“With the fifth pick in the draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves select… Buddy Hield from the University of Oklahoma…”
The Minnesota Timberwolves need shooting. You know it. I know it. Tom Thibodeau knows it. And there isn’t a better high volume shooter in this draft class than Buddy Hield. The guard from Oklahoma turned himself into a human flamethrower in his senior season as a Sooner. He went from being a pretty good scorer his sophomore and junior season to becoming maybe the best scorer in the country. Hield is a 6-foot-5, 212 lbs. shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan.
He’s been projected to go as high as third to the Boston Celtics, and will almost assuredly fall no lower than eighth to the Sacramento Kings. Most likely, he’ll be gone by the sixth pick with the New Orleans Pelicans. Hield will turn 23 years old in December, so he’s a much older prospect. But he’s also turned himself into a hell of a weapon. Rivals had him ranked 86th in his high school class in 2012. ESPN and 247 Sports didn’t have him in the top 100 of his class.
That can lead to a lot of Steph Curry comparisons because he’s a great volume shooter and he wasn’t highly regarded out of high school. As CBSSports.com’s Sam Vecenie will caution, leave that nonsensical comparison out of the way we talk about him. We will get into maybe a more apt comparison for Hield as this breakdown gets going though. His stats this season were incredible. He averaged 25 points on 50.1/45.7/88.0 along with 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 3.1 turnovers in 35.4 minutes.
With the Jaylen Brown breakdown, we started with the bad stuff first and then got into the good stuff. We’re going to reverse that with Hield. Let’s look at the good and then end with the bad:
Good Stuff: His shooting gives me the vapors, causes me to make horse noises
Not everybody is into shooting. Some people find it gimmicky. Some people find it to be an overrated part of the game (even though the concepts of overrated and underrated don’t actually exist). This section is not for you because holy mother of Shane Heal can Buddy Hield let it fly. He’s one of the most impressive shooters I can remember in recent drafts. Obviously, someone like Devin Booker looked to be a special shooter, but Hield’s potential (even with him being about 13 years older than Booker) as a shooter seems hard to match.
Here are some brief stats on his shooting before we get into the examples:
- On unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts, he made 54.8% from the field with an effective field goal of 82.3%. EIGHTY-TWO POINT THREE PERCENT! Just for comparison’s sake, J.R. Smith, who shot the lights out this season, had an effective field goal of 74.6%.
- On guarded catch-and-shoot attempts, Hield made 47.2% of his shots and had an effective field goal of 70.4%. Curry’s eFG on these attempts was 73.8%, which was tops in the NBA. JJ Redick was second with 67.8%. Obviously, we’re not saying Hield will be the same caliber of shooter at the NBA level, but it’s just an interesting measurement.
- Hield made 37.2% of his jumpers off the dribble with an eFG of 48.9%.
- He was in the 97th percentile in PPP on spot-up possessions, scoring 1.311 PPP and an eFG of 66.9%.
- Coming off screens, he scored 1.25 PPP (90th percentile) and made 50% of his shots (69% eFG).
Some may look at Hield as a guy who is “just a shooter.’ And maybe that’s technically true on the NBA level. But he’s much more than that within the context of being a shooter. It doesn’t just come from spotting up and being a guy who makes the defense pay by collapsing on other action. Hield is one of the most active off ball players I can remember in quite some time. He understands spacing so well and once he gets going coming around a screen, he doesn’t really seem to stop until he’s found an area the defense isn’t covering.
You can also see that after he passes the ball to a teammate. That’s not the end of the play for him. He’s moving to an area that will provide a deadly outlet to his teammate. Check out these three plays:
That last play is so killer. A lot of college chuckers would have fired that up even without a ton of room. He attacks the unbalanced side of that closeout, gets to the middle of the floor, and finds a safe outlet pass to the top. Then instantly runs a pick-and-pop to bury the 3-pointer. That is lethal.
