly preferring by a wide margin a "Playoffs Plus" format to resume the season with 20 or more teams and their inclusion in all the formats gaining traction among the league's decision-makers. 

Sacramento could get even better -- and more official -- news next Thursday if either a 20- or 22-team format is approved.

George Karl recalls DeMarcus Cousins' Kings meltdown, night Drake came

George Karl recalls DeMarcus Cousins' Kings meltdown, night Drake came

Over the last decade, there have been plenty of awkward moments to report on while covering the Kings. Oftentimes, the events are stranger than fiction.

Just a few that stand out include the time co-owner George Maloof spoke to reporters from a bell check closet in a Dallas hotel during an NBA Board of Governors meeting. Neither the Q&A, nor the BOG meeting went well for Maloof.

There was an odd “Game of Thrones” opening night with purple orbs and people dressed in cloaks. DeMarcus Cousins was thrown out of a game and then summoned back from the locker room. And there was a time when Austin Rivers flung a seat cushion into the crowd, hitting an unsuspecting Kings fan in the face two rows above our media seating.

Out of all of the crazy moments, the short window that NBA legend George Karl coached the team during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons stands out as particularly dark. Karl, who should already be in the Hall of Fame with his 1,175 career regular-season victories, lasted just 112 games in Sacramento and it was a disaster from the start.

On the latest edition of the Truth + Basketball podcast, Karl, as well as former Kings assistant Vance Walberg, open up about their time in Sacramento. The conversation included a deep dive into one extremely memorable moment that happened early in the 2015-16 season.

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Karl was brought in to coach the Kings in February of 2015 after the team had already dispatched both Michael Malone and Tyrone Corbin. He posted an 11-19 record down the stretch and headed into the summer with another three years on his newly signed contract, but not before making a statement that put him on the hot seat.

“I’ve had some great players and I’ve never had one player that I have said is untradeable,” Karl told the Sacramento media at the time. “You always got to be ready for the possibility of a great trade that could come your way.”

That statement didn’t sit well with the players, specifically Cousins or his agent, who had issues with the coaching legend in the past. Karl would later apologize for the comment, but not before trying to move his star player during the summer, which Walberg confirmed during the taping of the podcast.

“The thought was maybe to try to do what we did in Denver when they flipped Carmelo, that changed Denver pretty big time,” Walberg explained. “See if there is somebody out there that would want to flip DeMarcus.”

According to Walberg, then general manager Pete D'Alessandro was in the room for the discussion. He would leave the Kings organization shortly thereafter and made it known, at least to his new employers in Denver, that Cousins was on the block.

The idea got out in the open, which tattered the relationship between Cousins and Karl before it ever really had a chance to get going. Cousins even turned to social media with an incredibly cryptic tweet aimed at his head coach.

Karl defended his decision during the interview. The Kings lacked talent and the idea was to potentially trade Cousins in a deal for multiple players that might help the team win.

“I didn’t want to trade Cousins, unless it made our basketball team better,” Karl explained. “That was my job. Make it better.”

When the Kings returned after the summer, there was tension dating all the way back to media day and the start of training camp. Despite an improved roster, with additions like Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, Caron Butler and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kings got off to a rough start.

[RELATED: Can Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley play together?]

After dropping eight of their first nine games, including an embarrassing 106-88 drubbing at home to the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 9, the media was held outside the locker room for longer than usual.

We would find out afterward that minutes before the media was allowed in, Cousins had unloaded on Karl in dramatic fashion.

“As soon as [Karl] walks in DeMarcus just goes off, I mean, off,” Walberg explained. “Coach hasn’t even said a word and it’s ‘F you coach, you think you’re an F-ing Hall of Fame coach, all the hell you care about is your wins, you don’t give a s--t about us.’”

According to Walberg, the rant from Cousins went on for nearly a minute. When the coaching staff went to management the next day expecting a 3-5 game suspension, they instead walked away understanding that Cousins wouldn’t be punished and their days as a coaching staff in Sacramento were numbered.

When the media was finally let into the room that evening, it was clear that something had transpired. Players were grouped together in their locker stalls and the entire feel was different than usual. And then things got downright weird.

As we prepared to interview players, rap mogul Drake walked through a side door and into the locker room with owner Vivek Ranadivé and team executive Vlade Divac.

The surreal scene played out in real time, as Drake tried to work the room and greet a completely silent locker room. His arrival was not well-received by the players ,and lasted only a minute or two before Drake hugged Cousins and then left the building.

According to both Karl and Walberg, this was the beginning of the end for the coaching staff.

“It was probably the rudest, the worst I’ve ever seen of any game in my life, what happened in that locker room after we played San Antonio that night,” Walberg explained.

The next day, the coaching staff met up and expected the franchise to drop the hammer on their budding star.

“DeMarcus and I had a confrontation after the game and we meet the next morning and we have a long serious talk that we can turn this into a win,” Karl recalls. “Because we’ve got to suspend DeMarcus and whatever it is, for two or three games, and maybe he’ll wake up that he can’t be the boss. We went in and fought very hard that we had to suspend him.”

That’s not the direction the franchise chose to take. Instead, they sided with Cousins and allowed him to resume playing under Karl. The message was clear.

“How are you going to have control in the locker room when you’ve got a player that can say and do what he wants?” Walberg said.

Karl almost was relieved of his duties heading into the All-Star break that season. He survived in the short-term, but Divac let Walberg go before the team played another game.

“He knew he could divide the organization from the coach,” Karl said of Cousins. “Unfortunately, if he knew that, then the players knew that.”

Divac let Karl go following the 2015-16 season despite the coaching legend posting a 33-49 record, which was the franchise's best mark in more than a decade. The Kings also were forced to pay out the final two years on his contract.

Cousins remained with the Kings until the mid-way point of the 2016-17 season, when Divac traded him to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield and a first and second-round pick.

The story isn’t new, but the perspective of the events from Walberg and Karl is. It’s not often that a legendary coach gets destroyed in the locker room by an All-Star player minutes before Drake stops by for a visit.