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Buddy Hield has abandoned the interior game

As Buddy Hield's struggled to score from the paint and mid-range, over the last five games he has completely deserted those attempts.

There's no doubting it: Buddy Hield's campaign is off to a deviant start.

The Bahamian shooting guard posited a high standard for himself following a breakout season in 2018-19, where he notably struck gold on 43% of his 646 three-point attempts. We can delve into the nuances of how the Luke Walton hire affected his play last year, a year in which Hield became a point of emphasis into the team's struggles, but those nuances are well-documented to this point. The same issues linger over to his defensive woes, woes that are plaguing the entire team this season (more so than ever *looks at the team defensive rating*).

Instead, this discourse will probe into a different department of Buddy's shooting arsenal: the interior game. Hield's current three-point percentage of 36.7 (38 via Cleaning the Glass, which filters out heaves and garbage-time attempts) holds little weight to me. We're only 14 games in, and his percentage has increased after a perplexing start. But there's a reason why: His abandonment of shots inside the arc has ushered in an escalated focus on three-point shots.

Important caveat: The sample size for this specific stat is small, but because of his interior struggles, the trend may persist.

In the last five games, Hield has attempted 65 shots. Fifty-seven (57!) of those are three-pointers. Though he's seen varied success per game, Hield is shooting 40.3% from deep over this five-game stretch. On those eight two-point attempts, he's made just three (37.5%).

The concerns on twos play into a larger trend: Hield is converting 60% of his shots at the rim (39th percentile) and 21% on mid-range jumpers (13th percentile), per Cleaning the Glass. For context, last season Hield was in the 57th percentile for rim-scoring and 54th on middies.

Let's watch some tape:

On this middle pick-and-roll between De'Aaron Fox and Richaun Holmes, Holmes will smartly slip into an abundance of space. That slip prompts Nickeil Alexander-Walker to provide the low-man help. Alexander-Walker is now tasked with splitting the difference between blocking the passing lane to Holmes and closing out on Hield if necessary.

The latter occurs, and Alexander-Walker closed out before the pass arrived. Two things: 1. A hard closeout on Buddy is a must. You can't grant him any shooting room. 2. A hard closeout forces Buddy to make quick decisions, and he tends to stumble in those scenarios.

Alexander-Walker's defensive stance forces Buddy to drive left down the baseline, which targets another weakness: Buddy's not a strong left-hand dribbler. Steven Adams recovers his position and congests Hield's driving lane, forcing him into a tough turnaround jumper. You see the result. New Orleans hit two birds with one stone; make Hield react quick, and make him operate with his left hand.

Here's a striking stat: Per NBA.com tracking data, seventy-five percent (that's 75%!) of Hield's shots are coming from deep this season. Last season, threes comprised 59.1% of his overall attempts.

Because of the bad misses, it appears that Hield is suffering from a confidence issue. He looks uncomfortable inside, and it's been glaring.

In the clip, Sacramento runs a high pick-and-roll with Hield and Holmes. Reggie Jackson isn't reputed as a talented defender, and that's evident based on how he goes over the screen. Jackson needed to back into the screen and shadow Hield to Hield's left. If you're going to permit a downhill lane for Hield, force him left.

Jackson doesn't, and there's a small window for Hield to launch a pull-up three following the screen, but he checks the distance between him and Jackson, pushing himself closer to the rim. Serge Ibaka is playing drop coverage and rightfully so. You can't grant Holmes his push-shot look. Ibaka eventually contests on Buddy's attempt, and Buddy misses. (These instances are also why I don't prefer Hield to initiate.)

Let's move to some side pick-and-roll action from the most recent Portland match, with Hield and Holmes as the personnel. Hield will curl off the Holmes' down screen, but CJ McCollum does well to fight through it, repelling Hield with a solid contest. I can't tell if that's an airball or if McCollum nicked it, but Hield didn't need to shoot that contested look.

Pause at the four-second mark and move your eyes directly down from the ball. Who's that wide open? Tyrese Haliburton, a current 51% three-point shooter. If Hield had surveyed the floor as he came off the screen, he would've noticed Haliburton relocating to the wing while Portland's defenders slept. An over-the-head pass above Gary Trent Jr. to Haliburton would've been a significantly better shot than what Hield produced.

