Buddy Hield Progressing In His Rookie Campaign

A collaboration between James Grayson and Graham McQueen

Buddy Hield was able to accomplish something that not even Anthony Davis was able to during his rookie season, and something no Pelican or Hornet has done in New Orleans since the “Rookie Buzz” over 7 years ago. Buddy is the first Nola-rook to be awarded the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month award since Darren “the Blur” Collison won it in February, 2010.

To be fair, Davis had stiffer competition in Damian Lillard, who won all 6 of the monthly honors, but Buddy Buckets has been on full display. Even those who dislike the pick have to admit he is contributing in a positive way right now. The question then shifts to his development, and much like the Pelicans lately, rookie Buddy Hield has finally started to showcase his talents.

James and Graham have broken down Buddy’s season to track his progression thus far into his NBA career. We hope you enjoy!

The Very Beginning

Buddy was ice cold to start the season, and looked like a rookie through and through. After those first 4 games, he had the worst Net-rating (-24.3) of the players to get minutes in all 4. His TOV% of 15.1 and Defensive-rating of 110.2 were also both worst on the team. Everyone was just waiting for him to hit his 1st 3 pointer, which came in the last game of this stretch against Milwaukee, a game where Buddy would shoot 4/10, 1/6 from deep, and post 4 TO’s to 0 assists and 0 rebounds. Prior to that made 3, he was 0/13 on the season.

Throw Him in the Deep End

After his 1st four games, Buddy started to see much more of the floor, just not a lot of success out there:

The main reason for Hield’s poor start has was his inability to hit his 3-point shot. Teams weren’t giving him any space to shoot the three. Their tactic was to run him off the spot and force him to dribble (Hield shoots 17% from three when defended within 2-4 feet). In addition, his confidence to start the season wasn’t all that great. He never looked like hitting any of his jumpers and as such his output was underwhelming.

Over this 8-game stretch he posted an improved net-rating, “up” to -8.91, his turnovers stabilized some (TOV% 6.3), and his defensive-rating of 104.3 was much better, all good signs of improvement, even if he didn’t find his shooting form. What this stretch did show us from Buddy was something other than jump shooting. He averaged over 5.5 rebounds/36mins and almost 2.5 assists/36mins.

This was highlighted in a loss to Orlando where Buddy put up 8-5-5. Buddy is an active rebounder for a guard, which is absolutely necessary for the system the Pelicans are running. On the season he is averaging almost 5rebs/36mins and has a higher REB% than every other guard on the roster save Tyreke Evans, who has only appeared in 9 games on a minutes restriction so far.

Over these first 12 games Buddy was mainly used off the bench, seeing most of his minutes next to Langston Galloway, and a good chunk next to Lance Stephenson, who was let go on the 4th of November. In this bench role we saw more of Buddy with the ball in his hands than we are seeing now:

Buddy sits in the 15th percentile for qualifying players running the pick-and-roll with a meager 0.61 PPP (Points per possession). One of the aspects of his game that was so good at Oklahoma was that with the ball in his hands Hield seemed like he could score from anywhere. In the NBA, it seems that the increased athleticism and defensive abilities of his opponents have caused issues for him.

The Pelicans have been running pick-and-roll sets with the ball in Buddy’s hands and he does a good job of using the screen to free himself up for a shot. However, defenses are “icing” the pick and are sitting back to prevent the drive to the basket. Because of that strategy Hield usually gets decent looks at the basket from mid-range.

Below is a video that gives a range of examples of this strategy in action. The center or big-man ices the pick and Hield is either unwilling to take him on or if he does he usually can’t finish. Buddy is confident in his shot, which is fantastic, but the problem is that he can’t hit the shot as he either is off-balance or rushes the attempt.

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Because of Hield’s poor ability to hit his mid-range shots his field-goal percentage is an unsightly 39.5%. This isn’t to say he doesn’t have an intermediate game at all, but as mentioned before NBA defenses are giving Buddy the mid-range look off his on-ball screens and he’s taking and missing them. He hasn’t quite worked out how to drive to the basket from the pick-and-roll (or even isolations for that matter) and it’s limiting his offensive production.

Reel Him In

Jrue Holiday’s return on 11/18 saw a drastic decrease in minutes for Buddy. Over his next 8 games, Buddy would only post double-digit minutes three times, two of those in blowouts. With the poor start to the season, the team needed to win immediately and win immediately. Buddy’s minutes had to be sacrificed.

