When Buddy Hield arrived in Sacramento as part of the deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, it seemed the rookie was given the green light to shoot at will and go with whatever the defense gave him. In early 2017, the offense often ran through the University of Oklahoma product on a team searching to fill a scoring void left by the departure of Cousins.
Last season, with the Kings drafting De’Aaron Fox and adding another talented shooter in Bogdan Bogdanovic, it was a little different. Hield was moved to more of a sixth man role under Dave Joerger, and he excelled in it. Matching up against opposing second units, there was less pressure and he was able to practice additional elements to his game. According to Hield, it was “more team oriented” when it came to the way the coaching staff used him. He couldn’t go down the floor and shoot it any time he wanted to, he had to be a little more patient with his opportunities.
It may have been difficult to notice that change though considering Hield, in large part, served as the primary scorer off the Kings bench. When he checked in, fans essentially waited on him to get on one of his three-point barrages, but it was largely about letting the ball come back to him within the flow of the offense. He averaged 11.7 field goal attempts last season, just barely down from 11.8 with the Kings in his rookie season. His new role resulted in him shooting 43 percent from three last season, which was good for third among qualified NBA shooting guards. He also showed more composure, not rushing plays as much and decreased his turnovers from 2.1 in his rookie season to 1.6 per game last season.
While his shooting continued to be, and will continue to be, his largest asset on an NBA floor, the coaching staff worked with him to improve his defense during the 2017-18 campaign.
”My main objective is to get locked in on doing a better job guarding and having fun doing it, and I take on the challenge,” he told Sactown Royalty last season. “Everybody is going to score a basket, you’re never stop them every time … but limiting them as much as I can each and every possession.”
Even though he still had his lapses, his defensive tenacity certainly did improve and he was able to stay in front of his man better than what we saw in his rookie season. He also averaged 1.1 steals per game last season.
As he heads into his third NBA season, the 24-year-old Hield continues to try to add elements to his game. He focused on playmaking and passing this summer. The timing seems to be fitting as Joerger is hoping to test using him and Bogdanovic at times as a backup point guard, though Bogdanovic’s knee injury that is keeping him sidelined between four to six weeks has set that plan back a little.
”I was hoping to play he [Bogdanovic] and Buddy Hield, either of them, or play them together at backup point guard. I wanted to see how that looks and put more scoring, shooting on the floor,” Joerger said.
When that idea was brought to Hield’s attention, he had no problem accepting that opportunity.
”I’m not going to lie, I have confidence I can do that, why not? That’s why I’ve been working so hard this summer,” Hield said. “We’re packed at the point guard spot, but you never know, this is the NBA, sometimes that happens where I’ve got to move over to the one, or coach might draw up a play where I bring the ball down sometimes. Or we have an offense where if I get it, I push it and we go ... there’s nothing wrong with making plays for your teammates, teammates like that.”
This may already be taking shape, as Hield was seen bringing the ball up the floor during scrimmages in training camp this week.
Working to make his game more multi-dimensional is clearly something ingrained in him. While fans were certainly pleased with his ability to make shots when he arrived in Sacramento, and continue to enjoy that, he is developing, learning more about the team element of basketball and understands what it means to distribute the ball and let it come back to him within the flow of the offense.
”As you get older and you get more experience, you start to figure what works in this NBA and what doesn’t work. You can’t be always trying to hunt the basket every time, that’s not right. Your teammates see that every time you get the ball you’re trying to score. Sometimes when you make a play and the ball comes right back to you, you make a play for your teammate and it comes right back to you the next time around,” Hield said. “It’s not about how much you score, it’s just playing together and getting W’s.”
Soon, we will get a glimpse of the next phase in Hield’s evolution as an NBA player.