Except in the rarest of cases, the transition from college to the NBA will always have its fair share of rough patches. Even players typically touted as NBA-ready have to make adjustments to their game in order to find success at the next level. Right now, Buddy Hield is finding that out the hard way.
Hield, the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft, was regarded as the most ready prospect. His age and shooting stroke figured to be two things that would give him an edge over his fellow rookies in the dawn of their careers. Whereas players such as Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram, and Dragan Bender were all fascinating because of their seemingly infinite potential, Hield represented a sure thing, if nothing else.
Maybe he won’t grow into a 20 points per game scorer or a perennial all-star, but he can be a knockdown shooter, which is a necessity for every team in today’s league.
But, 28 games into his pro career, Hield has not been able to find much consistency with his shot. He’s shooting 31.6% from distance and just 37.8% overall. While it’s way too early for concern, it is a bit unusual for a college sharpshooter to post percentages so low. In fact, if that efficiency rate is more a statement on Hield’s overall shooting ability than it is rookie struggles, it may not be farfetched to question if he ever becomes the knockdown shooter many predicted he would.
Shooting is one of the skills that often carries over from the college ranks, and when looking at how some of the best college shooters have performed in the NBA, even in their rookie years, it’s easy to see why there was a good deal of optimism around Hield’s ability to not bust in the big leagues.
To this point, Hield is only outdoing Kyle Lowry, and Lowry hardly shot the long ball in his first few seasons.
Looking deeper, Hield was actually below average in three-point shooting efficiency in three out of his four college seasons, when compared to those players. It was a slow rise to the top for Hield in the collegiate game. He cracked only 40% once from deep, and that was in his transcendent senior year. No other player had their percentages fluctuate as much as he did.
Perhaps it was through hard work and hours spent in the gym that helped Hield transformed into the best college marksman since Steph Curry, but there’s a chance it was also a flash in the pan. One remarkable stretch by a player who may only top out as a slightly above average shooter in the league. And for a Pelicans team that desperately needs a star to pair with Anthony Davis, above average is not going to cut it for a first round selection.
It might suffice, however, if Hield could augment his offensive game by becoming more proficient in other areas. As was the case in college, Hield hasn’t flashed much potential as a playmaker or ball handler.
Despite being 12th among rookies in minutes per game, he is 21st in assists, and 21st in assist to turnover ratio. Hield doesn’t have to be an elite passer in order to be a successful player, but it is another part of his game that will have to develop in order for him to compliment the Pelicans’ star big man.
Still, there are reasons to be optimistic, and no career is defined midway through a player’s rookie year. There’s a chance Hield becomes more efficient as the season carries on, and we’re already starting to see signs of that being exactly the case.
In fact, since moving into the starting lineup, Hield is shooting a scorching 46.2% from deep on nearly five attempts per game and is hitting half of his long-balls overall in the month of December. He’s also up to 36.8% on the season on catch and shoot 3’s. Slowly but surely, Hield is starting to display the shooting touch that made him so dangerous at Oklahoma last year.
And while he’ll likely never be the type of player who can break down defenders off the dribble, he has also looked good getting his own shot in the pick and roll. The shots haven’t been falling yet, but if continues to get looks like this he should eventually be able to knock them down:
It hasn’t been as smooth a transition as some thought it would be, but expecting Hield to come out on fire right out of the gate was unfair and unrealistic. Rookies need time to find their rhythm and he is no different. Every game he’s getting more comfortable, and the more time he spends alongside players like Davis and Jrue Holiday, the more productive he’ll be. If he can keep up his hot shooting, he’ll fill a need for the Pelicans this season. As for the future, Buddy has always been a late bloomer. But the future of the franchise may very well depend on his accelerated development.