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.
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.
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.
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.
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.