Now that the NBA Finals are over, rumor season is upon us. The Sixers are in the market to make some changes, even after hiring a new head coach. Even before hiring Doc Rivers, there was buzz surrounding the possibility that the Sixers would be looking into making a deal for Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield. Some of Hield’s activity on social media has generated belief that not only would he like out of Sacramento, but he also would welcome a move to Philly. When asked how they would attempt to fix the Sixers, a league source told The Painted Lines: “Monitor Hield, it’s a coup. They [Sacramento] like Al.”
While that was an interesting bit of information, a recent report from The Athletic stoked the flame. According to The Athletic‘s Jason Jones, Hield and head coach Luke Walton’s relationship is in a bad place, and the 27-year-old guard is no longer answering his coach’s phone calls. That is a very damning report, to say the least, and it pours gasoline on a waning fire.
So, if Hield wants out, it is worth looking over his play to see how he would fit. While many Sixers fans have shown a marked desire to trade for Hield, there is a camp of them that thinks Hield is a one-trick pony that is not worth overpaying for. Upon further review, I have made a firm ruling: some of the narratives surrounding Hield’s game are untrue and ill-founded.
Let’s examine the reality of Hield’s game.
Hield’s Help Defense Is More About Lacking Understanding Than Ability
Hield’s 6’5″ frame and 6’9″ wingspan put his physical metrics right in line with those of Josh Richardson, who cultivated a reputation as a premier wing defender. Hield has the body to be a formidable on-ball and off-ball defender, but the thought processes that go into some of his decisions in help are questionable. When he makes mistakes, his positioning is often off, as it is here:
Hield slides over to close Jayson Tatum’s path to the rim, but he is too far over on his own man to fully cut off Tatum’s line to the basket. Now, Marcus Smart is a good enough offensive player to not be completely disregarded, but consider the context. The decision is to be late on contesting a Smart three-pointer from the wing, if Tatum passes out of the attack, or to surrender a driving lane to a young star whose defender is riding his trailing hip. Hield also had ample time to slide over once he recognized that the Celtics were running a dribble hand-off. He made the decision to not stray too far off of Smart, and ended up surrendering an easy layup.
So, the narrative that Hield is a poor defender is, at least, partially correct.
Hield Is A Fine On-Ball Defender
From all of the film I watched, the only argument that would support the narrative that Hield is a poor on-ball defender is that he is often times hidden on an opponent’s weak offensive link. According to NBA.com, Hield guarded ten players for more than 10 total minutes each throughout the season, In that sample size, those players scored 13.3 points, converted an average of 40.26% of their field goal attempts, and only attempted 2.6 free throws each. So, Hield was able to perturb those scorers without getting into foul trouble.
You may be asking which players he guarded, and you would have a valid question. While seven of those ten players are known to be wildly streaky or less-than-intimidating scorers, three of the ten were Devin Booker, CJ McCollum, and Donovan Mitchell. I should mention that they accounted for three of Hield’s highest matchup minutes. So, the numbers indicate that Hield has a respectable resume as an on-ball defender.
The Eye Test
Nonetheless, the eye test showed that the Kings were content to bet on Hield’s assignment having an off night. But, the eye test also showed that Hield has potential as a legitimate stopper in the right situation. He is able to contest shot attempts cleanly and makes his matchups work to create space. Players like Tatum, Dillon Brooks, and Will Barton had to resort to counter-moves to get themselves open looks. Prior to the shot attempt, he is capable of staying in front of his man, even to the point of forcing him to give up the ball to a teammate when Hield cut off his driving lane.
There was even evidence that the Kings’ defensive system, not Hield, himself, have painted him as a poor defender. There were times when Hield was brutalized by random matchups early in games, but that player continued scoring with ease even after Walton subbed Hield out. In one particular contest in the early stages of the season, Gary Harris lit Hield up without problem in the first quarter. But, even when Hield went out, poor communication and strategy permitted Harris to keep the fire going.
That opens up the possibility that Hield’s reputation is less about his own short-comings and more about the system around him making him look bad. When Hield’s man gets a good look, those looks often stem from poor help rotations from his teammates. So, he looks worse, but it’s not necessarily his fault. The implication is that Hield could be a much better defender with a different team.
If you haven’t concluded it already, this half of the narrative on Hield’s defense is untrue.
Hield Is More Than A Spot-Up Shooter
Buddy Hield’s offensive repertoire is far more evolved than sprinting to a spot and waiting for the ball. When engaged, and when the offensive system around him is operating properly, Hield is an excellent shooter off of movement.
Hield’s limpness invites Brad Wanamaker to fall asleep. When Hield sees Dedmon coming, he bursts around the pin-down screen. Before his body has completely curled into the shot, he’s looking for the pass, and it’s an easy four-point play opportunity. This is a play I envision the Sixers could use pervasively if they were to acquire Hield.
