Buddy Hield routinely connected a short gold chain to his neck, tucked it under his shirt, and then delicately laid a longer, more intricate chain that featured his distinct cross pendant. He then brushed off questions about his slow shooting start as smoothly as the additions of finishing touches to his getup.
As if the rookie needed to convince himself more than anyone else, Hield repeated the same three words several times.
“I’ll be fine.”
The former Oklahoma Sooner star averaged 25 points per game off 50 percent shooting from the field in 37 games in his senior season, yet Hield has yet to demonstrate a similar touch in the pros. He has struggled especially from three-point range, connecting on 21 percent of his 33 shot attempts from deep. Overall, he has scored 8.7 points per game off 31.7 percent shooting from the floor in 20 minutes per game.
“I was a little jacked up earlier today,” Hield said after the New Orleans Pelicans fell to 0-6 on the season this past Friday. “You need to relax and take good shots and let the game come to you. I’m just hyped up, nothing too major about it.”
In the first half against the Phoenix Suns, Buddy created open look after open look; he just couldn’t get the ball to drop through the net. He went 3/8 from the floor and connected on just 2 of his 6 shots from deep in 14 minutes, then followed up his lackluster half by missing all but one of his six shots in nine minutes of play in the second half. Hield finished the game 2/10 from behind the arc.
“He’s gonna have games where your shot’s just not falling,” former teammate Lance Stephenson said after the 112-111 gut-wrenching loss to the Suns Friday. “You have to play through it and do other things to try to win a game.”
According to NBA.com, Buddy has shot 32 percent on open shots (4-6 feet from a defender) and 28 percent when left wide open (6+ feet) from the field.
“I tell him, ‘man, keep shooting.’ He’s a lights out shooter, in practice he makes shots. He just needs to keep working,” Stephenson said.
Hield acknowledged he feels anxious after sinking a shot, the excitement of scoring distracts him from play and he needs to focus on staying in the moment.
“You make one or two [shots] and after that you try to change your mindset of the game quick,” Hield said. You know, this isn’t college. There are a lot of guys that are more athletic than you.”
Hield has already come into the pros with a catch-and-shoot mentality. 41.3 percent of his shots have come without a dribble, according to NBA.com. Somewhat surprisingly, he has been able to stay in front of defenders more consistently than your average rookie, yet the Pelicans desperately need his scoring — now more than ever with the loss of one of the team’s strongest performers to date in Stephenson.
With Stephenson cut, Hield lost a mentor in the locker room that was pushing him during games. Stephenson said he had been instructing the rookie on how to come off pick and rolls and how to spot up, among other scoring tips.
“That’s my guy,” Stephenson admitted after the loss. “I just want to put him into a position where we all can look good. I just try to make it easier for him to make less mistakes, and make the game come easy for him. He’s doing a good job, we all have tough nights. You can’t put your head down, this is a long season, on to the next one.”
With Stephenson released upon the news that groin surgery would keep him sidelined for the next 6-10 weeks, Hield has lost a guiding figure for him on the court.
“[Stephenson] has been good. He tells me to keep running and he’ll find me. He tells me to stay aggressive, I need that.”
Tonight, the Pelicans face the Golden State Warriors in Oracle Arena without injured playmakers Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Lance Stephenson. Hield knows he will contribute if he continues to play smart.
“[I] need to make the right play, the easy play,” Hield said. “I just have to stay aggressive and stuff. But I’ll be fine.”