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Buddy Hield is transforming from bench scorer to key contributor

The third-year guard is doing a lot more than just shooting the ball.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings’ current five game win streak, and subsequent 6-3 record, has brought a lot of attention to several deserving players. Local and national media have begun to recognize De’Aaron Fox as an emerging star, and his 30-point triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks was celebrated across the country. Willie Cauley-Stein’s transformation into the player he always should have been, as well as his remarks about getting paid amid his pending free agency, has been a frequent topic of conversation. Nemanja Bjelica’s unsustainable great shooting and impressive on-court awareness have showcasing him as one of the steals of free agency. All of the praise headed toward those players is well deserved, but one key contributor this season seems to have been a bit forgotten in those discussions: Buddy Hield.

The Kings acquired the third-year guard during his rookie season, as he was the centerpiece in the DeMarcus Cousins trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, and possessed just one trick up his sleeve at the time of his acquisition: elite shooting. He wasn’t a particularly good rebounder, rarely recorded assists, and struggled to make an impact on the defensive end of the floor. Buddy had a long journey in front of him as the replacement for an All-Star caliber player.

His sophomore season featured some growth in several areas, as he averaged 13.5 points, grabbed 2.8 boards, and handed out 1.9 assists, but he mostly remained in his role as instant offense off of the bench, starting in just 12 of 80 games. Most believed he would backup starter Bogdan Bogdanovic to start the 2019 campaign, but a late-summer injury to the Serbian Sniper opened up an opportunity for Hield, and he’s taken every advantage of that position. Buddy is leading the team in scoring, putting up 19.8 points per game, and is also snagging 6 boards while dishing out 2.9 dimes. His numbers are even more impressive during Sacramento’s five-game win streak, mirroring those of an All-Star candidate:

5 Game Win Streak

MEM 23 10 20 0.5 3 6 0.5 0 0 7 2 0 0
WAS 22 8 17 0.471 2 7 0.286 4 5 0.8 5 2 0 1
MIA 23 8 14 0.571 4 6 0.667 3 4 0.75 8 5 2 1
ORL 25 9 15 0.6 1 4 0.25 6 6 1 11 3 0 1
ATL 27 10 17 0.588 5 7 0.714 2 3 0.667 5 6 2 1

During the last five contests, Buddy is averaging 24 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, while knocking down 54% of his shots from the floor, including half of his three-point attempts. He’s scored more than 20 points in each of those games, an impressive feat considering it took him 48 games to reach that mark last season. Hield has also increased the variety of ways in which he’s putting the ball in the bucket. Rather than sticking to the mold of a three-point specialist, he’s using that reputation to open up driving lanes for more attempts at the rim and at the chairty stripe. Buddy’s drawn four or more free throw attempts three times during the streak. He accomplished that just four times as a sophomore.

Hield’s rapid growth as a player isn’t just remarkable from a year-to-year comparison, but is also dramatic in his rank among NBA shooting guards. He’s developing into one of the most impactful off-guards in the league:

Per-game Rank Among Shooting Guards

Category Result Rank
Category Result Rank
Points 19.8 11th
FG% 53% 3rd
3P% 49% 3rd
Rebounds 6 4th
Assists 2.8 22nd

Buddy Hield doesn’t possess the quickness of De’Aaron Fox, the freakish athleticism of Willie Cauley-Stein, or the combined shooting ability and size of Nemanja Bjelica, yet he’s matured into the second-best player on this season’s Cinderella team. The third-year guard has proven his value goes far beyond that of a sniper from deep, as he’s increased his contributions as a glass-cleaner, a passer, and as a defender. He may not be receiving the same national attention as that of his teammates, but make no mistake, there would be no five game win streak without the contributions of Buddy Hield.