Sunday Musings: Live by the Buddy, die by the Buddy
Can the Kings survive the Buddy Hield experience?
Live by the Buddy, die by the Buddy.
You’ll likely see this saying on a t-shirt around Sacramento in the coming months. It's catchy and fun and incredibly spot on.
Whether it’s by design or a fatal flaw to the 2021-22 Kings, this is the most accurate way to describe their season.
When Buddy Hield is on, the Kings have a shot to win games. When he is not, the 28-year-old shooting guard is too much to overcome.
Small sample size be damned, the stats tell a story. They paint a picture and it’s not one that will ever find its way into the Crocker Art Museum.
In the Kings’ 10 wins, Hield shoots 44.3 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3-point range. When he’s hitting his shots, not only is he an offensive weapon, but he locks in on the defensive end. When the team is victorious, his offensive rating is 117 and his defensive rating is 110.
Hield isn’t just good in the wins, he’s a big reason why the Kings come out on top.
The Kings’ 14 losses tell a completely different story. Hield’s stats drop across the board, but his shooting numbers are stunning. In defeat, Hield shoots 35.2 percent from the field and 33.2 percent from 3-point range.
When the shots aren’t falling for Hield, the rest of his game follows. In the Kings’ losses, he posted an offensive rating of 99 and a defensive rating of 119.
Hield isn’t the only Kings player to run staggering win/loss splits, but his volume of shots in losses actually go up when the team is failing, despite the fact that he’s missing at a much higher clip.
In the team’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, Hield took one of the worst shots in recent memory in the third quarter as the game was starting to slip away. Trailing by seven and in the midst of a 28-7 run by the Lakers, Hield fired a 27-foot 3-point attempt with 20 seconds on the shot clock.
This came on the heels of Hield fouling Russell Westbrook on an elbow jumper with the shot clock running down and a play where he turned the ball over on the offensive end and allowed Anthony Davis to beat him down the court for an open layup. There is a minute or two of tape that should be scrubbed from the system forever.
Hield wasn’t the only player to struggle against the Lakers, but he ran a -21 in 32 minutes and finished with just five points on 1-of-7 from the field.
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Following the loss to the Lakers on Tuesday and again during Wednesday’s film session, the Kings had some spirited discussions behind the scenes on accountability and the players taking ownership.
It could be a coincidence, but in the two games following the Lakers debacle, Hield played 22 minutes and 20 minutes in consecutive games against the Clippers. He’s shot a total of 13 shots in those two games.
Maybe the tape was too glaring for interim head coach Alvin Gentry to ignore. Maybe it was a matchup issue or the fact that Terence Davis found his stroke. Maybe Hield took the conversation to heart and changed his approach. Either way, the Kings went 2-0 over the set.
There are so many stats to pick through, which might not be fair, but when Hield shoots less than 42 percent from 3-point range, the Kings are 3-11 on the season. When Hield shoots over 42 percent from three, the Kings are 6-3.
Don’t take all of this the wrong way. Hield is a productive player and he has been throughout his five-plus seasons in Sacramento. He is still one of the elite volume 3-point shooters in the NBA and he might help a very good team get over the hump with his ability to space the floor.
But there is a real question as to whether that team can ever be the Kings.
Sacramento doesn't have the infrastructure in place to handle a free wheeling player like Hield. They don’t have the personalities ready to keep him in check and hold him accountable. They aren’t good enough as a team to survive the downside to his game, like many other teams can.
Kings general manager Monte McNair had Hield on his way to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft day in exchange for Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell, but the Washington Wizards swooped in and offered Russell Westbrook instead.
How different would the Kings look right now with Kuzma and Harrell? The Wizards are playing well with the duo and they would both provide a dimension that Sacramento is lacking.
Hield’s name is likely to come up multiple times between now and the NBA’s February 10 trade deadline, like it did during the offseason. He’s under contract for another two seasons at nearly $40 million, but with his declining scale money and his ability to launch from distance, there should be a market.
With the Kings trying to climb out of another hole, Gentry’s true test may be trying to will his team to victory while avoiding tanking Hield’s value. Hield needs to be better, but his coach and teammates have to realize when he is helping and when he is hurting the team.
Live by the Buddy, die by the Buddy isn’t one man’s problem. Not if the Kings want to snap a 15-year playoff drought.