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NBA Sunday: Buddy Hield, Defying The Odds

From Freeport, Bahama’s Eight Mile Rock, Buddy Hield’s ascension is an inspiration to the entire Caribbean region.

Moke Hamilton

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As he sat in the greenroom, his palms, no doubt, were a bit sweatier than usual.

Sure, in terms of basketball, Buddy Hield had been there and done that. The accolades had been a bit too numerous to comfortably fit on a single sheet of paper and last season’s Final Four run with his Oklahoma Sooners had its pressure packed moments.

Yet still, nothing could have prepared Hield for the night he had been dreaming of for as long as he can remember.

“I’m speechless right now,” he said.

As the bright lights gleamed down upon him, finally, after all these years, all the obstacles and all the early mornings and late nights, Buddy Hield had commenced the journey he had seemingly been waiting his entire life to embark upon.

NBA Player.

“Thank god I got the opportunity to play with New Orleans,” Hield said

And, for the sake of Dell Demps, Anthony Davis and their fans, thank god the New Orleans Pelicans made the wise choice.

* * * * * *

My Jamaican culture and lineage is important to me. It’s a part of my identity. Few things have made me prouder than watching Jamaica’s presence and place in the international basketball community grow. Over the past few years, as I have developed relationships with first-generation American and Canadian players with Caribbean connections and the Jamaican Basketball Federation, I have seen a lot.

And if you think American-born players from the inner-city have it tough, take a trip down to any one of several Caribbean islands.

In terms of basketball, the opportunity, the organization, the tutelage, the infrastructure—they are as scarce as winter coats in the Bahamas.

That’s why Buddy Hield, his rise and his progression are so personal to me.

I’ve been to the Bahamas and have spent a substantial amount of time in Jamaica. From an infrastructure and monetary standpoint, basketball is usually no higher than the third or fourth sport that Caribbean governments are willing to invest in. Soccer, cricket and track and field, for the most part, are the apples of the difference-makers’ eyes.

So while we show respect to Andrew Wiggins (Barbados), Cory Joseph (Trinidad) and Andre Drummond (Jamaica)—the three of whom all have Caribbean connections—we should show special respect to the Caribbean nationals who, despite all odds, are able to rise up and become professional basketball players.

So when you think of Buddy Hield, understand that his journey wasn’t easy. Opportunity wasn’t plentiful. Scouts and platforms to make impressions were scarce.

And after sustaining his greatness for so long, continually working and impressing everyone that meets him with his good manners and kind demeanor, there is no question that for Hield, merely getting to the NBA is a fantastic accomplishment. A great many player that he has played with and competed against in the FIBA Centrobasket tournament in 2014 could only dream of reaching that point.

So here and now, on the night of June 23, Hield couldn’t help but to reflect on the journey.

“I’m so happy,” he told the assembled media. “Not only for me, but for all the kids back in the Bahamas. The norm is that we never make it out there.”

Dashed hopes and lack of opportunity is synonymous with Caribbean basketball culture, and Skal Labissiere would cosign that sentiment, as well.

“I’m just happy for the Bahamas, really. Put them back on the map,” Hield said.

But even more so than that, Hield recognizes that with the likes of Jamaicans Samardo Samuels, Jerome Jordan and incoming rookie Shevon Thompson (who sources say is “close” on landing a summer league deal with an NBA team), as well as the overall growth of the game of basketball in the Caribbean, that the region needs to be scouted more closely.

“For sure, no doubt,” Hield said when I asked whether there are other undiscovered talents in the region.

“I think the Caribbean has been overlooked because guys don’t really have the resources to get out and guys are less fortunate to make it to the U.S. and get scholarships and for people to come down and see them.

“You think about the Bahamas, you think it’s this island full of beaches and chilling on the beach, but there’s a lot of freak athletes down there that can play, and a lot of guys better than me who I feel like didn’t get an opportunity like me. But when I got my opportunity, I took full advantage of it.”

There is something to be said for being in the right place in the right time, and there certainly is something to be said for being discovered. But there is a lot more that needs to be said about a young prospect who takes advantage of the opportunities he’s been afforded and pursues his goals with the tireless zeal that success requires.

* * * * * *

During the 2005-06 NBA season, after the departure of Phil Jackson and the unexpected resignation of Rudy Tomjanovich, Kobe Bryant did all that he could to ensure that the Los Angeles Lakers missing the playoffs in 2005 would not be something that would be repeated.

With Jackson surprisingly re-assuming the helm in Los Angeles, during his first year back, Bryant turned in his most historic season. En route to a 35.4 points per game average, it was during this fateful season that Bryant both scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors and turned in a mystifying 62-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks. What made the feat against the Mavericks such an inspiration was that Bryant both scored all 62 of those points in three quarters and actually outscored the entire Mavericks team after three quarters, 62-61.

All the while, far, far away, Bryant was helping Hield to realize he loved the game.

“I saw Kobe Bryant playing,” Hield said with a smile when asked what caused him to pick up the basketball. “About 12 or 13 years old, it was something I fell in love with,” he said.

“I wasn’t the best, so I kept on working and working until I got my opportunity.”

But until that opportunity availed, Hield did all that he could do to ensure he would be ready. When asked about what kind of court condition he encountered, Hield would reveal that his first court was a “crate court” that he built himself in his grandmother’s backyard.

It was there that Hield began laying the foundation for what promises to be a stellar career.

Shevon Thompson, the former forward from George Mason University who grew up in Clarendon, Jamaica, recalled having to paint his own lines on his court and assemble and erect hoops and backboards. Mind you, Thompson wasn’t doing that at his grandmother’s house, he was doing it at his high school—Vere Technical.

In the Caribbean, these circumstances are typical. So know, anytime a Caribbean national bursts onto the scene at even the high school level in North America, that an immense amount of perseverance has likely taken place already.

With these types of players, the love for the game is real and the motivation is sincere.

That’s exactly why the smart money is on Buddy Hield.

With milk crates as his building blocks, this is an opportunity that Hield made with his bare hands.

* * * * * * *

In the moments after Adam Silver announced him as the sixth overall pick of the draft, Hield got a first-hand look at what the demands would be like. Being whisked around from corner to corner of Barclays Center, he shakes more hands than he can count and passes me no less than a half-dozen times.

With Bahamian media making the trip to New York City to see their own carry their hopes and dreams with him, Hield walks past the Brooklyn Nets locker room with an entourage that rivals Floyd Mayweather’s.

It would be reasonable to think that not all of the individuals are with Hield, but the unmistakable tone of Bahamian accents and Pelicans baseball caps would quickly convince anyone otherwise.

Without a doubt, Hield has brought his hometown of Eight Mile Rock with him.

And without a doubt, they are all in good hands.

“I already have something in mind to do, ready to do this summer, a camp,” Hield revealed.

“I just want to show the kids back home that there is a way,” he says. “If you really work toward your dream and push yourself and you have the right people behind you, you can make it.

“I’m just trying to motivate those kids back home because there’s a lot of great players back home that didn’t get what I got and now hopefully, people in America can get to see ‘Okay, there might be another Buddy down there,’” he says.

Personally, I have no doubt that there are more talented basketball players down in the Caribbean. But I also have no doubt that there is no other Buddy Hield down there—or anywhere.

Coming off of a disappointing season, the New Orleans Pelicans will look to Hield to make an immediate impact. And although it may be a tad soon to anoint him a perennial All-Star or a Hall-of-Famer, we know that Hield will put everything he has into fulfilling his true potential.

By virtue of merely getting to this point, in many ways, Hield has already shown us what he’s made of.

It just so happens to be the stuff that stars are made of, as well. By merely getting to this point, Buddy Hield has already proven that much.

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NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role

Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.

David Yapkowitz

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It was the last game of the 2016-17 NBA season. The Minnesota Timberwolves had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for quite some time. Their opponent that night, the Houston Rockets, had an impressive year and were on their way to the postseason.

Although the Wolves would go on to lose that game, 123-118, Tyus Jones came off the bench to have to his best game of the year. He would finish with 17 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the three-point line, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.

Jones had just finished up his second year in the NBA, which had gone a little bit just like his first; a few games played here and there followed by some DNP-CD’s. Rookie Kris Dunn was ahead of him on the depth chart at backup point guard for the majority of the year. That stat line he put up on the last night of the season, however, should have been a sign of things to come.

Now in his third year, and second playing under Tom Thibodeau, Jones has firmly seized the backup point guard spot. Thibodeau is notorious for playing short rotations, and along with Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng, Jones has solidified himself as one of Minnesota’s most dependable reserves.

“It’s been good, I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as possible,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win more games.”

The Timberwolves have done just that so far. They won 31 games all of last season. This year, they already have 16 wins. They didn’t break that mark last season until mid-January. Jones’ impact on the Wolves this year has been a big reason for that.

His stats may not jump off the page; he’s averaging 3.9 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, and 2.8 assists in about 17 minutes of play. But he’s become a reliable floor leader who is able to anchor the Wolves second unit. He’s also one of their best floor spacers at 38.2 percent from the three-point line, and he’s an improved defensive player.

“For me, having a little bit bigger role this year, it’s what I wanted,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of it.”

Jones has definitely taken advantage of his new role. Starting point guard Jeff Teague missed four games last month due to a sore right Achilles tendon. Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague for the first game he missed, but Jones was the starter for the next three.

In his first ever career start on Nov. 26 in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Jones had nine points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. The following game, albeit in a loss to the Washington Wizards, he finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. In his final start before Teague returned, a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had his best game of the season with 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.

“It was a dream, I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Jones told Basketball Insiders about being a starter. “Once again, take advantage of the opportunity and just do my role.”

Although Jones only spent one season playing college basketball before entering the NBA draft, it was the program he attended that’s allowed him to make a seamless transition. He played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski during the 2014-15 season, winning a national championship alongside fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook.

“It’s the best program in the country. Coach K is the best coach, arguably ever, to coach the game,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “There’s nothing comparable on the college level, playing at Duke. They’re the brightest lights, so that helps prepare you for the next level.”

The Wolves are a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It was the 2003-04 season, to be exact. This year, however, they are hoping to change that. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, fighting for the right to host a playoff series in the first round.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s our goal right now,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Each year, we’re trying to get better. We’re still trying to take that next step. This organization hasn’t been to the playoffs in a number of years.”

With Jones playing a pivotal role, the Wolves’ playoff drought looks like it will be coming to an end very shortly.

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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers

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The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.

By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.

For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.

A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.

stockdown456. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)

Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.

This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.

Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.

Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.

stockup455. Joel Embiid (Last Week: 6)

Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.

The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.

In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.

After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.

Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.

stockup454. Kyrie Irving (Last Week: 5)

Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.

Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.

Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.

At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.

stockup453. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Last Week: 4)

The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.

Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.

As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.

stocknochanges452. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)

After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.

No big deal.

That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.

Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.

Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.

stocknochanges451. James Harden (Last Week: 1)

The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.

James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.

Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.

What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.

On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.

LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.

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NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?

The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?

Steve Kyler

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At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work

The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?

Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.

All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:

Not Enough Touches

The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.

That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.

It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.

That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.

Russ Has To Be Russ

When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.

The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.

Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.

Where’d Offense Go?

The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.

Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.

It’s Not A Selfish Problem

The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.

Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.

But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.

All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.

It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.

That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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