What a difference a season makes. Buddy Hield wasn't even scheduled to start for the Kings last season when training camp opened, but a late summer knee injury to Bogdan Bogdanovic opened a door.
Hield took strides in every category for the Kings, including scoring, 3-point shooting and as a leader behind the scenes. His latest venture to fund raise for his native Bahamas is just another step in the maturation of a young player as he becomes a veteran player.
Entering the final year of his rookie-scale contract, Hield has plenty to prove this season. He was tremendous for Sacramento last season, but he'll need to do it again if he wants to maximize his next contract.
Hield will have every opportunity to lead the Kings in scoring for a second consecutive season, but with the team's depth, he has to be more than just a scorer.
Hield is a tireless worker and one of the best 3-point shooters in the game. Not only can he hit from anywhere, but he's managed to keep his long range percentage consistent despite a huge increase in volume. Through three seasons in the league, Hield has hit a remarkable 602 3-pointers, which is a league record and he's a career 41.9 percent shooter from behind the arc.
In addition to shooting, Hield can score with the best of them. He led Sacramento at 20.7 points per game last season and he notched 20 or more points in 44 out of 82 games last season, including seven games over 30 points.
Hield loves to get out on the break and finishes at the rim at a 67.1 percent clip. He's also a very solid mid-range shooter, knocking down 41.4 percent from 10-16 feet and 44.6 percent from 16 feet to the 3-point line.
A track star growing up, Hield finished fifth in the league in miles run per game at 2.67 and his 4.71 was tops amongst NBA regulars.
Not just a flashy scorer, Hield averaged five rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He's improved greatly as a defender, especially outside the 3-point line where he held his opponents to -1.5 percent on the season, although he has plenty of room for growth.
Hield posted consistent numbers all season long for Sacramento, but there is even more he can give as a scorer. As an elite shooter, Hield needs to be even more selfish at times. The Kings score 1.28 points per 3-point shot attempts from their starting shooting guard, which makes him a game changer.
From 3-10 feet, Hield shot just 24 percent on 121 attempts last year. Both of those numbers are bad news for Sacramento. Hield needs to work on a floater or just try harder to draw contact if he finds himself stuck in this range. The other option is to find a teammate or just realize that his is an area of weakness and avoid it.
Hield was a liability as a ball handler in his first season, but he's worked to improve. There are times when he over dribbles, but that comes with being a scorer. With zero dribbles, Hield shoots 50.6 percent. When he puts the ball on the floor for 3-6 bounces, his percent dips to 40.4 percent.
There is always room to improve on the defensive side of the ball and Hield is no exception. He's taken huge steps in his awareness, but he still struggles against elite guards. Opposing offenses have worked to isolate Hield as a defender, which will continue if he doesn't make strides forward.
While Hield was strong defending outside the 3-point line and held his own outside of 15 feet, he needs to show improvement overall. Adding defensive pieces around him should help and he expends plenty of energy on the offensive end.
During his second season, Hield averaged 1.5 steals per 36 minutes, but that number dropped to .8 last season. He needs to gamble a little more in the passing lanes and be more active on the defensive end overall.
Path to Improvement
While Hield improved in almost every facet of the game, he still has room to grow. He finished fifth in the NBA in 3-point field goal attempts with 651, but James Harden beat him by 377 attempts. He could average another one or two attempts per game, which would push his scoring average between 1.3 and 2.6 points per game.
Hield is a career 87.4 percent shooter from the free throw line. He improved his attempts from one a game to 2.4 from year two to year three, but he's still leaving more on the board. There are times where Hield avoids contact, but he needs to learn from Lou Williams how to draw the foul on the 3-point attempt.
On the defensive end, Hield has to get better. If he wants to play 32-34 minutes, he'll need to find a way to improve because De'Aaron Fox and Cory Joseph are both above average defenders and can steal minutes at the two, especially in late game situations.
Lasty, Hield isn't usually asked to initiate the offense, but he has room to grow as a passer. He draws a lot of attention with his ability to score and that opens a lot of opportunities for his teammates as well. If he can develop further as a passer, especially in the pick-and-roll, it will equate to more wins for the team.
Hield is either walking into the season with a giant contract extension or trying to prove that last season wasn't a fluke. He's an outstanding shooter and Luke Walton's offense is perfect for his game.
He can do more on the defensive end and as a passer, but Hield is a pure shooter with a motor that won't quit. He has an opportunity to not only match his numbers from last season, but take another step forward in his progress.
The Kings are deeper this year and players are going to be fighting for shots. Hield will get his fair share as a No. 2 option with the starters, but with Fox, Marvin Bagley and Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup, there are a lot of mouths to feed.
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An early prediction has Hield averaging around 21-22 points, five rebounds and three assists. He'll shoot above 42 percent from long range and shoot close to 10 3-point attempts per game this season in Walton's uptempo style.
He'll score in bunches and be one of the main cogs in the Kings' system. He'll also get a nice payday for his services.