When Oleh and I joined Mike Prada to discuss the Pelicans on the Limited Upside podcast, I was a little surprised at how shocked Mike and some commenters were at my prediction that Buddy Hield would average 12-14 points per game as a rookie. They all seemed to think that this was much too high of an expectation in his rookie campaign.
My initial thoughts were that shooting is a skill that translates well. Hield was the center of attention his senior year which lead to a lot of double teams. Despite tight defenses focused purely on him, he still shot an incredible 45.7% from deep and scored 25 points per game. Often these shots were tightly contested like this one against Kansas.
This wasn’t an isolated moment as there were many such contested shots that found the bottom of the net. Hield should get cleaner looks as a professional — especially early on in his career. Sharing the court with Anthony Davis, hopefully Jrue Holiday soon and other shooters like E’Twaun Moore, will not allow defenses to focus mainly on Buddy, or to stick their best defender on him for any lengthy periods. I wasn’t really expecting Buddy to start as a rookie, but I did assume he’d play between 20-25 minutes a game in a fast paced offense built upon getting shooters open. Believe it or not, I actually thought I was under-selling his scoring ability with that prediction.
Tell me, what weaknesses?
After seeing him play up close and personal at the team scrimmage and against the Pacers, I know I’ve done him a disservice. I wasn’t worried about his ability to shoot, but I was worried slightly about his athleticism. If you have a slow first step in this league, it’s hard to stick — Kyle Korver types being obvious exceptions. However, his first step has looked better than expected. He isn’t stuck in the mud like Austin Rivers. He can get a jump on a NBA defender. He’ll still likely be best utilized coming off of screens, catching-and-shooting when a teammate hits him out of a double team or spotting up in transition, but I have a lot more confidence in him creating space for himself than I did prior to preseason play.
The other thing that sets Hield apart from many players in the league and guys with big reputations coming out of college is his insane work ethic. A knock you often hear about Buddy is that he’s an older rookie. I find it ridiculous — he’s 22. His age is actually an asset as he exudes maturity. That maturity brings along leadership skills and a work ethic that should inspire those around him.
Hield already approaches the game like a pro, which is key to him being able to contribute instantly on a team that already fields a top-10 player in the league and has playoff aspirations. His approach and dedication for the game should instill a lot of confidence in the coaching staff, his teammates and the fanbase.
On media day he talked about how he is always questioning the veterans about hypothetical situations that could arise on and off of the court so that he will be ahead of the learning curve when they present themselves. You could see a real thirst for knowledge. He clearly enjoys the cerebral part of the game and not just the physical contest. It’s refreshing to see this as a fan and a person who covers the team. Cheick Diallo jokingly said, “that boy talks too much” when asked about Hield saying he wasn’t a typical rookie. However, the more Buddy talked, the more I never wanted him to stop talking. He’s a golden ticket soundbite... but he also backs it up with his play.
Other concerns that get brought up about Hield are that he doesn’t give you much outside of shooting, that he can’t make plays for others and that he won’t be able to defend. While I haven’t seen him be a defensive force yet, I have seen him be serviceable in very small doses. However, with his desire to be a high basketball IQ guy and his work ethic, I believe we will see big improvements in that area of his game.
There is no doubt though, Buddy is an underrated playmaker. He had a hair under 4 assists per game in Summer League, which is a bit of a misnomer — if you watched the games you saw him set up teammates for very clean looks that they just couldn’t convert. While his shooting was dismal in Las Vegas, I felt he demonstrated that not only would he be a willing passer but he could also be an effective one.
Lastly, Hield’s propensity for rebounding must be mentioned — he grabbed over 5 boards a game in Vegas. On a team that struggles with rebounding, the Pelicans need to get it from every position. However, having guards with high rebound numbers is really the basketball equivalent of having a safety leading your team in tackles — the guys upfront are doing their job well enough. Still, this skillset allows for the Pelicans to play smaller without having a huge dip in their already bad rebounding rates.
Breaking down the preseason games
Vegas made it hard to evaluate how he will transition into the pros as the only other player on that roster that should have any semblance of a NBA career is Cheick Diallo. So, let’s look deeper into Hield’s preseason performances to get a better snapshot of what we should expect.
The first game of the preseason against the Dallas Mavericks is a little difficult to take much stock in due to the skeleton squad the Mavericks put on the court. However, these guys are still NBA players and a step up from the Summer League competition. Immediately we see Buddy’s underrated playmaking ability with a beautiful alley-oop to Anthony Davis followed by another nifty tight-quarters dish to AD in the lane — fitting it in like he works at a Lambert’s: Home of the Throwed Rolls franchise located in the belly of a submarine.
Next, Hield takes advantage of a bad rotation on a Tim Frazier drive and kick to the corner, which should be staple of this offense. Buddy then does a bit of over-dribbling and doesn’t take the smartest shot, but he does show his ability to knock down a shot over a defender. He then shows that he’s read the scouting report and sends a high-arching Charmin bath tissue soft pass to the shitty hands of Omer Asik for an ultra-rare catch and convert from the Turkish Stammer.
