Seeking positives: Buddy Hield’s playmaking has shown improvement

(Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images) /

While this has been a down year in nearly every aspect for Buddy Hield, he has shown positive progression as a passer lately.

Buddy Hield was never expected to be playmaking for others; he is a shooter. The issue is his limited skill set. When a player’s lone elite skill is down to a borderline average level, their flaws are highlighted as they are not being made up for.

Hield has been pushed into a playmaking role for others, with the primary initiator De’Aaron Fox missing 18 games. Bogdan Bogdanovic is capable in this aspect, but he’s missed a handful of games as well. Hield took on added responsibilities when Cory Joseph, who is a subpar passer himself, became his backcourt running mate.

I’ve been debating writing this piece for a while, but Hield dishing out a career-high 8 assists in Denver forced my hand. Despite his assist average increasing by just one-half per game, Hield has  already logged 7 games of at least 5 assists — a criterion he met just 9 times throughout all of 2018-19.

It’s not about being the final pass to a shooter that knocks down the shot, even if that qualifies as an assist. It is more about the next-level reads that Hield has introduced by coming off of screens or orchestrating the pick-and-roll himself.

The play in the following clip is about as fundamental as it gets, but numerous players do not have the poise and presence of mind to execute this pass in a tight pocket. A simplistic drag screen from Richaun Holmes in semi-transition engages Kristaps Porzingis in a drop coverage. Hield hesitates and throws the slightest pump fake that is sufficient enough to make Porzingis bite, and hits a rolling Holmes flawlessly through the pocket.

Another pocket pass following a pump-fake, this connecting with Marvin Bagley.

While this was shown on occasion last season, there is increased regularity from Hield this year. Here is Hield running a comparable action with Holmes as his target yet again. This time, Hield employs a pass over the top that Holmes could have slammed down with Danilo Gallinari being late to rotate if he would have expected the lob. Simple, but nice to see.

Hield has more assists to Holmes than any other member of the Sacramento roster with 28, just one higher than with Joseph. The pair of Holmes and Hield have been heavily relied on to generate offense with varying levels of success throughout the first third of the 2019-20 season.

The following pass is where true development can be noticed in Hield’s vision. He goes toward the screen from Bagley, and right as he eyes PJ Tucker hit the paint to tag the rolling Bagley, he finds Nemanja Bjelicia, who Tucker just rotated off of, wide-open in the corner.

In no way am I trying to state that Buddy Hield is now some phenomenal floor general setting up his teammates every time down the floor. But Hield has strengthened his ability to read the defense and make a pass accordingly. In the most recent game in Denver, it was on full display.

Yes, a few of his assists had nothing to do with the pass from Hield at all. He simply was rewarded for a teammate making a play. But let’s take a look at Hield running this two-man game yet again with Holmes.

Hield has both Will Barton and Nikola Jokic occupied, notices that Jerami Grant failed to tag the unstoppable force that is Richaun Holmes — easy lob. (The pass was a hair behind Holmes, but it’s more about the read that Buddy is now making).

In the following clip, Hield and Holmes run a pick-and-roll, and Grant rightfully tags the roller this time around. Meanwhile, Hield aggressively attacks the rim. He gets in the air and pulled four Nuggets players into the paint now with him. Michael Porter Jr. stunts excessively off of the strongside corner (a big no-no from the rookie getting his first NBA start) and Hield exposes the defensive flaw.

The passes are what you would hope to be included in the basic skill set of an overly talented offensive player, and they certainly have no wow factor to them. But Hield is just now developing his passing skills and utilizing his gravity as a shooter to find his teammates.

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It’s nothing major, but there is a need to find positives. Frankly, Hield has been having a terrible season. It can be blamed on all of the aforementioned injuries, or a new system being implemented by Luke Walton, but Hield is due for some individual blame as well.

He still is turnover prone, guilty of tunnel vision, and I would undoubtedly prefer others to have the ball in their hands over Hield in the closing minutes. But progress is progress.