Buddy's emphasis on more three-point attempts has been palpable this season: Sixty-three percent of Hield's overall attempts are coming from non-corner threes (99th percentile, up 12 from last season); he's in the 92nd percentile for overall three-point attempts (up 17 from last season); Fifteen percent of his shots are from mid-range (26th percentile, down 24 from last year); Eleven percent of his shots are from the rim (12th percentile, down seven from last year).

While Hield's three-point numbers are sufficient, it's also not his best. The abandonment of the interior presents some problems: It makes Buddy less dynamic, making him easier to guard. Hield, like the entire team, is also struggling defensively, and when Buddy isn't bringing the buckets from deep, it's difficult to justify his minutes. That's perturbing for both his on-court impact if the team hopes to win and for any possible trade value.

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Socalpurplecurse
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January 19, 2021 5:36 pm

To abandon something implies that you once possessed it, and well buddy is at this point only an above average long distance sniper no longer elite even. Something tells me we could have sold higher then at the deadline unfortunately the market evaluated him correctly and if we net any late 1st round pick for him it would be a win but now it seems like we are stuck with his contract.

Kosta
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January 19, 2021 6:01 pm

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Last edited 2 years ago by Kosta
Kangz_Landing
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January 19, 2021 6:58 pm

There’s no doubt that Buddy is a hard worker in practice and he hustles on the court. You don’t become that good of a shooter without constant reps. So it boggles my mind that someone with that kind of drive to improve has not shown better defense, ball handling, or finishing year after year. Passing and decision making seems like more of a mental, in-game either you got it or you don’t type thing, so I’m just focusing on the things he can improve on his own.

Don’t even get me started on being a student of the game and manipulating the refs to draw fouls. Seems like Buddy’s ceiling was the last year of Joerger ball.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
January 19, 2021 7:47 pm

Fantastic analysis, Sanjesh.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I’ve been saying for weeks that Buddy is different this year. He is noticeably bigger, be it muscle or just mass, but I think it has affected not only his stamina but his quickness. His ability to drive or take defenders off the dribble has been absent so far this season.

I said it in another thread, but I remember Buddy always getting at least one offensive putback or an attempt while crashing the boards on a teammates missed jumper for the past few seasons. Some have been quite spectacular. This season, however, I can’t recall a single instance of him doing that.

I’m not going to call the,guy lazy, because I feel he is anything but that, but there is something missing in his game this year. If he is not going to attack the rim, defense are not going to respect that aspect of his game and will constantly be up on him to affect his shot.I really believe we are seeing that play out.

To be clear, I’m perfectly fine with Buddy taking 3pt shots, as that is his obvious strength, but if it comes as a detriment to his overall game, he is going to struggle.

NinjaFetus
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January 19, 2021 7:58 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

I’d add to that who knows what he’s dealing with covid-wise as well. My wife had it in Nov, is still dealing with being more tired than would be usual for her, though pretty much all her other symptoms are back to normal. For someone like Buddy who’s known as a hard worker, any residual covid symptoms on top of bulking up could really be effecting what used to come natural, which leads to confidence issues resulting in him missing more shots.

Side note, if your theory is correct, I’m curious on whose idea it was for Buddy to bulk up: him, or coaching?

ScottyPop
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January 19, 2021 8:12 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

In fairness to Buddy, his game winner was an offensive rebound put back.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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January 19, 2021 8:19 pm
Reply to  ScottyPop

This is true!

rc50cal
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January 19, 2021 7:47 pm

Great analytical piece, Sanjesh. I think we can all agree it’s time to make Hield the lead ball handler!

wilbur10
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January 19, 2021 8:01 pm

Excellent analysis. I may be wrong on this but when Hield first got here and I’d probably even say the entire time Joerger was here, Hield would punish teams from mid range. He’s never been a great creator but it seemed like he would punish bad close outs with a deadly mid range game. And he had a variety of shots in his arsenal too- true pull ups, floaters, step backs etc. Not only is he missing but he doesn’t seem confident inside the 3 point line anymore.

