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KANGZ, A-Z: The Buddy Hield conundrum

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The sweet shooting Hield has had his ups-and-downs since being traded to Sac Town.

Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: While we wait for the return of NBA basketball, we’ll be taking a look back at Kings history through the Cincinnati Royals and Kansas City days to identify the best players for each letter of the alphabet. We hope you enjoy KANGZ, A-Z.

When the Sacramento Kings traded All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and picks in 2017, it was supposed to be the start of a new era for the team, and Hield was seen as the center piece of the deal.

After being picked No. 6 overall at the 2016 NBA Draft, Hield put up 8.6 points per game as a 24-year-old rookie over 57 games with the Pelicans before the trade. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes said at the time of the trade that his sources indicated Kings’ owner Vivek Randive was very high on Hield, which is a big reason why the deal was made:

Hield didn’t disappoint in his first game as a King. He shot 6-for-10 from the field, and had 16 points in Sacramento’s 116-100 win over the Denver Nuggets. Unfortunately, the Kings lost their next eight games, and went 8-17 after the deal.

Sacramento made several changes during the 2017 offseason. The Kings drafted De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanvovic was ready to make to the move from Europe, and management brought in veterans Zach Randolph, George Hill and Vince Carter.

Head coach Dave Joerger pulled Hield from the starting lineup after a 1-6 start, bringing him off the bench for all but five games the rest of the season. Hield averaged 13.5 points per game, and shot a career high 43.1% from the beyond the arc. His -4.1 NETRTG was sixth on the team in 2017-18, while his 23.6% usage rate ranked second behind Randolph, per NBA.com

It looked like Sacramento had turned a corner in 2018-19. Hield averaged a career high 20.7 points and 5 rebounds per game, and the Kings won 39 games, the most since the franchise last made the playoffs in 2005-06.

Hield started all 82 games and led the team in scoring. Still, Joerger thought about benching him during the season. The two had their issues throughout the year, and it came to a head during a game against the Golden State Warriors in February of 2019.

Sacramento was down by six points late, when Hield jacked up a deep 3-pointer that went in. I don’t know why, but Joerger was upset with Hield, which led to this exchange:

Hield would then hit another shot from deep to bring the Kings within two points. With the game on the line, Hield had the chance to pull the trigger for the win, but instead chose to drive, and wound up missing.

Even though Hield led the team in scoring, it became obvious that Fox was going to grow into the leader of the squad. As Sabreena pointed out on Monday, Fox was better without Hield on the floor, and their styles didn’t mesh well together.

The Kings fired Joerger and replaced him with Luke Walton prior to the 2019-20 season. Even though the underlying numbers didn’t support starting Hield and Fox together, Vlade Divac gave Hield a four-year extension worth up to $106 million.

With Fox and fellow youngster Marvin Bagley missing extended periods, Sacramento was desperate to find some continuity in its rotations. Hield was not happy with Walton early in the season, and said this after a Dec. 21 loss to Minnesota (per The Athletic):

“Seems like we’re all over the place,” Hield said after a Dec. 26 loss to Minnesota. “Trust issues going on, I guess. They stop believing in players. It is what it is.”

The Kings were sitting at 15-29 in late January, when Walton decided to bring Hield off the bench, replacing him with Bogdanovic in the starting lineup. Hield wasn’t happy about the decision, but wound up playing some of his basketball of the season after the move.

Since then, Sacramento has won 13 of their last 20 games, and found itself just 3.5 games out of a playoff spot when the shutdown began. Since coming off the bench, Hield averaged 19.4 points, while shooting a ridiculous 47.6% from the 3-point line. His NETRTG improved by a whopping 9.3 points, going from -4.5 as a starter, to a plus-4.8 since being used as the sixth man, per Basketball Reference.

Regardless of what happens in the NBA’s return to play, Divac and Co. will have an interesting decision to make with Hield in the offseason. The team has clearly performed better with him coming off the bench, but his contributions as the sixth man can’t be downplayed as the Kings got back into the playoff race.