DETROIT — The Detroit Pistons couldn’t stop him, his sleight-of-hand dribble move was so quick that the officials couldn’t whistle him, so the last obstacle that was left for Sacramento Kings budding scorer Buddy Hield before escaping Detroit was a camerawoman carrying a cord a couple feet off the ground.
A collision seemed likely, but the third-year guard who just hit a barely off-balance buzzer-beater to complete a comeback wasn’t deterred.
“Thank God for my track background, I gave it a hurdle over the wire,” Hield joked after his first career game-winner Saturday night, topping off a 35-point night with seven 3-pointers for a surprising and exciting Kings squad challenging for a playoff spot for the first time in over a decade.
“We’ve made a huge jump in our pace,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s the benefactor of playing with a speed point guard and a stretched floor. Just gives us more opportunities. He can miss three or four in a row and then make 12 in a row. You want that in a shooter.”
Even though the Kings haven’t been drama-less, they’ve been entertaining and at the very least, there’s optimism that hasn’t been around since they were must-see TV at the turn of the millennium. Dare it be said, are the Kings competent? Are they building a potential winner?
De’Aaron Fox could be the league’s fastest player and he’s working perfectly with Hield, one of the league’s best shooters and most improved players. It’s easy to forget how heralded Hield was coming out of college and how he was expected to take the NBA by storm because of his quick-triggered shooting ability. A solid but unspectacular start didn’t so much as create a burden on Hield after his first two years, but being traded from New Orleans to Sacramento for franchise star DeMarcus Cousins on All-Star Weekend in 2017 and then promptly being compared to Stephen Curry by Kings owner Vivek Ranadive tend to boost expectations.
“It’s just the world we live in. If you’re not giving them what they want right now, they’re not gonna [mess] with you,” Hield told Yahoo Sports. “Everybody lives in now, now, now. It’s a process.”
That process included watching the Kings sign restricted free agent Zach LaVine — a player at his same position — to a $78 million offer sheet last July. The Chicago Bulls matched the offer, but if they hadn’t, Hield said he was ready to compete.
“What did I think about it? It’s all about being competitive,” Hield said. “The league’s competitive. They bring somebody else in, you just turn it up another notch. That’s all being a competitor and part of the business. [If] you pay a guy that much money to come here? Facts. Just raise my game up higher and have more awareness that this is a business and make them second-guess themselves.”
Hield said he spoke to Kings management and knew its plans ahead of time, but no one could blame him if he felt that was anything but a vote of confidence. He had already received validation from fellow Oklahoma Sooner Blake Griffin when the two worked out together during the offseason.
One would think the feeling was a bit wistful for Griffin, as Hield stunned the Pistons on a night in which the two combined for 73 points.
“He’s one of the guys I look up to, he’s a big brother,” Hield said. “He said you’re gonna be something special in this league, just keep working hard. He’s on me. He said you’re gonna lead a team, you’re gonna show everybody. He always had my back from Day 1.”
It is a bit tantalizing to think how Hield, Fox and LaVine would terrorize defenses by turning games into full-fledged track meets, but the Kings are moving quickly regardless. Hield’s 20.5 points per game are top 10 among shooting guards, while his 45.6 percent accuracy from 3-point range is a shade better than that Curry fellow in the Bay Area.
And that’s why the comparisons from Ranadive didn’t really bother Hield.
“No, you like it. I’m not Steph Curry, though. I’m Buddy Hield,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I go in there and do my job. As a player, you want the franchise to believe in you. You want a franchise to think that way of you. I go in there and do my job and grind and have fun.”
He is Curry-like in one aspect: His ability to create his own 3-point attempts off the dribble. With the Pistons holding a double-digit lead in the fourth and Hield cooling off after an 8-for-8 start, he caught a wing pass with 37-year-old Jose Calderon guarding him.
A quick crossover was followed by a step-back triple. Two more triples followed in the next two minutes as Hield engineered the late comeback and crowd-silencing winner.
“As a kid you dream of hitting one of those shots, especially at a high level like this,” Hield told reporters after the game. “It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. As a kid you want to do it, you want to cherish it. Many more to come.”
Before his media session, Hield joked he needed a soft drink from all his hard work, but he appeared very grounded and pragmatic about his path as a native of the Bahamas. Rick Fox is a notable player from the Bahamas and Klay Thompson’s father, Mychal, is a native Bahamian who had a standout NBA career through the ’80s. “My mindset was different, but I’m no different. Grinding,” Hield said. “I had goals for myself. It takes one to believe. A diamond in the rough to make something happen and believe they can do it.”
Hield, from Freeport, is continuing his mission, with 2018 No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton, from Nassau, next in line.
“Humble beginnings, bro,” Hield told Yahoo Sports. “Being back home, being in the Bahamas, you’re not in America, not in a big country. It’s hard to make it in the NBA. Every moment, I take advantage of it. It’s fun.”
1. Someone in this space wrote that Donovan Mitchell would turn it around. … The Jazz won six straight before Monday’s loss, and Mitchell is averaging 26.9 points in January. A lighter schedule is on the horizon, and Utah could make a move from the sixth spot it’s occupying.
2. DeMarcus Cousins is back and the champs look, if nothing else, rejuvenated. See you in June.
3. What to make of D’Angelo Russell? The Brooklyn Nets are solid and he’s got six 30-point games with restricted free agency looming. Future piece or flash that can’t be counted on? This will be interesting.
4. The NBA does plenty with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and should be commended. Memorable quote? “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
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