NBA, Sacramento Kings

Buddy Hield has become one of the NBA’s best shooters

It’s extremely difficult to make an All-Star team in the NBA. Only 24 guys make it a year, not counting injury replacements. It’s even tougher to make the team in the Western Conference, which is far superior to its Eastern counterpart and boasts more of the league’s best players. And it’s even more difficult to make it as a guard in the West. Just ask Mike Conley, who has been one of the handful of best point guards in the league for years and still can’t sniff the midseason showcase. And it’s even more difficult to make the team if you’re arguably not the best All-Star candidate in your own backcourt, and you’re on a team that has been the sorriest in the league for over a decade now.

So Buddy Hield is almost surely not going to be an All-Star this year. But that doesn’t mean he has not been an of-that-quality player, nor that his terrific third year in the NBA is not worthy of plaudits. Because it absolutely is and he absolutely has been. An every-game starter for the first time in his career, Hield has emerged as a consistent 20-point-per-game scorer, a marvelous backcourt partner for De’Aaron Fox, and one of the most important pieces in the Kings’ rise from the doldrums of the league to the thick of the playoff race.

Everything with Hield starts with his ability to make pretty much any shot from beyond the 3-point line. He is currently on pace to make 275 3-pointers this season, which would be the fifth-most in any season in NBA history, behind only the two best shooters of all time. (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, obviously.) And it’s not just volume: Hield is knocking down 45.5 percent of 7.4 deep attempts per game. If he continues at that pace it’ll be only the third time in the history of the league that a player has made better than 45 percent of his attempts on 7 attempts per game or more. The only times it’s been done are by Curry in 2012-13 and 2015-16.

But even that doesn’t necessarily capture how good Hield’s shooting has been this season. Consider this: Hield has attempted 208 3s described by Second Spectrum’s tracking system on NBA.com as “wide open,” meaning the closest defender was at least six feet away from him at the time of release. And again, it’s not just the volume. Among the 79 players who have attempted 100 wide-open 3s or more, Hield ranks second in conversion rate. He’s connected on those attempts at a completely absurd 52.4 percent rate, which means he’s generating 1.57 points per shot when left wide open beyond the arc. There are only 10 other players who have taken at least 150 such 3-point attempts, and they’ve collectively knocked down 38.2 percent of them. And that seems entirely respectable until you compare it to Hield’s number. He’s generating an extra 0.43 points per shot beyond the next 10 most-frequent wide-open shooters.

You can make a pretty compelling case that Hield has actually been the best high-volume 3-point shooter in the league over the past two years. The chart below describes the number of players who have attempted at least 100, 250, 500, and 750 3-pointers during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons combined, as well as where Hield’s 44.2 percent conversion rate on 3s ranks among those groups of players. You might notice that he fares really, really well.

via Basketball-Reference

But while just being able to hit a lot of 3s — especially when left wide open — has some value in today’s shooting-hungry NBA, the best part about Hield’s rapid rise is the variety of ways he can get his looks. He’s not just a standstill catch-and-shoot guy. He’s not just someone who runs off pin-downs or flares. He’s not just a transition trailer. He’s all of those things and more, and Dave Joerger and company use him in a variety of ways that help ensure he gets open. The Kings will run him through actions you’ve seen popularized by Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson, and all the best off-ball snipers you’ve seen over the years.

How many times have you seen Korver come off this exact staggered double screen in delayed transition, for example?

How many times have you seen the Warriors throw the ball into the post exactly like this, then have Steph screen for Klay to get him an open 3 from the wing, just as Iman Shumpert does for Hield below?

How many times per game do the 76ers throw the ball to Joel Embiid in the high post and have him and Redick read the defense and figure out the exact right moment to make a hand-off for a 3?

And then how many times do you see them catch the defense leaning just a bit too far toward Redick and hit them with a pocket pass so Embiid can rock the rim, just as Willie Cauley-Stein does here?

How often have you seen the Rockets put Eric Gordon in a Spain pick-and-roll where James Harden or Chris Paul comes off a screen near the top of the key, presses the paint, and then fires back to Gordon for an open 3 above the break, after he’s received a space-clearing screen from Clint Capela?

Almost all of Hield’s 3s are of the quick-strike variety like those above but he’s got the off-the-dribble club in his bag as well. He’s already made 26 attempts from beyond the arc after taking two dribbles or more, per Second Spectrum, which puts him on pace to make nearly 10 more of those shots than he did a year ago.

And in a development that should come as no surprise given the way the league is moving right now, Hield has also added the Steph Curry special to his arsenal: the relocation corner 3.

Almost all of this stuff comes within the context of the Kings’ offense, and Hield’s budding chemistry with Fox (and, to a lesser extent, Shumpert, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Yogi Ferrell) in the open floor has been a boon to his production as well. The Kings are famously playing at a blistering pace of 104.2 possessions per 48 minutes, and they scream the ball up the floor after made shots, missed shots, and turnovers. Per Inpredictable, the average Kings possession after a made shot is the third-fastest in the league. It’s fourth-fastest after a defensive rebound and the single fastest after a turnover. As such, Hield has knocked down 46 3-pointers inside the first six seconds of the shot clock — typically before the opposing defense is set. (Only Curry has made more such shots.) He’s shooting 41.4 percent on those attempts, making those possessions incredibly valuable.

Naturally, Hield’s sniping abilities from beyond the arc have had a cascading effect on the rest of his offensive game. He’s shooting at elite levels from pretty much every area of the floor except the back of the paint floater area, which isn’t so bad because he doesn’t shoot from there much anyway. He’s 67 percent at the rim, 44 percent from 10 to 16 feet, and 46 percent between 16 feet and the 3-point line, per Basketball-Reference. He’s quickly become a three-level scorer. Even if he does need some help to get his shots more often than not, that’s more than OK with Fox running the show and happy to feed him looks whenever possible.

None of this is to say he’s a perfect player. He’s got plenty to work on. Defense, mostly; but also creating for others outside of obvious-pass situations. His assist and turnover rates are damn near even once again, and if he can nudge them a bit further apart he’ll become an even more dangerous offensive weapon. In the meantime, he should just keep sniping. It’s helping keep the Kings relevant far deeper into the season than anyone reasonably expected.

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