Hield is so good at navigating screens. It’s not just having a tight run around the hip of the screener to create separation. He does his work prior to the movement toward the screen with either a slight push to gain the upper hand or great movement to set up the counter to the defender’s momentum. His footwork is sloppy quite often on the catch as he squares up to shoot, but he’s so quick at squaring to the shot that it doesn’t often hurt him. And that’s something that’s pretty easy to clean up.
It’s such a quick release too that he’s always a threat to get a quality shot off as long as he gets squared up. He uses a lot of legs on these shots though, which could end up hurting him later in games as the season draws on. But that’s up to him and the training staff to make sure he’s in good enough shape to quell that possibility. Just watch him let it fly.
So much of the way he uses screens and spots up reminds me of Kyle Korver. Not saying he’ll be that deadly of a shooter, but it’s a lot of similar motion off the ball. Korver was brilliant as a reserve for Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls, shooting 42.5% from 3-point range in two seasons for him. By now, Thibodeau believes in the 3-point shot even more and could have even better ways on offense to utilize a shooter like him.
Another thing I love so much about Hield’s activity and shooting ability is the way he makes teams pay on broken plays. Offensive rebounds. Quick turnovers in the backcourt after a failed offensive possession by his team. Hield’s instincts in finding quick, open looks are impressive.
I mean… this is some serious range to unleash when the defense is scrambling.
And then there’s just the basic, lethal spot-up shooting from Hield, which could actually be more prevalent at the NBA level as guys like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns draw the focus of the defense. This is what I love about the idea of adding Hield to the Wolves, even if he is just a shooter. The league has become fairly specialized and as long as he’s not Anthony Morrow bad on defense, he can carve out a real niche as an x-factor for his NBA team.
You don’t need him to be a star, even as the fifth pick in the draft. You just need him to complement the weapons on the floor. His presence could lead to the defense having to hesitate how they defend Towns, Wiggins, Zach LaVine, etc. and that’s a recipe for buckets. And if they can’t help but double against the star scorers of the team, Hield will make them pay for it.
Check out his ShotAnalytics chart from his sophomore year to his senior year in .gif form. He got better at scoring around the rim and it looks like the 3-point line has a serious skin disease by the time he’s a senior.
Buddy can shoot. But what else can he do?
Good Stuff: Operates well in the pick-and-roll
There are parts of Hield’s game that I feel don’t get enough credit like how he creates in the pick-and-roll. He’s become so much better as a 22-year old guard in creating for himself in the PnR. Now, he should be better at it. Four-year college guard should be able to carve up a good chunk of college defenses, so this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering revelation. But unlike Brown, who seemed to struggle going left, Hield can attack pretty well with either hand coming around a pick.
Of course, you expect the jumper to be deadly in these situations. He only needs a little bit of space in order to fire off a jump shot. But he actually wasn’t a great shooter in a lot of these situations. He was 18-of-55 (32.7%) from the field on jumpers as a PnR ball handler. I tend to think a lot of these shots were just misses and he’ll be fine getting off that shot with acceptable accuracy in the NBA.
Where Hield really excelled in the PnR was attacking the basket. He showed a lot of control in how he measured his attack toward the basket, and often found himself with a quality attempt at the rim. He went 24-of-39 (61.5%) when he attacked the rim on PnR possessions, and usually didn’t turn the ball over in these situations. While his handle isn’t great (we’ll touch on that in a bit), he does have a very nice left-to-right spin move to slip through tough defensive areas.
My only concern with that is whether or not he’ll have the explosiveness or the craftiness around the basket to make that a real consistent weapon in the NBA. He’ll probably need to find a way to make that in-n-out crossover work for him when attacking the helping big man.
He can also pass while operating a pick-and-roll. Just scoring as a PnR ball handler yielded 0.915 PPP (83rd percentile) on 44.7% from the field. When you include passes, his production increased to 1.00 PPP (84th percentile). As you’ll be able to see in the video, the left-handed pass isn’t the crispest weapon at his disposal, but he has good enough instincts to find shooters on the perimeter and the occasional cutter to the hoop.
