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Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo among top NBA rookies during month of December

Hope on the horizon: The New Orleans Pelicans can happily point to the success of their two first-year players.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Quick, can you name the two NBA rookies that are second and third in points per game for the month of December?

Hint: They can both be found on the New Orleans Pelicans roster.

Following a sluggish start to his career, many found it opportune throughout November to slam the Pelicans for their selection of Buddy Hield in the 2016 NBA Draft. Whether they had a built-in bias against 4-year collegiate players, or simply preferred another draftee such as Jamal Murray by a wide margin, Hield’s name became synonymous with the bust label.

Just as easily it was wrong to make such a prediction based on the earliest of returns, it would be the same mistake to do so based on a different small sample size. However, there can be no denying that Buddy Hield is now trending as one of the better first year guys in the league, and I think he could be considered as one of the favorites to be named a starter in the Rising Stars Challenge in February.

For the month of December, Hield is second only to Joel Embiid in points per game but first in three-point makes. After a 26.5 3FG% in November, he has set the world on fire with a 47.5% clip since. Have a look at how Hield’s latest month compares with the other wings selected in the top 10 of his class last July.

PPG/36 Offensive Rating eFG% 3FG% TOV%
Buddy Hield 16.2 102.2 53.5% 47.5% 9.1%
Jamal Murray 11.7 93.1 41.8% 25.5% 14.3%
Kris Dunn 12.6 100.7 49.2% 29.4% 18.9%
Brandon Ingram 9.1 89.4 36.9% 21.2% 12.6%
Jaylen Brown 13.1 99.6 47.4% 33.3% 8.9%

Remember when naysayers were ridiculing Hield for a lack of win-now prowess and impressed by Murray’s ability to have an immediate positive impact? Well, Hield has started 12 straight games, and his 28 three-point makes in December are blowing away the rest of the field. Talk about a complete 180 in less than a month’s time!

For instance, take Hield’s last game against the Dallas Mavericks where he displayed a knack for scoring in a variety of ways. First, there’s that patented quick release three-pointer, this time coming off an Anthony Davis screen.

Next, have a look at this drive around one of the Mav’s best defenders, Dorian Finney-Smith, and a display of nice touch with the left hand.

Lastly, Hield got Devin Harris to lean the wrong way and beat him on a simple backdoor cut on an out-of-bounds play for an easy lay-in.

As for Hield’s running mate, Cheick Diallo has more than held his own in 71 minutes of action, and has legions of fans clamoring for some consistent minutes. It’s hard to blame them. Although he was selected in the 2nd round, he leads all rookies in PER (22.9) in December. He’s also having a much better statistical month than a number of players drafted well ahead of him.

PPG/36 REB/36 Offensive Rating eFG% TOV%
Cheick Diallo 19.3 12.4 126.3 59.3% 5.9%
Joel Embiid 25.6 9.1 102.2 49.2% 15.4%
Marquese Chriss 14.8 7.8 106.3 48.3% 10.7%
Dragan Bender 8.4 7.9 90.6 45.7% 14.2%
Domantas Sabonis 10.3 7.3 93.5 48.5% 14.6%

Since leaving the University of Kansas, all Diallo has done is excel in the summer league, the D-League and now the NBA. He’s gone from being tagged a hopeful rotation regular to a potential impact starter within a matter of months. And with traditional centers seemingly holding back Anthony Davis and the rest of the Pelicans in Alvin Gentry’s system, a player with the rookie’s traits looks like the perfect compliment.

There are so many things to love about Diallo. Not only does he possess the heart of lion, he also shows no fear like perhaps his kindred spirit animal. DeAndre Jordan is known for flattening opponents, yet Diallo keenly jumped in front of him to pick up a charge call. I have no idea why the referees failed to blow the whistle on the following play, but Diallo took the hard shot, fell to the floor, jumped back to his feet and still corralled the defensive rebound.

Coming out of college, Diallo was considered to be as raw of a rookie on offense as they come, yet here we are not three months into his professional career and his jumpshot looks likely to be a weapon someday soon.

New Orleans’ season has been rather difficult to write about thus far from a standpoint of positives, but thank goodness for Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo. The duo has given the fanbase plenty of hope here in December that the future isn’t as bleak as it has appeared since the city’s last playoff berth, and believe it or not, it’s a nice feather in the cap of the front office. Here’s to hoping, though, we get a chance of being a little more spoiled by their presence on the court over the remainder of the schedule!