Buddy Hield says trip to Oklahoma in early December helped 'revive' his season

NEW YORK – It’s not often that a player can target a single game or moment that served as a distinct turning point for his season, but Buddy Hield shows absolutely no hesitation regarding when his rookie campaign did a 180.

“Going to Oklahoma. That’s when everything started to turn around for me,” Hield said of a Dec. 4 game in Oklahoma City, his first as a pro in the Sooner State. “I feel like it was a homecoming, something I needed. I feel like when I was down there, playing in that city, staying in that state, I just got revived. I was able to shoot the ball well, put some quick points up on the board. A couple games later, I just started shooting the ball well. I feel like that game helped me out, really.”

Since that first Sunday in December, the former Oklahoma Sooners standout – Hield led OU to a Final Four appearance last spring and was a consensus national Player of the Year – has been on a shooting tear from the three-point arc. The 23-year-old was off to a poor start prior to facing the Thunder, at just 23.7 percent from three-point range, but beginning with a 16-point, four-trey night in OKC, he’s led the NBA in percentage (among players who launch at least four trifectas per game).

Hield is shooting a red-hot 50.0 percent since the start of December, connecting on 47 of his 94 tries. Next on the list are elite perimeter gunners Kyle Lowry (49.0 percent) and Danny Green (46.8). The sixth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft has also made at least one three-pointer in eight consecutive games and is shooting 56 percent over four January games (14/25, with at least three makes each time).

“It’s confidence, to keep me going as a rookie,” Hield said of his uptick, on WRNO’s postgame radio show Monday, following his 11-point, three-trey outing at Madison Square Garden. “The coaches and everybody encourage me to shoot the ball. Jrue (Holiday) and (Anthony Davis), they always get on me, always give me the confidence and motivation to stay on point with everything I do. Hats off to my teammates and the coaching staff for giving me confidence to shoot the ball well.”

It also helped Hield that despite his rough first month in the NBA, Pelicans second-year head coach Alvin Gentry opted to elevate the native of the Bahamas into the starting lineup the night after Hield’s breakthrough at Chesapeake Energy Arena. In addition to Hield’s trip to Oklahoma, a distinct line can be drawn between his performance as a reserve (26.6 percent on threes, 7.4 points per game) and starter (48.4 percent, 11.0 ppg).

While Hield clearly benefited from the intangible comforts of returning for a December weekend to where he starred in college, he’s also noticed fervent support in the Smoothie King Center – where fans seem to cheer his every move and sometimes chant “Bud-dy!” – as well as on the road in select cities. New York was one such place, as there were a number of flags representing the Bahamas in Madison Square Garden.

“It was special. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it,” Hield said of playing in the historic NYC venue. “The fans here, they embraced us really well. Coming out (on the floor), I realized how many Bahamian flags there were in the building. It’s a great venue to play at. It’s a great shooter’s gym.”