I think he can do this in the NBA, especially if his jumper is working in PnR opportunities. But we’ll have to get to some of that handle in a couple of sections.
Good Stuff: He’s terrifying in transition
Getting out in transition has been a big part of Hield’s offense. It was the type of possession he experienced the most this season (22.8% of his offensive possessions), and he was one of the best in the country scoring in transition. He scored 1.302 PPP in transition (87th percentile), while making 58.9% of his shots. He was 35-of-70 from deep in transition, almost changing the way in which defenses had to play defense on the break.
You’re often taught to get to the paint to stop shots at the rim and then match up as you recover to the stragglers. The Golden State Warriors have made that a laughable strategy, and make you change the way you handle the Splash Brothers in transition. Hield isn’t quite that good, but he certainly changes the approach the defense needs to have in transition.
As a freshman, 29.6% of his possessions happened in transition and his effectiveness wasn’t very good (0.886 PPP, 26th percentile, 44.4% FG, 33.3% 3FG). As a sophomore, 29.5% of his possessions were in transition and his effectiveness dramatically improved (1.194 PPP, 72nd percentile, 56.5% FG, 44% 3FG). As a junior, his transition frequency increased to 32.1% of his possessions, and the effectiveness improved as well (1.219 PPP, 79th percentile, 51.7% FG, 49.2% 3FG).
He’s awesome on the break, has improved every year, and could give the defense something to think about when KAT, Wiggins, and LaVine are storming the break.
Good Stuff: Can isolate and get you a great scoring opportunity
This will sound obvious but follow me on this. When Hield is isolating against single coverage, he’s a monster. He scored 1.262 PPP in isolation with single coverage from the defense this season, making 51.7% of his shots. This put him in the 96th percentile in the country. He rarely turned the ball over (4.9%) and didn’t even really draw fouls all that much (10.7%). Hield just got buckets and I love guys who can get buckets.
About a quarter of the time, Hield took it to the rim. Most of the time, he was finding pull-up jumpers or just creating space with jab steps. And he was really good at it. There is concern that he may not be athletic or even quick enough in the NBA to keep getting these quality look. That’s maybe evident by the fact that he wasn’t very good in isolation situations created by a switch in the pick-and-roll. He shot under 30% from the field and created just 0.800 PPP in those situation.
But his ability to shoot off the dribble in these situations reminded me a little bit of Eric Gordon (the healthy version). If he can replicate that at the NBA level, he’s a great option at the end of the clock to break down a defender.
OK, now here are the troubling things about his game and the next level:
Bad Stuff: Doesn’t really cut much toward the basket, everything is perimeter related
As good as Hield is moving without the ball, there aren’t a ton of instincts of when to cut to the basket. It was almost a nonexistent part of his game (3.5% frequency) and he wasn’t very special when he did it. He scored 1.036 PPP on cuts, which is in the 38th percentile. The reason this is troubling is it doesn’t show a ton of offensive depth. You want guys in his position to be threats roaming the perimeter, but also have the ability to make the defense pay for overplaying that area of the floor.
A lot of that happens with backdoor cuts and floating around the midrange without the ball to time cuts to the basket perfectly after the defense collapse on a drive from a teammate. Throw him on the court with Ricky Rubio and you’re missing a huge opportunity for easy buckets there. Throw him on the court with Zach LaVine as the lead guard (I MEAN THIS IN THE BRIEFEST OF QUANTITIES) and it helps someone like Zach become an even bigger threat. Even as Andrew Wiggins becomes more adept at driving to the basket and finding cutters, it can be big. Hield just doesn’t have that in his arsenal.
Bad Stuff: Not very good at closing out on shooters
Part of the problem with Hield as a prospect is he’s a four-year college player who struggles defensively. You don’t expect someone like that to come into the NBA and be an immediate plus defender, but he’s kind of a negative at the college level when he should have enough experience and know-how to be above average consistently. Part of his problem is closing out on shooters.