After receiving less than 4 minutes for the 2nd straight game, Buddy came off the bench on the 4th of December in his first return to Oklahoma. There was something different about this game, and you could tell it meant a lot to Buddy. He even drew noticeable cheers from the crowd whenever he took a shot. Despite posting decent numbers (6/12 from the field, 4/7 from deep, 16pts, 4rebs, 1ast, 1TO in just 15 minutes), his shot was wildly inconsistent. He heaved at least 3 or 4 airballs throughout the night, but at no point did they seem to faze him or deter him from making that next shot.

From that night on Buddy has been a starter for the Pelicans, and he hasn’t looked back. All of a sudden his offensive output has improved and he’s contributing to the team in ways he wasn’t to start the season.

A December Explosion – Finding His Groove

Per 36minutes that is a 17-5-2.5 statline with a 55.5 TS% from your rookie, and he hasn’t shown any signs of wavering, shooting over 50% from downtown on ~6 attempts over his last 5 games. He had one of his best performances of the season just the other night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. As mentioned earlier (refer back to his usage breakdown), he spent much of his time early in the season off the bench, but since being placed in the starting lineup he has spent most of his minutes next to (1) Anthony Davis and (2) Jrue Holiday. This move allowed him to focus on what he does best. The simple reason for Buddy Hield’s improvement in December has been his 3-point shot. He’s hitting them. That’s it, nothing else to it really.

Below are three examples of how Hield has adjusted his game to give himself better looks from beyond the 3-point arc.

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My favourite of all of these is the one against the Pacers (best set they’ve run – James), mine is the Spurs (Danny Green going under screens, get out of here! – Graham). New Orleans has started to run more off & on-ball screens for Hield to give him room for an open shot. A big will set an off-ball screen to free up Buddy who then proceeds towards the ball handler (usually Jrue Holiday). Hield will then set a screen for the guard and will then flair towards the side of the court for an open 3-point look. It’s a brilliant play that the Pelicans should run a lot more than they currently do.

Another way that Buddy has seen an improvement in his 3-point percentage has been his effort to get out in transition. Hield does an excellent job of running up the court and maneuvering his way for an open 3-point shot.

If there’s one thing above all else that has been the catalyst for Hield’s improvement from beyond the arc it has been his off-ball movement. This aspect of Buddy’s game is the most exciting and is a reason why he’ll be a dangerous three-point shooter for many years to come.

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In the above video we can see examples of Hield’s off-ball movement. His uncanny ability to re position himself to a different area from beyond the line free’s himself up for better looks. As defenders are watching the dribble penetration Buddy will slightly, or greatly shift his location depending on where the help-defenders are located. Here is the first play from the video above in full:

He has completely bought into the idea that if you give the ball up you’ll get it back, and actively looks to move the ball and then get himself open. Drive the paint, kick it to the corner, set a baseline screen, slip it, buckets. You can see it every night, pass and move, pass and move. Anytime he gets open beyond the arc you can see him clapping his hands because he knows if he gets the rock it is going in. Even if he doesn’t develop much outside of his shot, that is a fantastic skill that has translated well to the NBA level.

Going forward Buddy is going to have to work a lot on that mid-range game, his driving and playmaking, and his defense, we’ve only seen glimpses of success in those areas. If you watched the most recent Cavaliers and Hawks losses, you saw Buddy get blocked driving the rim multiple times in crunch time, which is a little discouraging, but playing with the space of small ball lineups, and particularly with Davis at the 5, has helped his efficiency driving, which has in turn helped his playmaking:

His passing has been somewhat of a surprise, since he showcased very little during his college career. So far, this season will be his best assist/minute mark since his rookie year at Oklahoma and his best AST/TO ratio of his college/pro career. During the preseason and summer league we saw some lackadaisical passes that lacked the crispness and accuracy you would want, but that has turned around. His playmaking and handling still needs a lot of work, as mentioned before he often gets stuck in-between and falls victim to his own indecision:

Defensively he has made some good strides. In general he is very active and engaged, and he’s gotten better with not getting lost in rotations. Since the 5th of December, the lineup of Holiday/Hield/Hill/Cunningham/Davis has been the Pelicans’ most used with 60 total minutes. That lineup is also posting a Drtg of 75.8. Below are a few clips of Hield’s defense in the Pelicans’ win over the Clips from a few nights back:

If he can continue to stay with his man he’ll be able to stay on the floor at the end of games because of his elite free throw shooting. Jamal Murray fans among the Pelicans’ fan base will simply have to hold their tongues for now, as Buddy has been the better player so far this season.

One response to “Buddy Hield Progressing In His Rookie Campaign”

  1. Buddy is proving that any NBA player with average athletic ability & size can be a good defensive player if they really give a damn.  From what I have seen, Buddy wants to be good and he really wants to win.  Put that package with his shooting and you get a pretty good NBA player — even as a rookie.

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