Four years of college hoops transformed Buddy Hield into "Buddy Buckets" and skyrocketed his draft stock.
He would have been a fringe first-rounder had he left Oklahoma a year earlier, but delaying his decision allowed him to strike when the iron was hottest. With both the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy on his resume, Hield lasted just six selections into the 2016 talent grab, and the New Orleans Pelicans gladly snatched him up.
"We targeted Buddy. He's the guy we wanted here," Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said, per ESPN.com's Justin Verrier. "We wanted Buddy in a Pelican uniform. He's one of the guys when we came into the draft we were hoping to walk out with."
On paper, Hield packs NBA-ready perimeter punch, which New Orleans badly needed to spark its offense and provide some relief for franchise face Anthony Davis. During Hield's final collegiate campaign, he unleashed a historically significant combination of volume and efficiency, becoming the first player since at least 1993-94 to average 25 points per game and post a 65-plus true shooting percentage.
His shooting range is real and ridiculous, but his five-game run at the Las Vegas Summer League showed there's plenty of work remaining. He impressed in the counting categories—16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game—but those quantities lacked quality. Hield had some hot-shooting streaks but enough cold ones to keep his percentages at 32.7 from the field and 22.9 from outside.
"I know it's not me to be out there missing too many shots," Hield said in Vegas, per NOLA.com's John Reid. "But it's the growing pains that I have to go through."
The 22-year-old can't skip any steps in his development process, but the Pelicans can accelerate it by granting him a sizable piece of their regular-season rotation.
As good as Hield would look in any NBA market, he's particularly appealing in the Big Easy. His potential to make opening-night contributions fits Demps' philosophy, and Hield's potent perimeter game plays perfectly into head coach Alvin Gentry's offensive plans.
Gentry honed his craft under "seven-seconds-or-less" architect Mike D'Antoni, meaning priorities are quick-strike scores and three-point shots. Hield checks both boxes: His range extends well beyond the arc, and his stroke is lightning-quick. Defenses must track his every move, and if he's overcrowded outside, he has the athleticism to finish plays around the rim.
New Orleans needs an active, accurate marksman to pull defenses away from Davis and offset the departures of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, the Pelicans' lone snipers to hit 100-plus triples last season. This team doesn't have to press Hield into action, but Tyreke Evans (knee) won't be ready to start the season, and the likes of E'Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway can't match Hield's upside.
"Things are set up in [Hield's] favor for this Pelicans team because of his positioning on the totem pole," CBS Sports' Zach Harper wrote. "All he has to do is learn to play team defense, not be a red carpet in man-to-man defense and knock down shots when given the opportunity."
While Hield's summer-league struggles shouldn't be dismissed, they carry an asterisk. He was featured on opponent's scouting reports, which won't be the case when Davis and Jrue Holiday are on the floor. Not to mention, Hield's catch-and-shoot stroke should be dangerous when he's racing around screens set by Davis and Omer Asik.
The rate of Hield's growth as both a playmaker and defender could determine how quickly he cracks the starting lineup. But regardless of whether he's an opener or an instant-offense reserve, he won't be starving for playing time in 2016-17.
It's obvious where Hield will make his greatest mark: as a three-point assassin. But he can struggle to manufacture shots when his first option isn't available. His three-point percentage dropped 12 points from catch-and-shoot looks (48.9) to those he had to set up off the dribble (37.2), per DraftExpress, and his paltry Sin City shooting rates show difficulty in creating separation.
The Pelicans will welcome his set-foot sniping either way. They ranked 15th in made triples last season, despite playing at the 11th-fastest pace. And that was with Gordon and Anderson combining for 244 treys at a 37.4 percent clip. But New Orleans needs Hield to bring some off-the-bounce production so defenses have a harder time limiting his scoring.
That's especially true given the fact he may not immediately bring much else to the table.
"If [his shot] isn't falling, there is a chance he can be a non-factor, considering he doesn't offer playmaking or difference-making defense," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman.
In college, Hield averaged just 1.9 assists against 2.2 turnovers per game. Granted, the Sooners asked him to have a score-first-second-and-third mentality, but shedding that won't automatically make him a better distributor.
He's improving as a defender, but he's not the type of stopper who can improve the Pelicans' 28th-ranked defense. He lacks great size (6'4") and elite quickness and might be limited in how many different assignments he can handle.
Hield has at least one NBA-caliber skill and a gym-rat mentality. Combine those with the likely substantial role he'll receive, and he should turn in one of the rookie class' better stat lines.
If he doesn't take the freshman scoring title, he'll be close to the top. His supporting stats may also increase as he moves from a featured scoring gig to more complementary tasks.
But he'll struggle with efficiency against NBA defenders, especially if New Orleans fails to take a step forward around him. He could be a more effective scorer beyond the arc than inside it, and his defense may top out at serviceable.
Still, the Pelicans need his shooting and scoring enough that they'll give him a lengthy leash. He has the talent to pounce on this opportunity, but expect Year 1 to include inevitable growing pains amid the dazzling perimeter displays and sporadic scoring outbursts.
Complete 2016-17 Stat Predictions
- Minutes: 30.2
- Points: 16.4
- Rebounds: 3.8
- Assists: 2.2
- Field-goal percentage: 41.3
- Three-point percentage: 37.2
- Steals: 0.9