Buddy Buckets Aims for 3-Point Contest

Get an in-depth look at why the Sacramento standout's stellar outside shooting could earn him a coveted spot in the All-Star Weekend competition.
by Alex Kramers
Kings.com Contributor

Recognized as one of the NBA’s most prolific sophomores, Buddy Hield is headed to Los Angeles next month for his second consecutive NBA All-Star Weekend experience. The Kings guard will join teammate Bogdan Bogdanovic on the World Team in the Rising Stars Challenge, the League's annual showcase of premier up-and-comers, on Friday, Feb. 16.

But as the Bahamas native keeps tossing in long-distance jumpshots as effortlessly as uncontested layups, the sharpshooting guard has his eyes set on a loftier goal – proving he belongs alongside the game’s elite three-point marksmen in an All-Star Saturday Night signature event.

No. 24’s deadeye accuracy indicates he not only deserves an invite, but is among the game’s most qualified candidates.

On the season, Hield’s three-point percentage (44.2) is the sixth-highest among 168 players who’ve attempted at least 100 triples, ahead of every one of last year's Three-Point Contest participants, with the exception of the Warriors' Klay Thompson.

Since 2014, only four selected players have shot at a higher clip than Hield prior to the All-Star break; the cumulative three-point percentage of all competitors is 41 percent.

Zoom in closer, and since Nov. 1, the Oklahoma product has drilled 88 of 186 tries from beyond the arc, the highest percentage (47.8 percent) among all qualified players, according to NBA.com. The Kings guard’s nearly unblemished shot chart illustrates he’s been exceptional from virtually every position on the court, including 21 of 32 (65.6 percent) from the corners and 21 of 36 (58.3 percent) from the top of the key.

“I just try to prepare myself mentally before the game, and try to stay locked in early, so I can get loose and see the ball go in a lot," said Hield, adding that he aims to make 21 out of 25 shots from five spots around the three-point arc at each practice. “I get a good rhythm, so when I get on the court – whether I’m starting or coming off the bench – I can be ready."

It’s almost unfathomable that over the first seven games of the season, Hield was mired in the worst shooting slump of his young career, uncharacteristically misfiring on 24 of 31 three-point attempts. When Kings Head Coach Dave Joerger opted to shift the second-year guard to a reserve role, the team's second-leading scorer rediscovered his confidence and shooting rhythm, while becoming more accustomed to the flow of the game.

“I just started in a funk,” he said. “I think I needed to be more patient. (I needed) to slow down a little bit and let the game come to me. But once you see a few go down, your confidence goes up.

“It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. I just have to keep working, keep grinding, and take it day by day.”

The 2016 National Player of the Year has thrived while mainly leading the second unit and consistently playing alongside guards De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Frank Mason, who’ve combined for 43 of his 96 assisted three-pointers. Hield credits Sacramento’s crafty playmakers for drawing in defenses and freeing him up for excellent looks at the basket.

“It helps a lot, (now that) we’re starting to figure out how to play with each other,” said Hield. “Fox pushes the tempo, and I tell him (the spots) I like the ball. When we’re running, I always tell him, ‘Just get it to me. I’ll put it up.’”

Nearly a quarter of Hield’s long-range attempts have been wide-open – no defender within six feet, per NBA.com – and the Kings guard has taken full advantage by sinking 53.1 percent of them – ahead of Stephen Curry (52.2) and Kyle Korver (48.6).

No longer settling for less-efficient pull-up jumpshots, Hield’s offensive resurgence has been catapulted by an increase in catch-and-shoot opportunities, which have accounted for nearly 30 percent of his three-point attempts over the last three months. Adept at getting open off screens and releasing the ball before his defender has a chance to react, he's connected on a blistering 58.6 percent in such situations – nearly eight percent higher than the next-closest player (min. 50 attempts).

“It’s something I’ve been working on all my life, and I’m finding a rhythm in the NBA,” said Hield. “My goal is to make as many catch-and-shoot shots (as I take), because those are the easy ones.”

Not only is Hield hitting at a higher rate than anyone in the League, but he’s also making shots when it matters most. The 2016-17 All-Rookie First Teamer has connected on 4-of-9 tries from distance (44.4 percent) in clutch situations – the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of a five-point game – tied for the 10th-best mark among players with at least as many attempts.

In a back-and-forth contest against the Clippers on Nov. 25, 2017, Hield drilled an off-the-dribble three-pointer – his fourth of the quarter and career-best seventh of the game – to knot up the score with 14.8 seconds left on the clock. Two weeks later, his long-range shooting was yet again crucial in a fourth-quarter comeback in New Orleans, when the 6-foot-4 guard came off a screen to knock down a game-tying 25-footer from the right wing to force overtime.

“He's a guy who can go and make four, five, six in a row – and they can be tough (shots)," said Kings Head Coach Joerger. “I think he's one of those guys you have to let take a bad shot every now and then to let him loosen up, find a rhythm – maybe a ball goes in. (When) he gets going, it really propels us."

In less than two seasons with the team, Hield is already making an undeniable mark in Kings annals. His 2.2 threes-per-game average is the highest in franchise history, ahead of franchise legends Peja Stojakovic (2.1), Mitch Richmond (1.9) and Mike Bibby (1.6), per basketball-reference.com. Hield’s career 43.7 percent three-point accuracy also leads all Sacramento players with at least 200 attempts from distance, topping both Richmond (40.4) and Stojakovic (39.8).

Richmond and Stojakovic, along with Jim Les, are Sacramento’s three previous representatives in the Three-Point Contest. Les came a money ball shy of defeating defending-champion Craig Hodges for the title in 1992, while Richmond reached the semifinals the same year and earned his second selection in 1994. Two of No. 16's four appearances (2002 and 2003) culminated with the Serbia native hoisting the trophy over his head, after scorching the nets with some of the most impeccable shooting displays in event history.

Hield is hopeful he’ll get a chance to join that list, and utilize his penchant for coming through in crunch time to bring the coveted title back to Sacramento.

“If it doesn’t happen now, it will happen sometime in my career. But if (I’m selected) now to go against the best – against Klay and all those guys – in L.A., I’ll go there to compete and win,” he said.

“You go there to win, right? I’m not going there to lose.”

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