Sacramento Kings: Buddy Hield’s sophomore season challenge

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 11: Buddy Hield
SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 11: Buddy Hield /

Buddy Hield certainly made a strong first impression when he arrived to the Sacramento Kings midway through last season, but can that level of play translate over into his sophomore season?

As much as the DeMarcus Cousins trade marked a turning point for the Sacramento Kings as a franchise last year, it was also a turning point for then-rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield.

Hield’s time as a King was just limited to 25 games last year, but the 23-year-old had performed markedly better while donning purple compared to how he fared as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.

While his arrival to Sacramento was more about the Kings finally washing their hands clean of the Cousins era, Hield’s play after the All-Star break eased the concern over what many had perceived to be a paltry return for a player of Cousins’ talents (a topic that has only grown with the number of All-Star caliber players traded for similar returns in the months since).

Now with last year standing firmly in the past, the Bahamian native faces the challenge of having to follow up his promising play within a vastly different environment in his first full year with the Kings.

Where Hield stood as an outlier on a team stacked with mid-to-late career veterans, he’s now just one of many young prospects the Kings have to develop over the next few seasons.

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Having that many players who carry varying degrees of potential is certainly a luxury of riches for the Kings, but it will require a certain level of patience and deploying a deep rotation, something that Kings head coach Dave Joerger has alluded to using in recent interviews.

So while that may mean consistent playing time in the long run, there will be times where Hield may lose favor for stretches if he’s experiencing his share of struggles for whatever reason. That’s further amplified since Hield plays at arguably the deepest position on the team.

Between veteran guard Garrett Temple and the arrival of Serbian international Bogdan Bogdanovic, the level of competition for minutes will be something that Hield didn’t truly experience last season while in Sacramento.

Whether that specific position battle will result in improved play from Hield is unknown at this point, but the pressure to perform will certainly be raised in that regard.

Above all else, the biggest question will be whether certain elements of Hield’s improved play from last year with the Kings will translate over to this season.

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While Hield’s numbers improved across the board in the move from New Orleans to Sacramento, no other aspect of Hield’s game played a bigger factor in his effectiveness than his shooting off the dribble. Per, Hield posted a 57.1 percent effective field goal percentage on all pull-up jumpers as a King, nearly 20 percentage points higher than what he averaged with the Pelicans.

It’s certainly valid to take Hield’s late season efficiency with a grain of salt, due to how teams handle the last month and a half of play and the small sample size of his performance while in Sacramento. No matter the case, teams will make adjustments in how they game plan for Hield when he’s on the floor, and that increased pressure will certainly test the youngster’s most valuable skill.

None of this is to diminish what Hield accomplished after the All-Star break with the Kings, as his play reinforced what made him a special collegiate prospect and ultimately, the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

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But the challenge to build on the standard he set last year remains and with that, the ability to grow will be imperative for Hield, no matter how competitive the Kings will ultimately be next season.