Pelicans’ Buddy Hield slowly starting to figure out NBA-style game

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LAS VEGAS — There have been moments the last couple of days when Buddy Hield looks like he’s figuring the NBA style of game out. Just like he did the college game at Oklahoma, it took some time but he got there. Sunday night against Utah, Hield hit four consecutive 3-pointers late to make it a one-point game. Monday night he got hot in the third quarter, using screens better, hitting from the midrange, and showing off his stepback, pushing the Pelicans into a lead they would never give up. He’s scored 44 points in his last two games.

But New Orleans’ No. 6 pick is still a combined 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) shooting in the two games, and he was 3-of-12 from three Monday. He struggled to create space to get off those shots at time. Simply put, 44 points on 43 shots is not efficient enough.

Why is it working sometimes and not others? What was the difference in that third quarter Monday when he was hitting after a rough first half?

“Coach told me if I don’t make a shot he’s gonna shoot me, so I was just more locked in and focused,” Hield said with a laugh.

“I said a little something to him, but he got the message,” Pelicans’ Summer League coach Robert Pack added.

Jokes aside, Hield is going through the adjustments every top rookie faces — the game is moving a lot faster for him, the players more athletic, and defenses are keying on him in ways he’s not used to seeing. In the first half Monday, Sacramento’s Malachi Richardson did a good job of taking away Hield’s space and denying him the ball. Hield seemed rushed. That’s when he struggles with his shot.

“When he starts to get sped up. Or when he’s trying to do a little too much with the ball,” Pack said of when Hield isn’t shooting like expected. “Sometimes as a shooter, he hasn’t really gotten in that rhythm, and he tries to find it, he hits a couple, then he gets where he needs to move it off him and get it back at a different time. He has to know how to differentiate between the times he needs to go, and when he needs to move it and get it back. I think he’s getting it, he’s gotten better every game.”

“(It’s slowing down) somewhat,” Hield said of the game after three outings in Summer League. “You still gotta play and they guarded me different, they top-sided me all day, it frustrated me a little bit. I’m used to Oklahoma when I would just go get the ball, but now the NBA’s all about spacing and you gotta make more smarter plays. I mishandled the ball a few times, but I’ll get better at that through.”

You could see him learning and adjusting over the course of the game. Coming off screens to get the ball was not something he had to do in Oklahoma, he’s just learning how to do that now. And how to deal with teams sending much longer, more physical defenders at him.

“Teams are coming and trying to put their hands on him, be aggressive, rough him up a little bit, and it’s going to be even more when we get in the regular season,” Pack said. “This is a good test for him to feel what the physicality is like at this level and to play through it and have some success.”

Welcome to the NBA. This is what it’s going to be like every night come October. And Hield is in a different role than he was in Oklahoma.

“I think this summer will give him a feel of how he needs to play in the league, and a test of playing hard, and being patient with his set ups,” Pack said. “In the season there will be more guys on the floor who can do things, so he’ll have help, but this will give him a good test of things he needs to work on before he gets to camp.”