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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.

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).