Grading anything as subjective as an entire NBA season is always a tough gig. Different people have different goals for an individual as well as different techniques for assessing a seven month long journey. To keep things moderately simple, I will be using the expectations we had heading into the season for each player as the barometer for how well their season went. These grades won’t necessarily tell us where they rank among their fellow NBA players or what their career trajectory may be, but rather it will help assess where we stand with that prospect today compared to where we stood in October.
Player: Buddy Hield
Reasoning: Although Buddy Hield came off of the bench for the majority of the season, he was the best player on the team. His smooth shooting stroke carried over from his rookie season, his rebounding was impressive for a guard, and his defensive impact was much better than expected. As one of the only members of our young core with a clearly identifiable advantage on the court, Buddy’s continued development in secondary and tertiary skills showcased the immense possibilities for his career.
Areas of Strength
After a poor performance in Summer League, there was a slight concern that Buddy Hield’s shooting as a rookie was a bit of fool’s gold. It’s easy to overvalue the performances of young players in the post All-Star break period, and to start the year those fears seemed to hold some legitimacy. In his first nine games, Hield shot just 9/38 (26%) from beyond the arc; however, from that point on he nailed 167 of his next 370 attempts, a scorching 45%.
Over the last two years, he’s established himself as one of the premiere three-point threats in the league. As a rookie in a Kings uniform, he knocked down 42.8% of his attempts: 6th best in the NBA (but on an admittedly small sample size of only 25 games). He slightly increased that accuracy in his second year, jumping to 43.1%, ranking 9th best. Only Mitch Richmond and Peja Stojakovic have ever had better shooting seasons (min. 150 3PM) for the Kings.
One of the ways to maximize his value as a shooter is to place Buddy in his best spots around the floor and in his most comfortable positions. Hield’s impact on the offensive end of the floor varied dramatically depending on the way he was used:
|Placement/Situation||3PM||3PM||3P%||Team Rank||League Rank|
|Placement/Situation||3PM||3PM||3P%||Team Rank||League Rank|
|Top of Key||137||331||41.4%||1st||17th|
Shooting almost 50% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers is an efficiency of otherworldly proportions. Another player would need to shoot 74% from two-point range to equal that same production. Meanwhile, pull-up jumpers accounted for 42% of his three-point attempts, and were not nearly as successful. Limiting those less effective shots would go a long way to pushing Buddy to another level as a player.
While his ability to knock down shots from all over the floor is his main weapon, Buddy also evolved his rebounding game and his individual defense. He was the best among all guards on the team when cleaning the glass, averaging 3.8 per game and an impressive 5.5 per-36 minutes. His defensive rebounding percentage of 14.9% was also the 16th best among all guards in the NBA.
Even though his shooting was as fiery as ever and his rebounding was above-average for his size and position, it was Buddy’s defensive effort and intensity that was the most surprising part of his sophomore season. The Kings allowed opponents to score 114.1 points per 100 possessions when Buddy was on the bench, and that number dropped to 109.5 when he was in the game, a differential of 4.6 points, second-best on the squad. In his rookie season, Sacramento was slightly worse with him on the floor, allowing opponents to score 0.5 more points per 100 possessions when he was playing.
Hield’s growth from his rookie year also showed itself in his ability to jump into passing lanes and create live-ball turnovers. He averaged the most steals per-36 minutes (1.5) on the team, a significant improvement from his first year in which he recorded only 0.7. There were also signs of growth as a perimeter defender. His opponents shot 34.4% from beyond the arc, compared to their average of 36.8%, a team-leading decrease of 2.4; compared to his rookie season in which opponents increased their three-point percentage by 1.2%.
Buddy’s ability to stay sharp as a sniper from deep, while also evolving his other skills, is a sign of a player who hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling.
Areas of Opportunity
Hield’s effectiveness as an offensive threat declines sharply as he moves towards the hoop. One of the next steps he needs to take in his evolution as a scorer is the ability to drive in the lane and either score a bucket, draw a foul, or dish the ball to a shooter. On the season, he drove the ball 353 times, the fourth most on the team, but he was able to draw just four total shooting fouls. Only 1.1% of Buddy’s dives at the rim resulted in a trip to the line, the 6th lowest percentage in the NBA. The five players ahead of him all had a higher passing rate, meaning they were dishing the ball more often, so they were less apt to cause a foul to be called. The Bahamian Baller also had the second-worst FG% on drives on the team. His 36.7% was second only to Frank Mason’s 32.9%. One bright spot in that type of attack was his lack of turnovers. He turned the ball over only 20 times in that situation on the season for a TOV% of 5.7%.
His defense, while improved from his rookie season, still needs some attention in the offseason. Similar to his offensive capabilities, Buddy’s defense was solid on the perimeter, but began to falter as he moved into the paint. Opponents made 155 out of 220 shots when defended by Hield within six feet of the rim, making 70.5% of their attempts, an increase of 9.2% from their average. That was easily the worst on the squad, and ranked 243rd out of 270 in the league.
That poor defense is likely the result of not keeping his man in front of him and allowing easy driving lanes, rather than as a true interior defender. In the 2017-2018 campaign, Hield only guarded 28 post-ups, allowing his opponent to shoot 12/23, meaning the other 197 field goal attempts likely came on drives and cuts, as well as through help defense. He’s not the quickest player on the court, and his lack of lateral flexibility needs to be made up for in better ball awareness as well as an improved stance.
Final Thoughts: Buddy Hield carried over every positive from his strong rookie season and built upon that foundation this year. His defense, while not stellar, shows real signs of growth, and his outside shooting is already in the upper echelon of the league. He needs to continue to improve his effectiveness on offense inside the arc, as well as learn to defend the lane, but there was very little stagnation or regression from year one to year two.
One last demonstration of his importance to the future of this franchise is a comparison to some of his shooting guard counterparts who have much better name recognition. These numbers are on a per-36 minute basis, and while they aren’t a definitive ranking, they certainly display a player who was underrated by many local fans as well as by the national media: