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Buddy Hield Caught in Tough Situation

As the foundation of the Cousins trade and compared to Stephen Curry, Buddy Hield faces unfair expectations in Sacramento.



As the 2017 All-Star game was wrapping up, a few NBA journalists started reporting that the Sacramento Kings had agreed to trade DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. Sacramento ultimately agreed to trade Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans in exchange for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick.

The immediate response to the deal from people in and around the NBA was clear – the Pelicans unquestionably got the better end of the deal. These days, every significant trade is instantly analyzed and winners and losers are determined. Here, it would be easy to say that the Kings are the losers (though it does seem that the market was lukewarm for Cousins). But the party that ended up in the toughest situation is arguably Buddy Hield.

Hield, a rookie shooting guard who played four years of college ball at Oklahoma, was always going to be in a tough position as the headline player in Sacramento’s return package. But making matters worse for Hield was this tweet from Baxter Holmes of ESPN regarding Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé.

With that, Hield automatically faces even more pressure than he would already be subjected to as a result of the dynamics of this trade. Kings fans already have to deal with the harsh reality that their franchise center is gone and the return was less than most expected. Now, they have to also consider the fact that Sacramento may have received less than they would have as a result of Ranadivé’s belief that Hield has “Steph Curry potential.”

In May of 2016, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express (one of the best sites covering college hoops and the NBA Draft) wrote this about Hield:

“Hield’s perimeter shooting is as good of a place as any to start the conversation about his offensive game. His 147 3-pointers made (in 37 games) was by far the highest mark among all college players this year, and is tied for the highest total mark any college basketball player has achieved since Steph Curry made 162 back in 2008.

“What’s impressive about Hield’s 3-point shooting isn’t just the huge volume of makes this season, it’s also the incredible accuracy, at 46%.”

By comparison, this is what Matt Kamalsky of Draft Express said about Curry in 2009 – the year he was selected by the Golden State Warriors in the draft:

“Projecting him to the next level, Curry is an interesting case. He’s likely to do a lot of his damage in spot up situations in the NBA, but got only 8.9% of his possessions off of spot ups last seasons. He’s not likely to use a lot of one-on-one possessions, but he used 8.6 per game last season (1st). Averaging 8.3 isolations per game (68.3% Left), Curry probably won’t sniff half that number next season. In terms of guard play, his 41% shooting in transition ranks second to last, showing how hard he was pressing to score, but his 1.3 PPP on the pick and roll is excellent—which leaves a lot of room for optimism. He did use 2.6 possessions per game as a jump shooter running off of screens, so he does have a nice base of experience there, but it is notable how far apart Curry’s role in the NCAA was from the role he is likely to play in the NBA.”

As you can see, it’s not always easy to assess a young prospect’s talent or potential. Curry made an improbable leap in his fourth NBA season after struggling with significant ankle injuries, and has continued to refine his game. Hield may never make a similar leap in his game, but he also could end up being a pretty solid pro. Despite our collective desire to say what a player may or may not become, the truth is we really don’t know what kind of player Hield may ultimately develop into.

Part of the reason why many doubt Hield can be a star-caliber player is because of his age, and the fact that he already made a significant leap in his game during his senior season at Oklahoma. Indeed, Hield averaged 25 points, 5.7 rebounds, two assists and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from beyond the arc. As a senior, he won the John R. Wooden Award, Naismith College Player of the Year, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Sporting News College Player of the Year, the Jerry West Award and was a Consensus first-team All-American.

That impressive résumé hasn’t instantly translated to the NBA. Hield is averaging 8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from distance. Hield isn’t a particularly explosive player, isn’t an exceptional playmaker from the shooting guard position and has been very streaky throughout the season. However, Hield is particularly good at pulling up at the three-point line in transition, can be deadly in catch-and-shoot situations, has effortless mechanics on his shot and, for the most part, doesn’t try to do too much. With some more experience and refinement in his game, it’s likely that Hield could become an above average starter. While that may not entice Kings fans who wanted a star in return for Cousins, that doesn’t mean Hield should be faulted or viewed negatively – he didn’t ask to be the centerpiece of a trade for a franchise player. And who knows? Maybe Hield will eventually become a star despite the doubts surrounding his game much the way Curry did a few years ago.

The opportunity is there for Hield to become a go-to scorer in Sacramento, expand his game and prove that he was a worthwhile target in trading Cousins. Hield has proven himself to be a hard worker, a good teammate and talented player. But between being the signature acquisition in the swap for Cousins and Ranadivé reportedly believing that Hield has Steph Curry potential, he faces an uphill battle to meet unfair expectations.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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