clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stiffs Prospect Watch: Buddy Hield

New, comments

The Oklahoma Sooners senior guard is a Wooden Award candidate due to his strong play this season, but is the best collegiate player in the country a good match for the Denver Nuggets?

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Buddy Hield is the Elvis Presley of college basketball.

He gets out there on the floor in his crimson and cream jersey, and his game is full of jumping, shaking and rattling that hits you right in the soul. When he starts knocking down jumpers, it makes you get up on your feet and dance.

Hield, who proudly goes by Buddy Love!!!! on Twitter, has worked his way to this position from humble beginnings. He's come a long way from hoisting jumpers on dirt courts into wooden baskets in the Bahamas, averaging over 25 points a game for one of the top-ranked teams in the country.

If you haven't watched Oklahoma play, you're missing out. Lon Kruger has an up-tempo, push the pace offense, and the Sooners like to score. Ryan Spangler is a force on the boards, and they have two other players, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins, who are shooting over 45 percent on 3-point attempts. When their opponent misses, they gang rebound and then take off.

That's an encouraging sign for Hield in the NBA. Hield rebounds well for his position, and when he gets the ball off a miss, he's such a threat to score that the defense ends up giving him extra attention as the Sooners' guards are streaking to the corners.

In the halfcourt, Hield can run around screens to get open on the perimeter or catch the ball and drive to the hoop. He's able to finish with both hands, and the threat of him shooting leaves defenders closing out hard, giving him an advantage when he decides to put the ball on the floor. He can get a little bit of tunnel vision, but as a NBA player, he should be asked to score more than he should be asked to distribute, a la Zach LaVine.

I mentioned his rebounding earlier, and he does do a good job contesting for defensive rebounds. He has long arms, which helps allay concerns over his height (6'4"). He works hard on defense, but he is giving so much energy on offense, Oklahoma isn't asking him to defend top scorers. When playing against top competition (like Kansas) his struggles on that end are more obvious. Then again, he also scored 46 points in triple overtime - at some point, even the most skeptical critic has to acknowledge fatigue plays a factor.

His best skill is undoubtedly his shooting ability. He's shooting around 50 percent on 3-point attempts, and nearly half of his shots come from behind the arc. These aren't just corner threes either - off-the-dribble, off screens, in transition - Hield has the green light always. When he gets into a rhythm, it's trouble for the other team.

The Nuggets, well, they could use shooting, especially from the perimeter. As a team, they shoot 33.7 percent on 3-point attempts, a number that hasn't been helped by Randy Foye, Jameer Nelson and Emmanuel Mudiay all shooting below 30 percent. It's not a good sign for a team when Will Barton - with no disrespect meant - is your best 3-point shooting threat.

Michael Malone has used Nelson and Foye as backup point guards, and if Hield was able to fill the backup shooting guard and be a secondary ballhandler off the bench, that would be a good fit.

He's going to need time, like any rookie, to figure out how he's going to play defense against NBA players. He's also going to have to adjust to the speed of NBA players on offense, because the shots that he could get off in college won't be as open in the NBA. It takes a high level of athleticism to freelance on offense against NBA defenses - see Barton, Will - and Hield will have to make sure to keep a tight handle on the ball if and when he needs to drive into the paint to keep defenses honest.

Long term, the Nuggets would need Gary Harris to be better than Hield. Harris is a talented defender who is figuring out his role on offense; Hield would be a talented scorer who is figuring out his role on defense. Malone won't play guys that can't defend, and that means Hield would be a lottery pick that couldn't get minutes.

If the Nuggets don't get lucky in the lottery and wind up around pick No. 9 to No. 11, and Hield is available, I could see the Nuggets taking the senior guard. If the Nuggets are higher than that, it's my opinion that Denver would be better off taking another player over Hield. The Nuggets would be well-served to find a player that can be a starter, a difference maker, for them with their first draft pick. I'm not sold on Hield being that guy.

Disclaimer

It's really hard for me to believe in Buddy Hield, and I blame James Taft Fredette.

I'll admit it right up front, it's a personal bias. I attended Brigham Young University, with the majority of my education coming from 2010 to 2013. I was able to have a front-row seat to some of the greatest shotmaking in NCAA Division I Men's Basketball history as Jimmer Jimmer'd his way through the Mountain West Conference and into the March Madness tournament.

Fredette is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as am I. Fredette married a BYU cheerleader, Whitney, from Littleton, Colorado. My parents live in Littleton, Colorado. Whitney earned a degree from the communications school; I earned a degree from the communications school, and I married a BYU student-athlete.  He is literally the most relatable NBA player for me that has ever existed.

I will not accept Jimmer Fredette criticism, slander or libel. In my mind, he is a perfect basketball player.

Look at what he did to Kawhi Leonard and the at-the-time ranked No. 6 San Diego State Aztecs. Look at it! The only other player that had any success that played with Jimmer after leaving BYU was Brandon Davies, who helped fill a position with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Jimmer was 2016 Steph Curry when he was at BYU, if 2016 had dance moves.

I can't shake the commonalities Jimmer and Hield share, as unfair as that may be.

I love watching Buddy Hield play. He has NBA range and then some, creative juices that help him get to the rim, and a green light on every possession. His 46-point game against Kansas is the stuff of legends.

He is on pace to earn the Wooden Award for best player in the country. But I just can't come around on him.

So much of what will determine Hield's success in the NBA is something that most people won't admit is a factor - luck. Fredette was drafted by what is, in my opinion, the most dysfunctional NBA franchise in the league. Since being drafted in the lottery, Fredette has played for the Bulls, Pelicans, signed a contract with the Spurs, and now plays for the Knicks D-League team. He's one of the best players in the D-League, and picked up a D-League All-Star Game MVP award this year.

If Hield is drafted into a bad situation, his road to NBA success becomes that much more difficult. Ideally he'd go to a organization like the Mavericks or Heat, with an established coach that can help integrate his skills onto a winning team. Maybe the Nuggets are a franchise that can help him find success - I'd be thrilled if it worked out for Hield in Denver.

But it's a big risk for a franchise that needs to keep getting wins in the draft as they try to become a champion franchise.

It's not fair, but as the great Johnny Carson once said, "If life was fair, Elvis would still be alive and all the impersonators dead."

Other Stiffs Prospects to Watch

Grayson Allen

Caris LeVert

Demetrius Jackson

Nigel Hayes

Jamal Murray

Ivan Rabb