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Kings Progress Report: Buddy Hield

The Kings did not optimally use Buddy Hield this season, but he still managed to be productive.

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Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Player: Buddy Hield

Age: 27

Relevant stats: Hield played 64 games, starting the first 44 and and coming off the bench for the last 20. As a starter, Hield averaged 20.0 points in 34.4 minutes per game while shooting 36.0% on 3-pointers. As a reserve, Hield averaged 19.4 points in 26.6 minutes per game while shooting 47.6% on 3-pointers.

Contract status: Hield’s rookie contract expires this year. Sacramento signed him to a 4-year, $86 million extension that begins in the 2020-21 league year. That contract is likely to reach $94 million in individual bonuses with the potential to get to $106 based on team-specific incentives.

Recap: The Kings began the year by placing a huge investment in Hield with his rookie extension. That contract values him a bit below what the Celtics gave Jaylen Brown (the No. 3 pick in Hield’s draft class), but above Domantas Sabonis, who was an All-Star this season, albeit in the Eastern Conference. Then, the Kings ended the season by demoting Hield to the bench and telling anyone who would listen that Bogdan Bogdanovic was a franchise cornerstone at shooting guard. Not exactly the most consistent messaging.

But we’ll get back to the off-court nonsense that surrounded Hield. On the floor, he is still one helluva shooter. He wasn’t quite as efficient as he was a season ago in Sacramento, as his 3-point percentage dropped from the low 40s to 39.5%, but he got up nearly 11 attempts from beyond the arc per 36 minutes. That is the highest volume of his career, and he can get up threes with little to no separation.

Hield is an elite shooter in spot-up situations and coming off screens, scoring 1.23 and 1.11 points per possession (PPP), respectively, in those play types. He shoots 41.1% on catch-and-shoot threes and a wholly respectable 37.9% on pull-up threes. Hield isn’t really a read-and-react type of player who can work out of handoffs or cuts. Run an off-ball screen or secondary action to get him a 3-pointer, and he’ll cash them at a high rate. Hield wasn’t at Davis Bertans or Duncan Robinson levels from three this year (though he did beat them both in the 3-point contest), but he is deadly and commands a defender at all times.

Hield isn’t a natural distributor, though Luke Walton has inexplicably put the ball in his hands more often than Dave Joerger did. To his credit, Hield has gotten much better at running pick-and-rolls. Perhaps as a consequence of playing without De’Aaron Fox for much of his minutes, he was the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls for 26.7% of his possessions this season, up from 16.4% a year ago. His efficiency improved, as those plays generated 0.92 PPP (68th percentile) compared to 0.77 PPP (36th percentile) in 2018-19. That volume of pick-and-rolls also brought a corresponding increase in turnovers this season. However, considering Hield’s efficiency elsewhere, that shouldn’t be his most frequent play type.

Sacramento didn’t run as frequently as last season, so Hield’s transition impact was severely muted. The decision-making tree is much simpler on the break than in the halfcourt for Hield — he just has to sprint to the corners or fill a wing. But the Kings were intent on installing their half-court principles this year, denying Hield of a chance to wreak havoc in the open floor.

The Kings were slightly negative with Hield on the floor this season, posting a -0.8 differential, per Cleaning the Glass. However, they were still 4.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than off, the entirety of that margin coming on the offensive end. It comes as little surprise that Hield fared best next to Kings who were defensive specialists, like Alex Len and Kent Bazemore. The post-trade deadline bench unit did some good work for Sacramento, even if Hield isn’t happy in that position.

Future with the Kings: The Kings need a premium shooter like Hield to open up their offense. Even when the team didn’t use him optimally, Hield was still among the top 20 shooters in the league. Sacramento just signed Hield for the next four seasons, so their fates would appear to be tied together, but the benching throws a wrench into those plans.

Walton maintains that he and Hield have a good relationship, despite public comments from the Kings guard that would suggest otherwise. As Walton told Sam Amick of The Athletic, Hield was professional and productive even in a situation he didn’t particularly enjoy:

“When I called him into my office in Chicago (before that Jan. 24 game), it was a quick, short conversation and he said … ‘You’re the coach. I’ll do what needs to be done.’ And like I said, he went out there and helped us win that game.”

Walton also keeps pushing the idea that contending teams need high-quality sixth man, a role that he believes Hield is ideally suited for.

“Even with Buddy (coming off the bench), he was still playing starter minutes, he was still finishing certain games, and it’s one of those things where if you’re truly bought into being on the team, you end up accepting it because that’s a huuuggee value. I mean, you look at [Manu] Ginobili with the Spurs, you look at Lamar [Odom] with our Lakers teams, Steve [Kerr] did it with Andre [Iguodala] up in Golden State. So you need starter caliber players kind of playing with that second group a lot of times. And I thought Buddy had really, really done a nice job of embracing that and making our team better.”

The Kings have telegraphed their intentions to make a big commitment to Bogdanovic this offseason, but they still need Hield, and he is too good to send away without a meaningful return.

Grade: B