In just one year, Buddy Hield has gone from inspirational collegiate sensation (who also scored six points in the Big 12 championship and nine points in the Final Four) to an air-ball-chucking lottery pick for the New Orleans Pelicans, to a miscast basketball-wasteland stanchion on the Sacramento Kings.
His age, perhaps unfairly, stains our perception. Hield is already 23, which makes him older than Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Aaron Gordon, Nerlens Noel, Clint Capela, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris, Dante Exum, and Noah Vonleh. While many of these guys settled into rising trajectories, Hield—ahead in age and behind in development—lagged.
Simply put, Hield was not a good player for the first 57 games of his NBA career. Here's his shot chart for the first half of the season:
Hield's own painfully slow start ran parallel with the New Orleans team that drafted him, but something happened when he got traded to the Kings. Here's his shot chart since the trade at the All-Star Break:
Hield is the third most accurate three-point shooter in the league (minimum 50 attempts) since the All-Star break. His PER climbed 4.1 points and his True Shooting leapt from below league average to an elite number. How does this happen?
In New Orleans, Anthony Davis was everything. Hield's primary offensive responsibility was to orbit the franchise superstar and allow him breathing room—a screeching gear change for a college senior who used 30.2 percent of his team's possessions last season.
By comparison, Sacramento's Golden 1 Center has been like an all-you-can-eat buffet for Hield's game. He's playing to his strengths within an environment that encourages him to pop shots up whenever he's open. It's almost like his career just exhaled in relief. Things feel more refreshing and natural, allowing us to tilt the lens and alter our perception. Context always matters in the NBA.
So ignore the Steph Curry comparisons and the fact that Hield was bait to help drag a top-ten talent away from Northern California. Expectations need still be tempered, but Hield is mid-blossom in a relatively stress-free situation while his old team crumbles.
His outside accuracy will eventually level off, but based on how well he's performed while surrounded by aggressively bleh teammates—in an admittedly small sample size—Hield could eventually turn into a cross between J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, depending on how Sacramento constructs its roster.
That's not the franchise-altering tentpole that owner Vivek Ranadive might want or expect, but he's a highly resourceful and adaptable player who still has room to improve. The Kings didn't "win" the DeMarcus Cousins trade if we grade it in a vacuum, but Hield has flashed enough talent to at least sympathize with why they wanted him in the first place.