Down three in the closing seconds against the Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton drew up a play that resulted in Nemanja Bjelica shooting a long, contested, off-the-dribble three. He missed badly. Buddy Hield, the NBA’s reigning 3-point shootout champion, sat on the bench.
In the immediate aftermath of the loss, video went around the web where a fan can clearly be heard calling out Walton’s decision.
“Luke you’re an idiot. You have the three-point champion. Play him. Where is Buddy?”— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 9, 2020
This Kings fan was livid after Luke Walton left Buddy Hield on the bench late in the game. pic.twitter.com/zt8PaxFU1x
When asked about the decision after the game, Walton essentially laughed it off and said he stuck with guys who were playing well.
Luke Walton on his decision to bench Buddy at the end of tonight’s game. pic.twitter.com/u6WNoZxaZo— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) March 9, 2020
Should Buddy Hield have been in the game? Probably. But it’s more complicated than that.
Every game I see Buddy Hield make bad decisions. He’s cavalier with his dribble, and is averaging 2.3 turnovers per game. And his turnovers are glaring. Bad passes, sloppy dribbling, overdribbling — Buddy Hield has failed to protect the ball this year.
This isn’t to put the blame entirely on Buddy, though. All season we’ve complained about how Buddy is utilized in Walton’s offense. Putting the ball in Buddy’s hands and asking him to create is a bad strategy, and yet we’ve seen it the whole year. Is Walton asking Buddy to be this type of player, or is Buddy breaking off from the designed play and deciding to be a creator? We don’t know the answer. It could be both for all we know. But I’ve found myself many times this season thinking “he’s gotta get Buddy out of there”.
I think Buddy should have been on the floor, personally. With so little time remaining, you put one of the league’s best shooters on the floor. Don’t ask him to create. If nothing else his presence is going to keep the defense honest and create some spacing.
Sadly, despite the good vibes of chasing an elusive 8th seed, it feels like the seeds of discontent are growing. Buddy Hield declined to speak with media after the game, and that’s probably for the best. We’ve seen that Buddy has a habit of throwing gas on the fire, and I’d rather him voice his frustrations behind closed doors. But he can’t be happy right now. Hopefully all sides can come together and find a solution, but I worry that this is the beginning of the end of Buddy’s time as a King.