Before exploding for one of the most impressive individual seasons in recent memory, Buddy Hield had reached out to the NBA for some feedback on his 2015 draft stock.
"From what I got from the [NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee], I need to improve my ball-handling and how to create a shot," Hield told the Tulsa World's Patrick Prince at the time he announced his decision to come back for his senior year.
Mission accomplished for Hield, who made the recommended adjustments while taking his shooting to an unparalleled level.
Leading Oklahoma to a Final Four appearance only strengthens his reputation. Viewed as a fringe first-round option just one year ago, he may now have a chance at being one of the first five players called in June.
|Buddy Hield 2015-16 Numbers|
It's tough to have a better shooting year than Hield did, having averaged 4.0 three-point makes per game while shooting 45.7 percent from deep and 88.0 percent from the line. He's the only player (since 1995) to average 25 points and register a true shooting percentage of at least 65 percent, according to Sports-Reference.com.
The only negative stat tied to Hield is his 2.3 assists per 40 minutes. Though his role was to score, playmaking isn't a big part of his game.
He's not overly tall, but Hield has a strong 215-pound frame and some bounce depending on the angle he's taking off from.
His strengths ultimately revolve around spectacular shot-making ability. He has an effortless, flick-of-the-wrist stroke and NBA three-point range, sinking an incredible 147 threes as a senior and at least 90 in the two seasons preceding.
Comfortable converting with hands in his face, Hield needs little room to release. That, along with visible confidence, leads to streak shooting and points in bunches.
An obvious spot-up threat, Hield also uses down and flare screens to free himself up off the ball. And he's sharpened his one-on-one game around the perimeter, showing the ability to create space in small-window areas, thanks to improved ball-handling and footwork.
Though not known for his explosiveness, he loves to get out in transition both as an attacker and shooter before defenses can set (61 two-pointers, 35 threes within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, per Hoop-Math.com).
Hield is also bound to win over executives during interviews. Teams who put extra stock in character are going to think highly of him. The fact that he improved as much as he did highlights his coachability, work ethic and desire.
"Everyone around him raves about how much work he puts in each year, and that work ethic and character will help him at the next level," a scout told ESPN The Magazine's Carl Carchia.
Hield measured under 6'5" last summer at the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy. He's considered undersized for a traditional 2-guard who doesn't split time at the point.
Hield doesn't compensate with explosive athleticism, either. He's a good athlete—not a great one. Finishing at the rim can be a challenge for him.
Though he's improved his pull-up and step-back game, Hield only hit 31 two-point jumpers in 37 games, per Hoop-Math.com. His in-between game isn't the sharpest.
He also relies heavily on his jumper. And if it isn't falling, there is a chance he can be a non-factor, considering he doesn't offer playmaking or difference-making defense.
Beal (6'4 ¾" size, 6'8" wingspan, 202 lbs) and Hield (6'4 ½", 6'8 ½" wingspan, 215 lbs) share similar measurements and levels of athleticism. And 10 years from now, their jumpers will have made them most of their money.
Neither can wear the combo guard label, given each player's limited setup and passing skills. These are perimeter scorers who can catch fire and slice to the hoop in line drives.
Another successful, undersized off-guard, Redick is averaging 16.3 points per game this season in a complementary role.
There is a decent chance Hield never emerges as a top-two scorer for his team. But his game could resembles Redick's—a third option who capitalizes on the jump-shot opportunities that find him within the flow of the offense. For what it's worth, their senior-year college numbers look similar (Redick: 26.8 points, 3.9 threes, 42.1 percent from three, 47.0 percent from the floor, 2.6 assists).
Just as Redick did from his time in Orlando to his time in L.A., Hield must become a better system defender and passer.
The book says Hield's ceiling shouldn't be overly high given his age (22), size and lack of standout athleticism. But if you're picking a prospect to beat the odds and defy the rules of upside, he's a solid candidate.
Based on his elite shot-making ability, well-documented work ethic and the fact he's made a habit of getting better each year, Hield has the chance to be special without meeting the traditional predraft requirements.
I wouldn't bet on it, but if we look back 10 years from now and Hield was a multiple-time All-Star, I wouldn't be shocked.
Hield's floor is high, given the value attached to his shooting and the likelihood it carries over. He won't be a bust just because he's an inch or two too short.
If it turns out he struggles to create quality looks and his off-the-dribble game plateaus, he'll settle into the league as some type of shooting specialist. Kevin Martin seems like a reasonable worst-case scenario.
He's going to be a franchise cornerstone and long-term starter for some team at the 2-guard position. I'm not ready to proclaim him a future All-Star lock, but I expect he'll be a high-level producer averaging 15-20 points during his prime.
In what appears to be an underwhelming 2016 draft field, Hield's "sure thing" vibes could draw legitimate top-five overall interest. Depending on who lands the No. 3 pick, he could even follow LSU's Ben Simmons and Duke's Brandon Ingram.