The other reason I believe that Buddy will have great success in this league is that he isn’t just a shooter. He can put it on the floor, has some nice hesitation and crossover moves and an arsenal of floaters and layups with which he can use to finish in traffic like we see on his next drive. We also see him catching a quick outlet pass up the court and knocking down the three, which will be a big part of his game. He’ll be deadly in transition, whether it’s running up court and finding an open spot before the defense can set up, or trailing the fastbreak and setting up behind the arc.
Also, notice Hield battle for the offensive rebound on a missed free throw and quickly find an open Lance Stephenson for the bucket. After a weird Lance cameo bucket in a Hield highlight package, Buddy uses his dribble and drive skills to get by his defender and then changes hands while splitting defenders for the lay-in.
Against the Pacers, Hield played against a better representation of NBA talent and didn’t disappoint. He demonstrated well that floaters are a great tool for any guard to have. Hield is obviously a deep-shooting threat so defenders will often play him up close. When he drives by the help, defenders will slide in to protect the rim so having that ability to stop in the lane and loft up a floater off the glass gives him an added weapon that is hard to account for — we see this on the first play of this reel.
On the next play, Buddy uses an Asik screen to get a clean mid-ranged jumper. Initially I was concerned with his first step, so I thought the Pelicans would have to run Buddy off of screens often to get him good looks. The problem with this is that Asik is truly the only good screen setter on the roster, and you probably don’t want him on the floor very often. When Alvin Gentry came on board last season, I had expected to see Eric Gordon running around a series of screens like Ray Allen was so famous for to get himself free — it didn’t happen. While I do think Buddy can get himself open more effectively than Gordon, I do hope that our screeners improve and that this strategy is used more often.
In the next clip we get to see how quick Hield can react. Langston Galloway secures a loose ball on the ground and makes an awkward pass to Hield on the perimeter. He doesn’t need a lot of time to look at the basket before getting his shot off — he shoots it right off of the bounce.
I couldn’t find Buddy specific highlights for the games against Rockets, but I’ve jumped to the 2:22 mark of the above clip to help alleviate concerns over Hield’s athleticism. Here he reads the cross court pass and races to pick it off. The most impressive part of this play in my eyes is that he is able to stay in front of a very athletic KJ McDaniels and finish without that chasedown block artist catching up to him.
Why not, a comparison
Coming out of the NBA draft, I felt like the Pelicans had walked away with the next Michael Redd and I was happy with that — a 12-year veteran that was a career 19 PPG player that shot 38% from deep. A guy with a long solid career as a starter that had one All-Star appearance and several near All-Star seasons. I felt like Max Fischer sticking gum to a hotel wall and walking off with a bee box full of satisfaction.
Redd and Hield are very similar. Hield is 6’-5” and 212 LBS with a 6’-9.25” wingspan. Redd was 6’-5.75” and 214 LBS with a 6’-9” wingspan. Physically they are almost clones, though Redd is a lefty, but when you look at their college years, you see that Hield is starting out ahead of Michael Redd. Buddy shot a very poor 23% from deep his freshman year, but he was over the respectable line every year after including his sophomore year at 38.6% and then his magical senior year where he shot 45.7%. Redd was never a great 3-point shooter in college — shooting 31.9% for his career.
Other things that Buddy seems to have the edge on Redd are playmaking and probably rebounding. Redd only averaged over 3 assists per game in one year in the NBA. Given starter minutes, I expect Buddy to eclipse that mark every season. Redd was a pretty serviceable rebounder during his prime, but Buddy is showing to be a more capable rebounder than Redd was at this point of his career. If Hield can consistently make improvements in his playmaking and rebounding, he should become an even better player than Redd was. He’s already jumped the starting pistol.
For those of you that were too young, were unfamiliar with his game, or just want a refresher, make sure to watch two of Michael Redd’s best performances:
Now watch two of Buddy’s best college scoring performances:
Redd developed that kind of range during his pro career, but Hield has it at the start of his. Redd was only one-year younger than Buddy his rookie year. Michael had to sit behind a superstar — Ray Allen — to start his career. Buddy will benefit from being able to play alongside Anthony Davis in New Orleans, which should also translate into Buddy becoming Michael Redd, or an even better version quicker than Michael Redd became the best version of himself.
I’m excited that I will get to watch players like Hield and Davis up-close for what should be close to a decade. Everytime I watch Anthony Davis play basketball, I feel like I’m potentially watching history being made. If isolated from Davis, though, I don’t think Hield would be that kind of transcendental player — if he’s the best player on his team at his peak, I think he’d have a Hall of Very Good career. However, together, they have the potential to be a historical duo.
But for this year, I see Buddy getting 20-25 minutes scoring 15 PPG on 39% from deep and chipping in 3 assists and 4 rebounds — a very quality rookie year — possibly an award winning season. I also expect him to get destroyed a lot on the defensive end as he has a way to go to be an average defender. However, with his work ethic, inquisitive nature and IQ, he should be able to get himself to an average defender status within a few seasons.
If Buddy and the Brow reach their full potential together like Scarlett Johansson in that movie where she morphs into a Google Chromecast this is what it will look like: