On the final night of All-Star Weekend, news broke, per The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that New Orleans Pelicans rookie Buddy Hield was included in a blockbuster trade package for Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. Given the Kings’ reported infatuation with Hield prior to the 2016 NBA draft, it’s obvious the young shooting guard served as the centerpiece of the return for Cousins, along with the Pelicans’ 2017 first-rounder.
Understandably, Kings fans might not have paid much attention to their new prospect. His bright spots, weaknesses and success relative to pre-draft expectations haven’t previously functioned as pertinent pieces of information.
That changes now.
It’s no secret Hield’s best attribute entering the draft was shooting. Heading into the All-Star break, he was playing 20.4 minutes per game but struggling when not placed in catch-and-shoot roles:
Season PPG FG% 3P% Pull-Up FG% Pull-Up 3P% Catch-and-Shoot FG% Catch-and-Shoot 3P% 2016-17
But Hield’s adept shooting has started to transfer well to the NBA, especially if you eliminate his dreadful first month. His overall 36.9 percent from deep exceeds the league average of 35.9, and since Dec. 4, he’s shooting a scorching 43 percent, which would be good for fifth in the season-long standings. Hield has found success as a spot-up shooter, and the Pelicans did a solid job running some screens for him. For a rookie, he’s been savvy moving off ball, manufacturing open looks for himself with his motion:
He’s looked especially comfortable brushing shoulders with a screener and then changing directions to free himself:
In this aspect, the rookie has benefited from playing most of his minutes alongside Pelicans studs Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. Of his 882 total minutes since Holiday returned from a personal leave of absence on Nov 18, 88 percent came with either Davis or Holiday on the floor, and 67 percent have featured all three. His reliance on others is evidenced by 82 percent of his triples coming off assists, which dictates comparisons between Hield and established players such as Klay Thompson and J.J. Redick—the latter more appropriate for Hield’s likely career trajectory.
Conversely, his ability to act as a self-creator has left a lot to be desired, as his percentages on pull-up shots take a significant hit.
This issue has largely materialized in the pick-and-roll game—he’s currently in the 17.1 percentile as the PnR ball-handler, and his inability to consistently pose a threat pulling up from mid-range (and driving) has made him a one-trick pony.
Part of what comprises Hield’s poor shooting percentages is an inability to wiggle free of defenders—thus his reliance on catch-and-shoot opportunities. This liability especially manifests itself on drives to the rim, a facet of the game he’s been unprepared for at the NBA level.
Hield’s loose dribbling often results in defenders tapping the ball away from the rookie. When he manages to create separation, opposing players effortlessly disrupt his dribble as if they could predict the location of the next bounce:
He can also be careless when gathering his dribble in traffic:
He even lacks the requisite burst to consistently blow past big men:
And when Hield makes it to the rim, it often ends poorly. He’s generating points on only 54.6 percent of his drives, due in large part to an inability to draw free throws. And this happens a lot:
Hield lacks elite physical tools, but it’s possible to become a potent scorer sans freak-of-nature athleticism if you possess an array of moves around the basket (see: Thomas, Isaiah). An offseason training agenda focusing on technical finishing ability and ball-handling skills would benefit his game, as it would force opponents to provide greater respect to his already-proficient three-point shot.
On draft night, the Pelicans opted for Hield over soon-to-be No. 7 overall pick Jamal Murray for two primary reasons: his ability to contribute sooner and his potential impact on the defensive end. Fast forward to the present, and Hield’s defensive numbers aren’t exactly pretty.
He’s posted a defensive real plus/minus of minus-2.49, per ESPN.com, which is eighth-worst among shooting guards. He hasn’t even contributed much in the way of steals, with a meager 0.3 per game.
Yet Hield possesses arguably the most important attribute for a defender, apart from uncanny length: sheer effort.
NBA rookies are notoriously poor preventers; it’s often more important to see a willingness to try on that end during a player’s first year. Hield’s all-around work ethic allows for few complaints. And consequently, he’s provided some bright spots on the defensive end:
Compiling some film of last nights game. Check this clip of Buddy’s defense on and off the ball on a possession last night. pic.twitter.com/NfMHVtcuDq
— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) December 30, 2016
There have been some lapses, but that’s to be expected from any rookie. Positioning and awareness come with experience, and there’s reason to believe Buddy can serve as solid team defender as his career progresses—if not a good one.
Additionally, Hield has been better than expected on the boards—he posted the second-best adjusted rebound chance percentage (which accounts for deferred chances) on the Pelicans roster, behind only Davis. His mark of 72.3 percent is great for a shooting guard, and his deferrals to Davis have made for hilarious viewing all season:
Good luck elevating over this:
Thus far, Hield’s season hasn’t contained much statistical glory. According to NBA Math’s total points added (TPA), he’s provided more negative value than all but 14 other players.
However, the mantra “rookies gonna rook” is a wise one. Four rookies have posted worse TPAs than Hield, indicating that first-year players receiving hefty minutes do often struggle statistically.
This 2-guard has plenty of time to develop.
He’s proved an extremely hard worker, and his willingness to put in a shift on defense bodes well for his future development on that end of the floor. On offense, tightening his handle and improving his finishing (perhaps incorporating an in-between game consisting of floaters?) would help him pose a much more consistent all-around threat.
And again, Hield is the centerpiece player in a blockbuster trade, moving to a team engaging in full rebuild mode. Opportunity awaits the rookie—the Pelicans were trying to win, and while they ensured Buddy received playing time, he’s about to have a much longer leash in Sacramento.
Heck, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive believes, per ESPN.com’s Baxter Holmes, he could be the next Steph Curry!
Hield won’t be relegated to primarily catch-and-shoot opportunities with his new team. Rather, he’ll be able to take risks and test the boundaries of his ability, a necessary step in his development.
If the Kings are smart—which, well, that’s just a topic for another day—they’ll let Hield go out and try to get buckets.
And in different ways than just passing him the ball when he’s wide open.
Follow William on Twitter @Willyttweets.