After weeks of talking draft prospects, figuring out which direction the New Orleans Pelicans would ultimately go, openly wondering if moving down and collecting more picks was a smarter strategy, and creating other, more creative options, Dell Demps and company decided to put the Pelicans faithful out of their worries by selecting Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield with the 6th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
The Pelicans were looking for a backcourt player, interviewing Jaylen Brown, Jamal Murray, and others, but landed on taking Hield. Brown went third overall to the Boston Celtics and the Pelicans selected Hield over Murray because of his defensive potential. I wrote last week in our roundtable about Murray -- I wasn't high on him for that reason -- so I'm glad to see New Orleans agreed and took someone with a bit more defensive upside.
The Pelicans decided on Buddy Hield over Jamal Murray, believing Hield possess greater defensive potential, per a New Orleans source.— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) June 24, 2016
Let's talk about Anthony Davis' newest Buddy.
Hield finished his college career averaging 25.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He shot an incredible 50 percent from the floor, 45 percent from beyond the arc - leading the NCAA in three-pointers made and attempted - and completed his four-year run at Oklahoma claiming his second straight Big 12 Player of the Year awards. To top it all off, Buddy Hield carried the Sooners to their first Final Four appearance since the 2001-2002 season.
Offensively, I don't need to tell you how good Buddy is. He's a knockdown shooter who can find his spots on offense; he can find holes in the defense, coming around and off of screens to shoot. More importantly, he's someone who will slowly creep into the corners --something important for what the Pelicans need now that Eric Gordon has reached unrestricted free agency.
The Pelicans finished last season 16th in three-point attempts, 27th in spot-up points per possession and 1st in point per possession off screen plays (good!), but just 18th in the league with just 440 off-screen possessions (needs improvement). Hield helps all of that.
The Pelicans need his prototype on this roster. Under head coach Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans want to push the pace and space the floor. The issue is, due to the roster and the injuries that mounted as the season wore on, Gentry didn't get to properly incorporate that style in New Orleans. The Pelicans pushed the pace at times, but didn't really do much else. Some injury luck, as well as Hield's sharpshooting, should fix that.
Lastly, he's a good guy by all accounts. Good character, which some of my fellow writers at TBW love, so that's a plus.
Even if some of his weaknesses -- don't worry, we'll get to those soon enough -- don't develop, Hield is going to knock down a lot of threes and I wouldn't be shocked if he leads New Orleans in three-point shooting over a large amount of attempts as a rookie. With just one off-ball guard on the roster, and we'll discuss this in drabs, too, the Pelicans added someone who will be asked to contribute immediately.
Areas of Improvement
The two things Hield will have to work on is his ability to create with the ball, as well as improve his defense. Over his four seasons at Oklahoma, Hield finished with 285 turnovers and 254 assists. In his senior season alone, Hield had 113 turnovers to 75 assists, which seems unreal. That aspect of his game suggests that he isn't really good at making decisions with the ball. At 22 years old, it's tough to see that improving much, though, you never know.
Defensively, he went A.W.O.L in his final college season. He didn't show much of anything on the ball (his fellow teammate, Cousins, took the harder defensive assignments) and was a bit of a mess when playing off the ball. If there's anything that's a hindrance on his profile, it's the fact he didn't defend last season. He has the size to be a solid defender, measuring in at 6'5" with a 6'9.25" wingspan.
Call me an optimist, but I think Hield can improve on that defensive effort. By all accounts, Hield is a hard worker, so there's already a small ray of sunshine. Second, he has the size necessary to defend shooting guards. I question if he can truly defend the small forward position because of his size and point guards because of his actual speed. Still, one position is better than no positions.
I suck at comparisons. Terrible. The Kwame Brown of making comparisons, to be honest. Still, I'll do it because you crave them. I think Hield could become a better Jodie Meeks. I think the defense will compare favorably after some better training, good defenders flanking him in Quincy Pondexter and Holiday and a good defensive coach in Darren Erman. Actually, I think he can become a fine defender and remain an elite shooter. In a perfect world, he becomes Michael Redd.
With Davis, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, I don't see Hield having to put the offensive load on his shoulder to the tune of a 30 percent usage rate. Cut that down to a more role player-like 18 percent in his rookie season and maybe some of the energy he exerted on the offensive end in college could be re-positioned to his effort on the defensive end. He might finish a net zero, or perhaps a solid defensive player in time.
How it affects New Orleans in free agency
The Pelicans will enter free agency with obvious needs, but the addition of Hield and the return of Pondexter gives New Orleans two rotation wing players at a combined cost of under $8 million next season. Consider the value for these types of players is going to jump under an exploding salary cap and that's a good look for the Pelicans.
The way I see it: Anthony Davis is going to absorb the bulk of the power forward minutes and some center minutes. Those other minutes at the five will be through some combination of Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca. The point guard position will be navigated by Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, with Tim Frazier returning as the third point guard. So, the Pelicans are really looking at solidifying the depth on the perimeter -- giving Erman some additional talent wouldn't hurt -- and a power forward, in addition to Dante Cunningham, who can play alongside Davis in small ball lineups.
In terms of wing candidates, Evan Fournier or Allen Crabbe deserve to have money thrown at them, regardless of the restricted free agency game. Maybe call Solomon Hill, who isn't a complete prospect, but showed positive traits as a defender in the regular season and shooter in the postseason. Courtney Lee is a stable wing that will probably be called upon by contenders. Evan Turner? Well, he's a no for me.
Oh, before I forget, James Ennis had some moments last season in his small stint in New Orleans, so I would bring him back, too.
The small ball four? I wrote about Marvin Williams; Fish covered Jared Dudley. The Pelicans could probably fill this spot for cheap if they really wanted to, but if they could land Marvin Williams, it would be a nice piece for a team looking to push the pace, play smaller and ensure additional shooters surround Anthony Davis. Personally, I'm fond of Andrew Nicholson for this spot. He could be had for cheap, I imagine.
There's been some pessimism among the New Orleans fan base recently, but the addition of Buddy Hield will rejuvenate many, and with the combination of some solid free agency acquisitions to shore up the wings and that backup power forward spot, the Pelicans will be trending upwards again in no time.