No position on the New Orleans Pelicans roster presents more intrigue than shooting guard this upcoming season. Buddy Hield, selected with the sixth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, is the heir apparent, but thanks in large part to an exploding salary cap, he will find seizing control of the starting position more difficult than initially anticipated.
E'Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway, each acquired in free agency, will push for playing time at either guard spot. Quincy Pondexter could also be looking for minutes at the two thanks to the arrival of Solomon Hill at small forward. If his knees cooperate, Tyreke Evans may also push for time. Even Jrue Holiday could log minutes at the two position in lineups alongside Tim Frazier.
In many ways this new found depth on the wing is welcome. After years of one way players, New Orleans has multiple options that should be able to contribute on both ends of the floor. Hill pushing Pondexter up a position, where Quincy's limited contributions on the glass will be less pronounced, provides flexibility that the Pelicans have sorely lacked. Both Moore and Galloway are solid defenders with the ability to stretch the floor and initiate the offense in a pinch. Evans, if healthy, could feast against second units ill-equipped to keep him out of the paint.
However, there are still limitations to discuss. Evans is the only plus rebounder on the list and his injury situation gives serious pause to banking on any contributions. While both Galloway and Moore are plus defenders with impressive reach, each is slightly undersized for the position. Quincy Pondexter has undergone two knee surgeries and may spend the vast majority of his minutes platooning at the small forward position with Solomon Hill.
Buddy Hield has legitimate potential. If there is one thing Pelican fans should be confident in, it is Hield's shooting stroke. He struggled in Las Vegas, but all of summer league should be taken with a massive amount of skepticism and small sample size warnings, especially when it comes to shooting percentages. More interesting is the prospect that Hield could develop into more than just a shooter. During the same summer league where many harped on Hield's shooting woes, he was far better than expected at distributing and rebounding. As Draft Express pointed out, rebounds and assists are far more likely to translate from summer league to the NBA than scoring or shooting percentages.
To maximize Hield's development, the Pelicans will be best served to put the rookie in the starting lineup. Surrounded by plus defenders (Holiday, Hill, Davis, and Asik) Buddy Hield will be spared some of the typical rookie treatment, easing his transition into the big leagues. Davis and Holiday will also make Buddy's life easier on offense, where he should receive a plethora of open catch and shoot opportunities.
However, starting does not mean Hield will be on the court to close games. Like Omer Asik it would not be surprising to see Hield on the bench late in the fourth quarter when Hield's limited experience becomes a greater concern. Depending on matchups and health, either Moore or Pondexter should be on the floor in these high leverage situations where defense and court spacing are required.
This is not an insult to Buddy Hield. Unlike many lottery picks Hield has arrived to a franchise which believes itself to be legitimate playoff contenders. New Orleans is not expecting him to be a first or second option this season. Coming to a team with a true superstar (Davis) and solid second banana (Holiday) gives Buddy Hield the chance to prove himself without the pressure he felt in Las Vegas. A bevy of additional depth surrounding him means crunch time minutes must be earned.
Through the draft and free agency, the Pelicans have more depth on the wing than anytime in recent franchise history. Buddy Hield can be the starter, but if he wants to finish games, rapid progression outside of shooting is required. It remains to be seen if he's capable right away, but he is surely relishing the challenge.