Buddy Hield has big shoes to fill in Sacramento. So far, so good.
When Buddy Hield arrived in Sacramento on February 21st, he was met at the bottom of the airport escalator by a small contingency of passionate Kings fans. As soon as he stepped on the court two nights later, he was met by the immense pressure to succeed as the key returning piece in the DeMarcus Cousins trade. The pressure was put on by the fans, of course, but also by team owner Vivek Ranadive and his well-publicized fascination with Hield. It was reported that Ranadive had a fixation with the Oklahoma senior, dating back to the 2016 draft. ESPN reported that Sacramento was “praying” that Hield fell to them in the 8th spot, but instead traded down when he was selected by the Pelicans 6th overall. There was even a report that Ranadive had told Hield “we’re still going to get you” when the teams met earlier in the regular season.
Buddy Hield’s stint with the Pelicans lasted 57 games and was subpar. His shooting percentage was a lousy .392 and he averaged 8.6 points in 20 minutes per game. During a seven-game stretch at the end of November, Hield went 2 for 13 from behind the arc and shot just 25% from the field. He did, however, rebound from that rough stretch by having a great month of December. His efforts were good enough to be named Western Conference Rookie of the Month, leading West rookies with 10.6 points per game and a three-point field goal percentage of 47.8%. Hield was unable to maintain his hot streak into the New Year, as he cooled off slightly during his last 15 games in New Orleans.
So during the All-Star Break, with trade rumors swirling, the Pelicans dangled Hield in front of Sacramento. The Kings were eventually able to obtain their highly ranked prospect, though it came at the cost of the departure of the most talented and popular player in Sacramento in a decade.
In his first month, Buddy Hield has become the centerpiece of a rebuild that is full of raw talent and assets.
The Buddy Show got off to a hot start in Sacramento, as Hield scored in double figures in back to back games for the first time in over a month. In fact, in his 16 games in a Kings uniform, Hield has scored less than ten points just twice. His minutes were limited and monitored at first, as coach Dave Joerger toyed with the rotations. In his first four games with the Kings, Hield played 26 minutes and didn’t play for more than 30 in any of his first seven. While he regained his shooting touch and confidence, he began to struggle with ball security. His turnovers per 100 possessions shot up from 9.0 to 16.7 after the trade. Those seven games also saw Hield commit 21 turnovers as he learned his new role and became acclimated to his new teammates.
Hield’s first start for Sacramento came in a March 10th matchup against the Washington Wizards, then the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference. His 18 total points was his third highest output of his young career, and he played 37 minutes in a bitter overtime loss. The Kings held a 15 point lead heading into the 4th quarter, due in large part to Hield’s performance early in the game. He dropped 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting in the opening quarter, and added 5 more in the second. In the second half and overtime, however, his inconsistency as a rookie began to show. Hield went 0-6 when his team needed him most, adding 3 fouls and a pair of turnovers. One of those turnovers came on a 4 on 2 fast break with four minutes left in regulation. With two open teammates running the wings, Hield dribbled directly into traffic and the ball bounced off of his foot. The fumble resulted in the points the Wizards needed to tie the game for the first time since the first quarter.
In his eight games as a starter, Buddy Hield is averaging 18.7 points per game on 49% shooting. He has played 30+ minutes seven times and has begun to limit the turnovers. His usage percentage has surprisingly decreased despite his expanded production. He has learned to create his own shot a bit, as the percentage of his made 3 pointers that were assisted on decreased from 82% to 71%.
His two best games for Sacramento have come during the final week of March, and against formidable Western Conference opponents. In the March 24th contest against the Golden State Warriors, Buddy Hield recorded career highs in points (22), rebounds (8) and assists (7). Though a handful of his points were in garbage time, he was again responsible for keeping the Kings competitive early in the game. His ability to be a “microwave scorer” allowed him to score a quick seven points and keep the Kings within striking distance in a game in which they were 17 point underdogs.
Two nights later in Los Angeles, it was Buddy’s late game heroics that helped the Kings cap off one of the biggest comebacks in recent memory. Down by 18 points with 5 minutes remaining, the Kings turned on the jets. Hield scored 11 of his 15 points during the stretch, including a game-changing three-steal-three sequence that caused the Sacramento bench to erupt. The Kings won 98-97.
The first 16 games of Buddy Hield’s career in Sacramento have yielded mostly positive results. There are still rookie mistakes being made to go along with the inconsistencies that come along with young players. The fans haven’t forgotten about their beloved DeMarcus Cousins yet, but the process is coming along quicker than anyone expected, as Hield’s numbers are up across the board.