The New Orleans Pelicans left the 2016 NBA Draft with two new players on their roster; sixth overall pick Buddy Hield, and Cheick Diallo, who was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. The two rookies were considered about as far apart as possible on the spectrum of NBA-readiness, with Hield being a four-year college player and Diallo being a one-and-done player, who barely played for the Kansas Jayhawks.
Both figured to feature prominently on the Pelicans’ summer league squad, and feature they did.
Hield and Diallo were the team’s two top scorers throughout the five summer league games, with Hield averaging 16.8 points per contest, and Diallo 10.8. Summer League stats can be misleading (and often times irrelevant). However, the point totals are hardly a reflection of how either player fared throughout the week. There were plenty of struggles, (reflected in the team's 1-4 record), but their two draft picks showed enough flashes to have both fans of the team, and the front office optimistic about what’s to come.
In his senior year at Oklahoma, Hield was one of the prolific players in the Nation.
He was awarded the Oscar Robertson Trophy, named the John R. Wooden Player of the Year, and the Naismith College Player of the Year, as he averaged 25 points per game and led all players in 3 pointers made. Still, there were concerns about his ability to play in the league. One area he needed to (and still does) improve upon is his ability to create off the dribble.
This was apparent during the summer circuit, especially when he faced off against NBA caliber defenders, there were many times he couldn’t even get his shot off.
Against Jabari Brown here, he’s unable to create separation off of the pick, and has to give the ball up. Later on in the game, in an isolation situation, Buddy’s lack of burst was apparent, as the defender stands him up completely, forcing the pass.
It didn’t get much better for him as the games rolled on in Vegas either. Against Tyrone Wallace, a 6’6 swingman with a near 6’10 wingspan, Hield struggled to turn the corner.
Because of his inability to get to the rim, tough step-back jumpers are usually his only option other than passing out of the shot. Against the lengthy defenders of the NBA, those types of looks aren’t going to cut it (unless your name is Kobe Bryant). Buddy will have to improve his off the dribble game tremendously if he wants to live up to the expectations that come with being a top 10 pick.
One issue that stems from a player being unable to turn the corner is that they end up getting called for a lot of offensive fouls. When the Pelicans faced off against the Miami Heat, this became an issue for Hield.
If the Pelicans remain healthy (a big if), it’s unlikely that Hield will have the burden of creating his own offense, so these issues may not be that big of a deal right away. There are other problems, however, that may end up effecting his playing time this season, and if the summer league is any indication, it may not be Buddy’s offensive inconsistencies that cost him minutes, but rather his lack of attentiveness on defense.
Coming out of college, Hield wasn’t known as a particularly strong defender, but he has a good frame (he’s 6’5 with a 6’9 wingspan) and is a hard worker; two things that are required to be a good defender. The Pelicans ranked near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency last season, and after signing defensive minded players such as Langston Galloway and Solomon Hill, it’s hard to envision the team giving heavy minutes to a player who may compromise their ability to improve on that end. Hield was consistently lost off the ball, failing to locate his man through the summer league games. Often times these spats of unawareness resulted in back door cuts and put-backs.
He was also prone to giving up open three pointers, usually as a result of being unable to keep track of his assignment after giving help on defense.
Hield gets sucked into the middle here, and eventually ends up in no man’s land. He does manage a late contest, but when NBA players are able to catch and shoot in rhythm, the battle on defense is already lost. A young player losing focus on defense in summer league is one thing, but there were instances where Buddy seemed to completely zone out.
On this play, Buddy simply fails to realize that it’s his man loading up to shoot at the top of the key. He defends the initial action well enough, leading the ball handler away from the middle and towards the help, but he appears to just lose interest afterword’s.
Similarly against the Lakers, Buddy does his job on the first action. He helps over to guard the roll man, but he stays too long (guarding no one in the end), abandoning his man in the corner, a huge no-no in the NBA game.
Buddy undeniably has a lot of things he needs to clean up and improve upon before he’s ready to be a true contributor at the next level, but he did do a lot of good things throughout the summer. He averaged nearly four assists per game in his first stretch of games as a pro, and showed the ability to make a variety of reads he never truly showcased throughout his college career (he averaged only two assists per game with 3.1 turnovers in his breakout senior year), and looked good in pick-and-roll situations.
And although he didn’t get into the paint too frequently, when he did he was very effective at kicking it out to open shooters.
It’s unlikely that Hield will ever develop into a primary ball handler, but if he can become a consistent threat running the pick-and-roll, that should be enough to compliment the rest of his skill-set.
Speaking of that skill-set, it’s no secret that a lot of the hype surrounding the 22 year old Bahamian stems from his shooting prowess, especially from what many call “Steph Curry range." He didn’t shoot well in the summer league (almost no one does, especially high draft picks), but there were many plays where fans were able to see exactly what makes him so enticing as a shooter.
His balance and footwork coming off the screen is nearly picture perfect, and where many notable shooters coming out of college are praised merely for their ability to spot up and shoot, Buddy excels in almost all facets of NBA marksmanship. He doesn’t need much time to get his shot off either, as his quick release allows him to get his shot off no matter the proximity of his defender.
Summer league games should never be used as an indictment against a player, nor are they typically an indicator of future success. In a lot of cases, they serve to confirm what we already know about a player coming out of college or coming over from overseas. It’s just a good way for young players to get their feet wet, and for veterans to try and make it back into the league. When it comes to Buddy Hield, we got a little more than that. We learned that his struggles on the defensive end may have been a little understated, and that his playmaking abilities are better than most thought.
One stigmatism against drafting four year college players is that they don’t have as much room for growth as their one-and-done counterparts. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that players such as Hield have already reached their ceilings. He still has a lot to learn and improve on. He plays with good intentions on both sides of the ball, and his shooting ability will make his transition easier than most players. Buddy is a hard worker, and no one will more motivated to prove the pundits wrong than he’ll be. If he does, the Pelicans may have gotten a steal with the sixth pick in the draft.