MadDam
January 19, 2021 8:05 pm

From what I watch each and every game, Buddy seems to have plenty of hustle on the defensive end. Maybe he just sucks at it but it’s not for the lack of trying. But I’m no expert. Our problem at the home here is when he starts to dribble the ball for any length of time. I’m shocked no one ever seems to have a problem with that. And why try and make him something he is not . . . again. Last year, Luke forced the ball in his hands to ‘get him better’ I guess. (I thought that’s what practice is for.) Now I know this is a little simplistic. How’s about let him sit on the 3 point line and stay there, all damn game. Catch and Shoot. That’s his strength. Making him a point guard didn’t work. Now we are bitching about his 2 point play. Park his arse out there and they have to respect his shot. Opens up the lane like everyone wants so damn much. So far this year he is sucking but he’s still leading the league. It’s win win for the Kings. And keep him from handling the ball, even more so.

wilbur10
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January 19, 2021 9:48 pm
Reply to  MadDam

Agree on most of this. Just let him be a shooter, quit trying to have him create so much. Luke runs so much action with Buddy as the PnR ball handler and other teams consistently throw traps at him and he’s on the verge of a TO every time.

RikSmits
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January 19, 2021 11:54 pm
Reply to  MadDam

Yeah, about that:

Buddy seems to have plenty of hustle on the defensive end. Maybe he just sucks at it but it’s not for the lack of trying.

I see plenty of these kind of comments, and not just about Buddy. So I am not singling you out out, MadDam, you made some good points.

But the statements that our players are trying and working hard on D, especially Bagley, Fox and Hield, is driving me crazy. Trying and working hard is the absolute f-ing minimum that should be expected of them, it’s the f-ing baseline!!! Nobody gets trophies for trying.

I am appalled at what length we go to defend our players. Their “trying” has resulted in not-NBA worthy defense. Gimme a f-ing break. And if anything, it shows that defense isn’t 90% effort. If it is, they are not trying enough, by a longshot.

There is plenty of blame to go around, from ownership to coaching to most certainly the players. Trying and working hard does not cut it and does not earn them any praise.

If I am bad at my work my manager doesn’t give a shit that I’m trying, he will point at the results. They are making millions and the results are clear enough.

Sorry for the rant. Don’t be mad at me, folks. I really tried and worked hard to stay calm, okay?

RORDOG
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January 20, 2021 7:43 am
Reply to  RikSmits

I think it comes from the defense discourse. People always say something along the lines of €œoffense is about skill, defense is about desire/hustle/effort.€ So that leads to people saying a team that plays bad defense is soft or lacks toughness. MadDam brings up a good counter argument. If defense is all about effort then why is Buddy so bad at it?

MadDam
January 20, 2021 10:48 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Totally support your rant here. I was kinda ranting myself. Like I said, I’m no expert by any means. Just another foolish fan. (Damn those Jason Williams years) I was venting my frustration as I cause you to do also. It all helps with the ‘stay calm’ endeavor that we strive to maintain. We Stupid Kings fans are just plain masochist, it seems.

RikSmits
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January 20, 2021 11:33 am
Reply to  MadDam

We are all experts! At masochism, that is.

andy_sims
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January 20, 2021 8:20 am
Reply to  MadDam

I, just on my own, have made between four and five thousand comments about any possession where Buddy dribbles more than twice is a bad possession. This was a fairly rare occurrence when Joerger was here.

Buddy had been pretty solid in the past, in regard to drives to the hoop where he was cut off. He’d either step back and hit a twelve-footer, or spin to get a decent look. This year, he’s front-ironed a high percentage of them.

Hield isn’t a guy who lacks confidence, but I’d agree that he does seem to have lost it in regard to his ability to get buckets around the basket. If there’s ever an occasion to use the bulk he carries, it’s when he is driving to the hoop. He’s not a great jumper, but he ought to be able to muscle his way in, and get a decent look, or find a teammate.

I have a feeling that Buddy will regain his past effectiveness right around the same time he starts playing for a different coach. Whether that’s in Sacramento or elsewhere remains to be seen.

MadDam
January 20, 2021 11:11 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Many apologies for not recognizing my “Buddy can’t dribble without turning it over” compadre! That new coach scenario in Sacramento may take a year. But hey, that all falls in line with the “Tank” for the draft, no? The FNG is the front office is thinking long term unlike most fans who want wins now.

deepshot22
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January 19, 2021 8:52 pm

Really nice read. Goddamn, this blog is amazing. Um, I’m beginning to think that last year wasn’t so much an outlier for Buddy as it was him coming down from his peak. Maybe it is on Walton, or maybe he had a brief ceiling to his career. Shit, I dont know. I still think the right coach would know how to use him more efficiently but I have no nope that that coach is currently wearing his mask like a dummy or even warming a chair at G1.

deepshot22
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January 19, 2021 9:09 pm
Reply to  deepshot22

PS… I almost miss paying $18 for a jack and coke at G1. May the world get better soon.

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