Buddy Hield is Finding his Way

After an up-and-down rookie season that trended upwards during his time in Sacramento, Buddy Hield has proven that he can be a key contributor for the long-term in his successful sophomore campaign.

Buddy Hield might always be tied to DeMarcus Cousins after the trade between the Pelicans and Kings that sent Buddy to Sacramento, but Hield is starting to forge his own destiny this season. After turning his rookie season around last year following his trade to Sacramento, Buddy has built on his play from the second half of last year in a solid sophomore campaign.

Hield has proven that his jump shot alone will be enough for him to forge a long NBA career. However, his defensive struggles both this season and last season would indicate that he will be an average defender at best--and will almost certainly be a below-average defender for the rest of his career. In the right role, Hield can be a crucial piece for Sacramento's next playoff contender. His shooting prowess and burgeoning off-ball game have made him one of the Kings' most important players this season, and Buddy will hopefully be a rotation mainstay in Sacramento for years to come.

Killer Sixth Man

Buddy Hield's all-offense and minimal defense skill set seem like a natural fit for a top-notch sixth man. Hield is more than capable of pouring in points against opposing bench players and can stay on the floor as a shooter in crunch-time lineups. While Hield has started at times this season, he appears to be far more suited to a role coming off the bench.S
Just as the eye test would peg the shot-happy Hield as a stellar bench gunner, the numbers also support the argument to bring Hield off the bench. In his 12 starts this season, Hield has put up miserable shooting numbers--his slash line of 39/35/92 looks just as bad as his rough 48.8% True Shooting mark. As a reserve, however, Hield's shooting takes a massive leap--his slash line of 46/44/89 (as well as his 57.4% True Shooting mark) would put him among the league's elite bench scorers.
Buddy not only shoots better coming off the bench but he also actually scores more points on fewer shots--he is averaging 13.6 points per game as a reserve but 12.8 points per game as a starter. Hield's below-average handle and athleticism make it tough for him to score against the league's best defenders. However, Hield's handle is good enough to allow his remarkable shooting touch to shine through as he can get to his spots more easily against backups.
The other good reason for Hield to continue to come off the bench going forward is in part due to his relative lack of athleticism. Hield struggled mightily on the defensive end as a rookie and has not been much better in his sophomore season. Hield ranks in the 24th percentile defensively per Synergy Sports. ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus paints a slightly more positive picture; Hield ranks 56th out of 110 shooting guards but still sports a -0.75 DRPM.
The good news is that there is still some chance that Hield could turn himself into at least a decent defensive player. Hield often looked lost in pick-and-roll coverage as a rookie and is still not adept at switching on that end of the floor--a necessary skill for a modern wing defender. However, Hield is actually quite solid in isolation--he ranks in the 79th percentile in isolation defense per Synergy Sports. Kings fans will have to hope that Hield can learn to read NBA defenses more quickly as he adjusts to the increased speed of the professional game, and his isolation stats are certainly a point in his favor.

Moving Forward

The Sacramento Kings are still early in their rebuilding process after shipping off their superstar last season. However, the team did at least manage to get some foundational pieces in return for DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings were never going to get anything close to equal value from Cousins, but Buddy Hield and Frank Mason (who the Kings drafted with a second-round pick that they got from the Pelicans) have already started to prove themselves as future building blocks for the Kings.
Buddy Hield was a superstar in college, but he might never reach that level of success in the NBA. However, Hield is already a solid sixth man in just his second NBA season. If he can continue to work on his handle and defensive awareness, Hield could earn a solid NBA reputation separate from his college identity or his identity as Sacramento's centerpiece in their return from the DeMarcus Cousins trade. Buddy Buckets has the scoring talent to anchor the Kings' bench for many years to come.
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