There are a couple of issues with him when it comes to getting shooters to think twice about shooting against him. First, his closeouts are pretty sloppy. A lot of times, he’s coming from the wrong angle. There should be three goals to a closeout: 1) keep the shooter from shoot, 2) run the shooter off the 3-point line, and 3) funnel that shooter to help.
Hield has to be higher on his angle there to stop the 3-point shot and then run him toward the crowd down below. Instead, he’s not high enough and his body is so poorly aligned to the shooter that he has no chance of recovering to contest after the counter move.
His other problem is he can kind of just get lost in loose ball situations. Lots of movement tends to get him out of position, which is ironic considering how lethal he is at moving off the ball. And once he’s lost, you don’t see consistent hustle to recover to the shooter.
And too often when Hield is recovering to a shooter he’s had to help off of, he doesn’t have a high hand on the recovery. The entire “hand down, man down” becomes something that plagues Hield on these closeouts. You can’t expect him to affect every shot, but the effort has to be clear as he’s trying to get back to weak side shooters — especially in the corners.
I do think this is correctable, and I think Thibodeau is the type of guy to hammer in the fundamentals into a young player, but it’s not a lock to fix this issue.
Bad Stuff: His handle isn’t spectacular and that affects some passing stuff
Two things I really don’t love about Hield’s handle that makes me worry about him getting those good shots we saw above at the NBA level.
First, his dribble can get away from him and be a high dribble. In the NBA, defenders are too quick and smart not to rip that or deflect away from where he’s trying to get. Second, his crossover is slooooooooow. Like really slow. And that’s not going to work. Even someone like Klay Thompson, who isn’t very good at handling the ball for a guard, has a quick enough left to right to get into the paint. Hield’s crossover doesn’t really do that.
He can get into trouble with this during pick-and-roll plays in which the defense commits to him. That means an extra defender or two collapses on him to help force him into bad situations. He turned the ball over 21.3% of the time in PnR’s and when the defense committed, he turned it over 24.3% of the time.
There’s just a sloppiness that he needs to clean up. If the Wolves take him, I feel confident Ryan Saunders is the guy to help him iron out some of that discomfort with the ball against pressure. The big key for him is making sure he’s slowing the game down for himself mentally, so he doesn’t dribble into so much trouble.
Hield also has some problems with passing the ball in PnR situations. He has good intentions and good ideas with the ball as he’s creating for others, but the precision of those passes needs a lot of work.
He averaged 3.1 turnovers as a high volume scorer his senior year. That’s not terrible, but it needs to get cleaned up for the next level, lest he become the next Nik Stauskas.
Bad Stuff: Will he be exploited by switches on the NBA level?
Final concern with Hield is the defense coupled with the athleticism issue on defense. Hield may be able to hold his own against a lot of shooting guards. We aren’t in a golden age of shooting guards right now, so he’ll probably match up against more specialists than guys who can just destroy him. But this is the NBA. The NBA will seek out these bad defenders and exploit them time after time.
What’s to keep an opponent from running 1-2 pick-and-rolls to get switches with Hield defending Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving or Chris Paul or Jeff Teague or can he even defend someone like Jeremy Lin all that well? Not to mention, he has solid size for a shooting guard but he’s not all that big. He could get switches onto bigger small forwards and get bodied all over the place.
Overall, I think Hield is a great prospect. We focus a lot on what guys can’t do, but the smart teams around the league figure out what guys can do, maximize those skill sets, and then try to bring them up to speed with their weak areas. The goal is to make them good at everything, but that’s not always realistic. But if you can make them less worse at the bad stuff, they can become star role players. I think that’s Hield’s destiny if he makes it in the NBA. He can be a lights out shooter and a guy who doesn’t hurt you elsewhere.
I’m not sure if that makes him a definite starter, but the Wolves could really use that shooting and depth on the wings.