He Can Create Shots Off The Dribble
Not only do the 76ers need a bona fide sniper, but they also need a wing player capable of creating his own shot. Hield is more than capable of doing that. It is more impressive that he is able to create space given his shooting threat. One-on-one defenders know that they need to lock in against him, and he is still able to use counter-moves to create space. While his mid-range conversion rate was below 40% this season, his ability to deposit this look speaks volumes to his capacity to improve upon that efficiency.
This is a fading turn-around jumper coming back to his left, all while operating out of a pick-and-roll. Not an easy bucket.
Hield Is Adept At Making Plays For Others
Hield is also an underrated passer. He is adept at using his shooting prowess to manipulate interior defenses and find open teammates on both the strong- and weak-sides of the court. Watch how he creates a swing play and then ultimately gets his own shot off of great off-ball movement:
The Celtics’ blitz out of the pick-and-roll forces Boston’s help to rotate away from the perimeter to help in the lane. Hield uses the opportunity to air mail a skip pass to Harrison Barnes, who swings to Cory Joseph. Off of the miss, Hield relocates to the corner, and Bogdanovic rewards the active off-ball movement. Knock down.
Hield’s passing bodes well for Joel Embiid, and makes it very inviting for Doc Rivers to implement an aggressive pick-and-roll game. The attention Hield commands forces defenses to react quickly. Watch how Hield reads Richaun Holmes on this pick-and-roll:
The Nuggets send a blitz at Hield on the pick-and-roll, allowing Holmes to slip to the rim unaccounted for. Hield sees his big slipping with no one rotating in help, and hits him with a perfect pass towards the rim. With the dominant presence of Joel Embiid and the athleticism of Ben Simmons, defenses will have to react much quicker, and that will breed mistakes.
Hield Can Get To The Rim Off The Dribble
The Oklahoma product is heady enough to leverage his reputation as a shooter to manipulate defenses into inviting him into the paint. They know they have to play up on him beyond the arc, and he uses that aggressive play to score in other ways. Watch how Hield gets to the rim on this play:
Yes, it is Enes Kanter. However, Hield sees Wanamaker helping on the strong side, and that doesn’t disturb him. Hield knows he can get by Kanter. So, he turns on the jets and attacks the rim aggressively, gaining an inside advantage on Kanter and slipping past him for the finish.
It’s also important to observe that Hield’s shot selection doesn’t suffer even when he’s in a rhythm. He takes the shot that comes within the flow of the offense. He reads what the defense shows and makes his decisions accordingly. Even on off nights, Hield remains aggressive, which is exactly what you want from a true sniper.
Hield is going to be an expensive acquisition. But, he fits multiple roles that the Sixers are desperate to fill. The hiring of Doc Rivers further solidifies that need, as Rivers’ teams have always featured at least one sniper in the rotation. Hield’s offensive package is far more dynamic than given credit for. Not only can he spot up, but he can also create looks with off-ball movement, create his own looks off the dribble, get to the rim, and facilitate for others.
So, the narrative that he is simply an expensive shooter is completely ill-founded.
His capacity as a player is great, but the Sixers now have to actually acquire him. So, let’s take a look at some scenarios that could send the sharpshooter to Philadelphia.
Thybulle Is The Sacrifice
Sixers receive: Buddy Hield, Cory Joseph
Kings receive: Al Horford, Matisse Thybulle, 2020 first round pick (via OKC), 2023 second round pick
The Sixers need a sniper, a perimeter creator, and a backup point guard. This scenario lands them all three, with the roster efficiency of only two players returning in the deal. The Kings get the big man they (have) want(ed), and a young, cost-controlled asset in return. The Sixers throw some sweetener in the coffee with the two draft picks. I have long said that the Sixers need to start valuing young, cost-efficient talent in the later stages of the draft, but they need to get off of one of their bad contracts first. If giving up Thybulle and two picks gets them off of an albatross contract and nets them two players that fill multiple needs, it’s worth it.
The Sixers Give A Young Shooter To Get A Former Almost-Sixer Back
Sixers receive: Buddy Hield, Nemanja Bjelica
Kings receive: Al Horford, Shake Milton, 2020 second round pick (via NYK)
Suddenly, the Sixers’ roster begins to make much more sense. They return two shooters, one of which they had signed previously before he backed out of the deal. In exchange, Sacramento gets Horford, a promising, 3-and-D prospect on a very team-friendly contract, and an early second round pick in the upcoming draft. The allure that Milton offers is that he gives them an inexpensive depth piece with which they can continue their roster construction. That leaves them with room to continue to add more expensive pieces to fortify their roster and fill other needs.
Buddy Hield can be the blockbuster acquisition that changes the Sixers’ outlook for the upcoming season and beyond. He is certainly worth the price tag the Kings place on him, and the Sixers would be wise to do whatever they need to bring him to Philadelphia.