PBT’s NBA 2016 Draft Pospect Preview: Buddy Hield

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Buddy Hield was college basketball’s biggest star during 2015-16, the poster-boy for a season that quickly turned into the Year of the Senior. Hield was terrific throughout the non-conference portion of Oklahoma’s schedule, but he became a national sensation during the first Big Monday of the season, when he went for 46 points in a triple-overtime thriller as the Sooners squared off with Kansas in a battle between No. 1 and No. 2.

From there, the legend only grew. One night, he’s scoring 30 points on 12 shots. Another night, he’s hitting eight threes in a road win or scoring 12 points in the final three minutes while hitting the game-winning shot. And he did all of it while scoring at ridiculous efficiency levels — he finished the season shooting 45.7 percent from three despite shooting nearly nine threes per game.

He’d go on to split the National Player of the Year awards with Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine as he led the Sooners to the Final Four and has played his way into the discussion as a top five pick in the NBA Draft. But is the hype justified? In other words, just how much value moving forward should we put in a 22-year old senior that starred in a year where there weren’t any freshmen to steal his shine?

Height: 6′ 4.5″
Weight: 215
Wingspan: 6′ 8.5″
Measurables: (From Combine)
2015-16 Stats: 25.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.66 a-to, 50.1 FG%/45.7 3PT%/88.0 FT%

STRENGTHS: The single-biggest thing that Hield has going for him is his work ethic. The kid is a terrific basketball player and one of the most potent perimeter shooters that we’ve seen in college basketball in recent memory, but the thing to remember with Hield is that this wasn’t always who he was. As a freshman, Hield shot a crisp 23.8 percent from beyond the arc and developed a reputation for being something of a glue-guy, a role player whose offensive production was the basketball equivalent of finding a $20 bill in the pocket of a pair of dirty jeans. He turned himself into one of the best perimeter scorers in the Big 12 as a sophomore and the conference Player of the Year as a junior, but he wasn’t on the NBA radar because, as he put it, “I wasn’t a good enough ball-handler and I couldn’t create a shot for myself.”

So Hield changed that. Last summer, his teammate Ryan Spangler told me during the Final Four, Hield would workout four times a day, getting to the gym as early as 5:30 a.m. and finishing around midnight. And instead of simply shooting on The Gun, Hield spent the offseason working on shooting off of the dribble and being able to create for himself.

The results speak for themselves. Hield is still at his best when he’s a catch-and-shoot guy. He has an unbelievable feel for moving without the ball offensively, particularly on offensive rebounds, and he was lethal in transition, where he consistently sprinted the floor to hunt shots. Lon Kruger didn’t run him off of off-ball screens all that often, but when he did, Hield really excelled using Iverson Cuts (the third clip in the video below).

The real difference between Hield this season and in past seasons, however, was how often he was used in isolation and in ball-screen actions as the dribbler. As a senior, 17.6 percent of Hield’s offense came in pick-and-rolls, up from 12.8 percent as a junior. His efficiency was about the same, but his improvement in isolations is unbelievable. As a junior, 6.9 percent of his offense came in isolations, averaging 0.5 points-per-possession. As a senior, those numbers jumped to 14.8 percent and 1.11 PPP.

He’s still somewhat limited in his ability to handle the ball, but he’s much improved at finding ways to create space for himself to get off a three, which is important because his release off the dribble is incredibly quick. Hield also improved his confidence in his ability to finish at the rim with his left hand:

WEAKNESSES: The biggest negative for Hield as a prospect is simply his physical tools. He’s not elite athletically by NBA standards, so he’s not a guy that can cover both guards positions, and given that he’s a shade under 6-foot-5, he’s essentially pigeon-holed into defending shooting guards at the next level. He does try hard on that end of the floor, and there may be something to the idea that his defense took a hit because of the amount of energy he was asked to expend offensively this season. So he’s not going to be James Harden defensively. He won’t be Tony Allen, either.

It works the same way offensively. He’s not a creator or anything resembling a combo-guard. He’s not a guy that can play multiple roles. He is who he is, pigeon-holed into being an 0ff-guard offensively as well.

The other part of it is that Hield doesn’t project as a great slasher at the next level. He’s much improved finishing around the rim and he’s strong enough to take some contact and finish, but he’s not an overly explosive leaper and, more importantly, he didn’t show off the ability to consistently turn the corner in college. Part of that is because he was a somewhat-simple scout this past season — for example, according to Synergy, almost 80 percent of the time that he put the ball on the floor in isolation situations, he went left — but that doesn’t actually concern me much. His ability off the bounce was markedly better this year than it’s ever been in the past for Hield, and I don’t doubt that, with his work ethic, he’ll round out his skill-set.

But improving his handle or working on driving right isn’t going to make his first step quick enough to beat NBA guards of the bounce or drastically improve his ability at the rim. Tightening up his ability to make advanced dribbling moves will help him create space for his jumper, but I’m not sure I see him being more than a shooter in the NBA.

