Looking Back at Buddy Hield’s Breakout Season

Darren Yamashita – USA TODAY Sports

After Buddy Hield was shipped off by the New Orleans Pelicans to the Sacramento Kings as part of a trade package for DeMarcus Cousins in 2017, it was widely considered a robbery for New Orleans. After all, Cousins was arguably the best center in the entire league. However, things didn’t turn out quite as people expected. Two and a half years later, Buddy Hield has emerged as the most valuable piece of that infamous transaction.1


Hield’s greatest skill has always been his jump shooting prowess. In his senior year at the University of Oklahoma, Hield connected on 45.7% of his 8.7 three-point attempts per game. On the season, he hit 147 shots from beyond the arc, which was good for the 5th highest single-season total in NCAA history at the time.2 In his third season as a professional, Hield has finally translated his elite shooting to the NBA.

Only seven players matched Hield’s volume from deep last season — all of whom are regarded as elite shooters. Among these players, only Stephen Curry boasted a three-point percentage on Hield’s level. It’s certainly not a bad thing to be mentioned in the same vein as the greatest shooter in the history of basketball. While Hield is not at Curry’s level as a pure shooter, he has inarguably propelled himself into the upper tier of the league’s sharpshooters.

Of course, it would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that Hield’s shot selection includes far more open catch-and-shoot shots than a primary ball-handler like Damian Lillard or Kemba Walker. Let’s compare the league’s best shooters’ results on shooting wide-open three-pointers.3

While Hield certainly does shoot more open three-pointers than the average player, his elite efficiency on these shots is unquestionable. Once again, only Stephen Curry matches Hield in both volume and efficiency on these shots.

Finally, we can account for the other variable which often skews data on three-pointers: shot type. Over the past six years (since the data began to be tracked in the 2013-14 season), players have hit 37.11% of C&S three-pointers while maintaining a meager 31.65% success rate on pull-up three-pointers. As previously mentioned, an off-ball player like Hield will tend to shoot more C&S three-pointers than a point guard like Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, or Kyrie Irving. So, let’s take this one step further and take a look at the league’s most efficient catch-and-shoot three-point specialists.

Yet again, Hield is among the exclusive tier of shooters that are comfortably ahead of rest of the pack. On all three of these graphs, four specific names consistently pop up at the top: Joe Harris, Danny Green, Stephen Curry, and Buddy Hield. At 26-years-old, Hield is also the youngest player in this elite group. No matter how you slice it up, Buddy Hield is one of the NBA’s absolute best three-point shooters.

While I adjusted for these various factors throughout this article for the sake of discussion, it’s important to mention that creating wide-open shooting opportunities is a skill. Hield covered the second most distance in the league last season (on the court, if it wasn’t obvious) and boasted the third-highest average speed on offense. Why is that relevant? It means that he is moving around with haste and volume on the offensive side of the ball, even when he doesn’t personally have the ball.

He isn’t just standing in the corner like P.J. Tucker might in the Houston Rockets offense. His off-ball movement is creating better opportunities for himself, which makes him more valuable in and of itself. Fellow Sacramento King De’Aaron Fox said it well: “He’s definitely one of the best guys in the league with movement off the ball. He shoots so well, so he doesn’t need to stand in one spot. He scores in a variety of ways.”

While this article primarily focused on Hield’s aptitude as a jump shooter, he is certainly not a one-dimensional player. He averaged 5.0 rebounds per game last season, sixth-most in the league among shooting guards.4 He also saved 0.48 points per 100 possessions in individual defensive matchups over the last two seasons. That’s not particularly great, but it’s still above average. Hield’s defense has also appeared to steadily improve every season he has been in the league. He’s already an efficient 20 PPG scorer, an elite rebounder for his size, and one of the league’s best perimeter shooters. Any further improvement at all would just be the cherry on top.


 

  1. To be fair, I don’t think the Pelicans are kicking themselves over the outcome. They may not have eventually landed Zion Williamson if they had held onto Hield.
  2. Hield’s senior year has been demoted to seventh place after Fletcher Magee surpassed him twice. I imagine he’ll continue to fall down the standings as the three-point shot becomes increasingly prevalent.
  3. According to stats.nba.com, a shot is wide open if the nearest defender is 6+ feet away from the shooter at the time of the shot.
  4. One of the players listed above Hield was Jimmy Butler. I’m honestly not sure why he’s listed as a shooting guard considering he played small forward for 77% of his minutes last season. The other four players (Jeremy Lamb, Luka Doncic, Bradley Beal, and DeMar DeRozan) are also all listed at a higher height than Hield.

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