Buddy Hield
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Player Review 2022: Buddy Hield

Age: 29
Years Pro: 6
Status: Under contract for two more seasons (through 2023-24).
Key Stats: Averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists over 26 games with the Pacers. Averaged 14.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 55 games for Sacramento prior to trade.

Buddy Hield proved to be far more than just a throw-in during his first two months as a Pacer. While Indiana's six-player deal with Sacramento at the trade deadline was viewed largely through the lens of acquiring second-year guard Tyrese Haliburton as the team's point guard of the future, the Pacers also landed another player capable of making a significant impact in Hield.

The 29-year-old sharpshooter spoke openly about his desire for a fresh start after five years in Sacramento. He got just that in Indiana and took full advantage of it.

Hield had thrived for a time with the Kings, averaging 20.7 points and shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range in 2018-19, a career year that earned him a lucrative contract extension that offseason. But Hield's production and playing time slowly tapered off over the ensuing seasons as the Kings cycled through coaches. His scoring average dropped each of his next three seasons in Sacramento and he moved from a starter to a reserve this season.

Hield started just five of 55 games for the Kings this year prior to the trade, averaging 14.4 points on 38.2 percent shooting. Nearly 75 percent of his shot attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc as Sacramento deployed him primarily as a spot-up shooter.

The trade couldn't have come at a better time for Hield, who felt underutilized and unfulfilled in his role with the Kings. But joining a Pacers team that had just dealt away several key players and had several others sidelined due to injury, Hield was instantly a go-to offensive option.

Head coach Rick Carlisle immediately inserted Hield and Haliburton in the starting lineup and gave them the freedom to initiate offense. The results were startling.

Hield started all 26 games after joining the Pacers and saw his production skyrocket. After averaging just 8.1 points over his final nine games with the Kings, Hield scored in double figures in 24 of 26 games with the Blue & Gold, including his first 15. He scored 36 points and went 8-for-12 from 3-point range against Milwaukee on Feb. 15, seven more points than he had scored in any game this season.

Playing again as a primary scoring threat, Hield's scoring averaged jumped to 18.2 points during his first two months in Indiana. He was the Pacers' leading scorer among players that played in at least half the games over that span and topped 20 points on nine occasions.

Buddy Hield

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Hield had the ball in his hands a lot more than he did in Sacramento, leading to some stark statistical contrasts. The majority of his shots still came from 3-point range, but he took nearly just as many from inside the arc (8.5 per game to 7.1). As a result, his field-goal percentage jumped from .382 with the Kings to .447 with the Pacers, despite his 3-point percentage remaining more or less identical.

Perhaps the most impressive development during Hield's initial run in Indiana was his emergence as a true playmaking threat. In his very first game with the Blue & Gold on Feb. 11, he flirted with a triple-double, tallying 16 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. He later matched his career high with nine assists in a game at Detroit on March 4.

Overall, Hield averaged 4.8 assists per game with the Pacers, a huge jump from his 1.9 average with the Kings and a full 1.2 assists per game higher than his best average over his previous five NBA seasons. When asked about it throughout the past two months, Hield attributed his statistical improvement to the trust of Carlisle to allow him to do more with the ball.

"Rick gives us the freedom to do a lot of stuff," Hield told the media in his exit interview last week. "...More freedom, more opportunity on the basketball court. More time where I don't have to feel like I'm pressing like I was in certain situations (in Sacramento). Not saying I was pressing, but the opportunity was (limited). If I don't get it done, I'm going to be on the bench.

"But (in Indiana) I know the minutes I'm getting each and every game and I've been able to settle, relax, and let my game come to me instead of trying to chase it."

Another of Hield's best attributes is his availability. He appeared in 81 total games this season, only missing one game on the night the Kings finalized the trade to send him to Indiana. Over his six seasons in the NBA, Hield has missed only three games due to injury or illness.

One area where Hield admitted he can improve is his 3-point shooting. He has established himself as one of the league's preeminent marksmen, with a career 3-point percentage just under 40 percent. He made 262 threes this season, the most of any player in the NBA aside from Stephen Curry, but shot just 36.6 percent from beyond the arc, his lowest 3-point percentage of his career. If he can bring that percentage back up while continuing to score and create in other ways, he'll be even more lethal for the Pacers next season.

Looking forward to next season, Hield appears in position to have another significant role in Indiana's offense. He has two more years on a reasonable contract and is already comfortable in Carlisle's system. Improved health and possible backcourt additions through the draft or free agency may not guarantee him a spot in the starting lineup, but at minimum Hield could be penciled in for a sixth man role.

Most importantly, Hield is happy. After he was traded to Indiana, he spoke often about "rediscovering his joy" playing for the Pacers. A true lover of the game, Hield is a gym rat who is still chasing an elusive goal — he has yet to have the chance to play in the playoffs. That will likely be a driving factor for him as he attacks another offseason.

Could that finally happen for Hield next season in Indiana? We'll have to wait and see.

2022 Pacers.com Player Review Schedule

April 18: Tyrese Haliburton
April 19: Buddy Hield
April 20: Chris Duarte
April 21: Isaiah Jackson
April 22: Oshae Brissett
April 23: Malcolm Brogdon
April 24: Goga Bitadze
April 25: Myles Turner
April 26: Duane Washington Jr.
April 27: T.J. McConnell
April 28: Jalen Smith
April 29: Lance Stephenson
April 30: Terry Taylor