There is a reasonable debate around the globe about just how much Stephen Curry and his two-season run have and will change the game. But there is no debate that players with enough size and athleticism to defend NBA players, who have exceptional abilities to make 3-point shots, with range out to 27 feet and beyond, have never been more valued in the NBA. This past season saw seven of the top eight 3-point-shooting teams, by percentage, make the NBA playoffs. Nine of the top 10 in terms of made 3s were in the playoffs.
Buddy Hield is entering the draft at likely the single best time for his abilities. Will Hield be drafted higher than he should be, or is he worthy of a projected top-eight pick? Although he might not be the next Curry, can he at least be Curry-like?
What Hield brings on offense
Buddy Hield is the best shooter in the draft and perhaps the most dynamic shooter to be in the draft since, yes, Curry. Without doing anything else, Hield can help any team improve its 3-point shooting percentage and volume, and without a doubt, we will be seeing him compete for "best shooter on his team" throughout his career. To start, Hield's shot looks great, often fully extending on his release and staying balanced.
Knowing that he shot so well the past season (45.7 percent), despite the incredible attention from defenses in every game, makes him even more attractive because Hield has been good to great the past three seasons as a deep shooter. New research suggests that how a player shoots from the free throw line is a reliable way to project how he will shoot the NBA 3. Hield scores great here as well (83.6 percent from the free throw line in college).
The fact that Hield is not just a catch-and-shoot guy allows him to be more of a "core guy," someone who can create for himself, rather than be just a sweet-shooting role player. Hield has a great feel for how to get open -- not just by using screens as part of the overall design of the offense but also by improvising within the offense.
Whether it's repositioning after moving to a spot or letting the play develop ahead in transition, Hield has a knack for teasing out open moments.
At Oklahoma, Hield had the green light to take most any shot from about any range -- a savvy move by his coach, Lon Kruger. One change Curry has sparked in the basketball world is the use of deep 3s to open up team offenses. If a player can make a 28-foot shot at a good percentage, defenses are forced to make choices that will expose weaknesses. Hield could have a similar "Curry effect" in the NBA if allowed.
Hield is not a one-dimensional player on offense, which is a big reason he is projected to be drafted so high. He is an exceptionally long-armed guard with very good athletic skills. And though it is nowhere near Curry's level of shot creation, Hield's ability to create scoring chances is better than that of most pure shooters.
Hield is adept at using ball screens, or refusing them, and he has a good eye for reading which tactic to use. Long arms and quick feet enable him to get to the rim quickly and finish well in traffic. If teams press up to take away his shooting, Hield will be difficult for many NBA wings to defend.
Hield can also be a very dangerous player for teams that want to play fast. He is athletic enough to do so, fast enough to beat people down the floor and crafty around the rim. He has learned how to use his deep shooting as a weapon in transition, with the confidence to let it fly and the smarts to bait defenders into thinking he is about to pull up before blowing by.
What Hield brings on defense
Seeing how Hield was the one Sooner who simply had to stay on the court for his team to be special, it's not fair to evaluate him fully on defense. A willingness to foul -- or at least willingness to risk fouling -- is a key part of playing great defense. But Hield's 6-foot-9.25 wingspan (a quarter inch longer than Klay Thompson's) and 8-foot-5 standing reach are very good for shooting guards and more than make up for his 6-foot-5 (in shoes) height. Quick, agile and with a long reach, Hield could rack up more steals in the NBA than he did in college.
Expect Hield to be a solid defender, though probably not an elite one. Adding strength will help a great deal and might even allow him to defend his fair share of small forwards. Hield should be quick enough to stay connected to point guards as well.
Concerns about Hield
Based on what sources have said, Hield is a can't-miss talent with a terrific work ethic and mental maturity. This isn't someone who will get in his own way.
If looking for reasons to be concerned, though, could Hield be a player who made a ton of tough shots in college but can't be as productive or efficient on a tighter leash in the NBA? Is he another Jimmer Fredette?
It's fair to compare, but that seems very unlikely, thanks to Hield's agility and skills as an athlete with the ball. Plus, he's just a better pure shooter.
How high is Hield's ceiling?
Buddy Hield most reminds me of a 20-year-old Ray Allen. He is a little smaller and a little longer, but Allen's shooting career masked what was an outstanding athlete as a younger player. In the more open NBA game, Hield will have lots of room to show athleticism -- and his shooting talent is at the elite level.
No, his stroke is not as pretty as Allen's was, but the results are equally beautiful and deadly. Can he be a team's top scorer? Probably. And Curry's impact on the league could mean Hield will get ample opportunity to be just that, a guy with permission to take a lot of tough shots.
It's not smart to expect Hield to be like Curry; he isn't the ball handler and passer Curry was at the same age. And Hield will likely be better playing alongside another top scorer, a deadly second weapon.
Allen was a 20-plus point per game scorer for nine seasons in the NBA, an impressive feat that also isn't fair to expect. Can Hield do that for five-plus seasons? Yes. C.J. McCollum's season this year with Damian Lillard is an attainable benchmark for the Oklahoma standout. He turned a rabid football school into his own personal entourage, and he can do similar things for an NBA franchise.