There are two things that concern me about Hield’s shooting stroke at the next level. He doesn’t get much lift on his shot — he essentially shoots a set shot from beyond the arc — and he has a low release-point. In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily an issue (see Curry, Stephen), but the difference is that Hield’s release isn’t all that quick when coming off of off-ball screens and he doesn’t elevate to shoot over defenders off the dribble.

In other words, he needs time and space to get the shot off.

Now think about this: More than 41 percent of Hield’s offense came in transition or via spot up jumpers. Another 32 percent of his offense was a result of ball-screens or isolations. Less than 12 percent of his offense came through off-ball screens and hand-offs. J.J. Redick, who Hield should aspire to be at the next level (more on than in a second), saw 39 percent of his offensive production come via off-ball screens and another 18 percent via hand offs. Yes, a lot of that has to do with role, but there is still quite a bit of room for Hield to improve in this area. If I’m his trainer, I’m making him spend the summer perfecting Redick’s bread-and-butter: 1-2 stepping into catch-and-shoot threes off of a pin-down screen:

NBA COMPARISON: J.J. Redick

Hield is a bit bigger and more athletic than Redick, meaning that his ceiling defensively is probably higher, but functionally, this is the role that best encapsulates what Hield could become in the NBA. This past season, his 10th in the NBA, Redick — an absolute superstar at Duke — averaged 16.3 points for the Clippers while shooting a career-high 47.5 percent from three. Prior to arriving in LA, Redick was more of a part-time starter that averaged around double-figures while shooting somewhere close to 40 percent from three.

The other comparison I like is Bradley Beal minus the injuries. The thing that Beal, Redick and Hield all have in common is that they’re on an NBA roster because of their ability to shoot without wearing the comb0-guard label.

OUTLOOK: Buddy Hield’s work ethic is elite. He’s going to get better and he’s going to improve on the flaws in his game, and that makes him a relatively safe draft pick in a year where there really isn’t all that much that is guaranteed. That, combined with a proven ability in what is becoming the most valuable skill in the NBA game (shooting), will likely make Hield a top ten pick, potentially sneaking into the top five. He has a high floor. You know what you’re getting out of him.

But the difference between Hield and someone like a Kawhi Leonard, another under-recruited player with an insane work ethic, is simply physical tools. Hield has average to below-average size, length and athleticism when it comes to the NBA two-guard position. He’s not really a slasher, he’s not really a passer or a creator and I don’t think he’ll ever end up being an elite lock-down defender.

That’s why I see J.J. Redick when I watch Buddy Hield. He’s not a franchise-changing talent, but he’s a guy that should still be a valuable piece on a good team in a decade.

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”

Watch Bam Adebayo score 38, lift Heat to win over Wizards

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MIAMI — Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 38 points and the Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards 110-107 Friday night.

Caleb Martin added 20 points and Kyle Lowry finished with 13 points while Tyler Herro had 11 points and 10 assists for the Heat, who won their second straight at home against Washington after their 113-105 victory Wednesday.

Adebayo’s two free throws with 1:37 remaining put Miami ahead 105-104 lead then extended the advantage on a short jumper with 38 seconds left.

“It was one of those things where my teammates gave me the ball and I was taking advantage of the mismatch,” Adebayo said. “They were shots (Washington) let me have.”

Adebayo has scored in double digits in all 18 of his appearances this season. He’s had double-doubles in half of those games; Miami is 6-3 in those contests.

“He had a lot on his shoulders, really the last several games with a lot of different lineups and everything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You need that stability from your leaders. I think at some point we’ll print up these shirts, `Mr. Reliable,’ and I’ll wear them, probably.”

Lowry also had eight assists, seven rebounds and a four-point play with 3:15 left for a 103-102 lead – the 11th of what would be 13 lead changes on the night.

And it was another close game for the Heat, who are already 4-3 in games decided by three points or less this season.

“That’s what’s happened really for, it seems like several weeks,” Spoelstra said. “It just feels like every single one of these games is going down to the last possession.”

The Wizards cut the deficit on Bradley Beal‘s dunk before Martin made two free throws with 12.5 seconds for the final margin, then hounded Beal defensively on the game’s last possession and forced the Wizards’ All-Star into a miss to end the contest.

“I take pride in trying to make stops,” Martin said. “Those are the types of situations you dream about, game on the line against a guy like Bradley Beal with the ball late shot clock. I just tried to make it as tough as possible.”

Beal and Kyle Kuzma finished with 28 points Kristaps Porzingis added 18 points for the Wizards.

“We did enough throughout the course of the game to put us in position to win,” said Beal, who returned from a one-game absence because of a quadriceps contusion. “We had several leads and ended up giving up those leads late. It was a matter of us getting stops at the defensive ends.”

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler (right knee soreness) missed his fifth straight game because of right knee soreness while shooters Max Strus (right shoulder impingement) and Duncan Robinson (left ankle sprain) also sat out.

The Heat rallied from a 12-point deficit late in the first quarter and cut it to 59-56 at halftime.

“Obviously, we had shots late that were makeable to keep them at bay,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.