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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans look to regroup against upstart Sacramento Kings, featuring one of the best shooters in the game — Buddy Hield

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Imagine a world where the Pels never trade the sharpshooter for DeMarcus Cousins...

Sacramento Kings v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans (15-18) are floundering around in the Western Conference, having lost 11 of their last 16 games and slipping all the way to 13th in the standings. In the past, a matchup against the Sacramento Kings (17-15) usually offered a chance to regroup, but as we’ve witnessed after the first couple of months of the schedule, there literally exists not a single pushover out West currently. Even the Suns have been playing winning basketball over the last few weeks — but we’re here to talk about these upstart Kings and a former Pelican who is proving he could be the face of a franchise.

Yes, New Orleans trounced Sacramento during the first week of the season; however, it would be foolish to expect that same result. The Kings have accumulated a 7-4 record thus far in December, including a nice comeback win against the Grizzlies in their last outing. Sacramento trailed by nine entering the final frame, but Buddy Hield led the charge to a 102-99 victory, scoring 16 points in the fourth.

Everyone remembers Buddy, right? The fast talking, always happy draft pick out of Oklahoma was the centerpiece of a trade for DeMarcus Cousins. Yet, there wasn’t a single person who thought he should have highlighted a package for an All-NBA center at the time, and previously, many lamented the fact that the Pelicans decided to select Hield over Jamal Murray in the 2016 NBA Draft.

We’re not here to rekindle that debate again, but let’s acknowledge the player that Hield has become — even if he’s suddenly a year older than everyone believed. The 26-year-old is in the midst of the best month of his career as a professional, averaging 23.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 three-pointers a game. He is shooting 46.9% from the field, 44.5% from deep, and fields a tidy 2:1 assist to turnover ratio here in December.

All this is a far cry from the player who couldn’t get his shot off against the competition in Summer League play!

Perhaps the best way to display Hield’s value among his peers in the league is through his 59.5% True Shooting Percentage. Among those who have attempted 15 shot attempts or more per game, only nine players have bettered Buddy’s mark and the list reads like a who’s who: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James, Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Yeah, so how great would it be to slot such an efficient, high volume scorer next to Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis in this vitally important season?

Here’s a sobering thought: Had the Pelicans not traded for Boogie, they might not be under siege from all sides of the media about the imminent departure of AD. How different would things be if the Kings had decided to pay Cousins the DPV extension or say trade him to another team? What if Vivek Ranadive wasn’t particularly fond of Buddy?

Sigh, don’t you just hate how dominos fall sometimes? :(

Before we cry ourselves to sleep any further, lets recognize the fact that the Kings are comprised of more than just Buddy. De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Nemanja Bjelica and Bogdan Bogdanovic are a group of nice young producers, and one has to think Marvin Bagley, Justin Jackson or Harry Giles will turn into something.

These inexperienced yet fun Kings are fifth in the league in scoring (114.9 points) and run at the second fastest pace (105.17). While their offense and defense do not sit in the top half of the league, it’s best to realize they have been steadily improving in both categories since the start of the season and it’s been reflected in their recent record.

On the flip side and as mentioned earlier, the Pelicans are in the midst of a big slide. Injuries have definitely played a part, but no one should be interested in excuses when the games count, a season is on the line and a superstar’s fate hangs in the balance. New Orleans needs to get back in the win column in the worst way possible!

Where To Watch

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings

Where: Golden One Center

When: Sunday, December 23, 2018, 5:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO