Kings grades: Where does Buddy Hield fit in long term in Sacramento?

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Grading Hield's season for Kings after shooting struggles originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The Kings have some major questions heading into the offseason. One of the biggest is what to do with starting shooting guard Buddy Hield.

Durable, with a flair for the dramatic, Hield has carved out his NBA niche as a 3-point ace. It earned him a major contract extension, but not everything has gone as planned since he signed on the dotted line.

With three years remaining on his deal, the Bahamian sharpshooter is facing an uncertain future in Sacramento. Does the 28-year-old still fit into the long-term plan?

That is one of many looming decisions for Kings general manager Monte McNair. For now, here is a breakdown of Hield’s up and down 2020-21 season.  

Offense

20-21 Stats: 16.6 points, 3.6 assists, 4.7 rebounds, .9 steals, 40.6% FG, 39.1% 3pt

19-20 Stats: 19.2 points, 3.0 assists, 4.6 rebounds, .9 steals, 42.9% FG, 39.4% 3pt

Hield is one of the great 3-point hoisters in the game, but he wants to be a lot more than that, which may be where his biggest issue lies. 

In his fifth NBA season, Hield set a new personal high, averaging a staggering 10.2 3-point shots per game. Those attempts ranked third in the league behind Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard. His four makes per game finished second, as did his 282 total makes on the season. 282 3-pointers is a new career-high for Hield and ranked ninth in the history of the NBA, despite the season being 72 games, instead of the standard 82. 

If Hield is just cruising the perimeter waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities, he knocks down 39.6 percent. When he dribbles once, he shoots 38.7 percent and when he takes just two dribbles, the percentage jumps to 48.9 percent. Any more than two dribbles and the percentages plummet.

It’s very clear that Hield wants to be more than just a catch-and-shoot wing playing off of a star in the making in De’Aaron Fox. He averaged a career-best 3.6 assists per game this season and just 1.8 turnovers, for a solid 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His usage was down and his assist rate stayed reasonably stable. 

While Hield’s increased play making is a solid development for the Kings, it may not have been completely by design. When he’s paired with point guards like Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, or Delon Wright, he should defer to the primary ball handler more often. 

The occasional two-man game with Richaun Holmes is fine. The two have a nice connection and Hield has improved hitting the roll man for easy buckets at the rim.

A glaring issue throughout Hield’s career is his inability to get to the free throw line. In 33 out of 71 games this season, Hield failed to take a single free throw. For a volume scoring guard, that’s unacceptable, especially when you consider that he’s nearly an 85 percent shooter from the stripe.

Hield’s overall scoring numbers were down this season by 2.6 points per game and his field goal attempts were 2.1 off of last season as well. He also saw a major reduction in field goal percentage in each of the last two seasons and his player efficiency rating of 12.8 was the lowest since his rookie season.

In addition to the reduction in field goal attempts and an overall dip in scoring, Hield saw his offensive rebounding numbers cut in half for a second straight season. Two seasons ago, Hield had an offensive rebounding rate of 4.1 percent. This season, that number fell to just 1.3 percent.

Defense

Like most of the Kings’ players, Hield’s defensive numbers are bad. He defends the 3-point line well, holding his opponents to 1.4 percent below league average. Every other spot on the floor was a mess.

Overall, Hield allowed his opponent to shoot 4.2 percent above league average, but inside the 3-point arc, the numbers are extremely unkind. Hield allowed his man to routinely get past him on the perimeter, where they either straight lined drove to the basket or went through for easy buckets.

RELATED: Grading Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox's 2020-21 season

When Hield kept his man on the perimeter, the Kings had a shot. When he didn’t, it went downhill quickly. Hield allowed his cover to shoot 60.3 percent overall on two-point shots and 69.3 percent on shots less than six feet away from the hoop. 

Teams routinely went at Hield, both on switches and in back door coverages. He’s stronger and an overall better defender now than when he got to the Kings, but his awareness is questionable and he too often tries to defend with his hands and doesn’t move his feet. 

He’s not a great team defender or a deflection player. He also averages just .9 steals in 34.3 minutes per game.

On the plus side, Hield is a solid defensive rebounder for his position, posting a career-best 4.3 defensive boards per game. He’s also bulked up, which allows him to physically hold his own with bigger players. 

Overall

Grade: C+

Hield has worked hard to make himself into one of the premier 3-point shooters in the NBA. He’s a tireless worker off the court and even showed an ability to play long stretches at small forward. 

He’s improved as a passer and an all-around player. He’s also a warrior that rarely misses a game and he’s currently just four 3-pointers behind Peja Stojakovic’ franchise record for career makes from behind the arc.

On the downside, Hield’s defense is still well below NBA standard for a starter and despite his scoring capabilities, he can’t figure out how to draw contact and get to the free throw line at a consistent clip. He also struggles to accept not only his role with the team but the strengths of his game.

Entering the second year of a four-year, $86 million contract, Hield is facing an interesting future in Sacramento. Fox is the starting point guard and Haliburton is the future at the two. The team brought in Wright and second-year Terence Davis to play backcourt minutes as well.

Will Hield be back for another season in Sacramento? That’s a good question that only time will tell. The fact is, he’s facing a position change at a minimum and there is a clear need for not only salary cap relief for the Kings, but also a balancing of the roster.