‘Buddy’ stepping up in Fox’s absence

After struggling to open the season, Bahamian Chavano “Buddy” Hield and the Sacramento Kings are now just two games off last season’s pace when they were a playoff contender for much of the season.

With an 8-11 win-loss record, the Kings are tied for ninth in the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA), just a game behind the eighth-place Phoenix Suns who themselves are having a progressive season. The Kings have dropped three of their last four, including a disappointing 113-106 setback to the Chicago Bulls on Monday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. However, they are playing much better than they did at the beginning of the season when they dropped their first five games. They have turned their season around, and they are doing it without up-and-coming point guard De’Aaron Fox and talented reserve forward Marvin Bagley III.

Hield has been fantastic in their absence, averaging a career-high in minutes played, taking over a lot of the ball-handling duties in Fox’s absence and improving on the defensive end while maintaining offensive consistency.

Hield is averaging a career-high 20.8 points in 33.7 minutes per game, leading the Kings in scoring, is shooting a greater volume of shots and although his field goal percentage and three-point percentage have dropped a bit so far, he has had some spectacular individual performances this season and is tied for second in the league in three-pointers made with 72. Hield is well ahead of last year’s pace when he dropped a Kings’ record 278 three-pointers – the seventh-most prolific season from behind the arc in NBA history. Only three athletes have ever hit more – Stephen Curry, who has done it four times, James Harden and Paul George.

Hield has dropped off a bit in his last three games, shooting wise, but he’s still scoring at a high rate. He has scored 20-plus points in each of his last four games including a career-night against the Boston Celtics on November 25. That night, Hield scored 41 points and buried 11 three-pointers – both career highs, albeit in a tough 103-102 loss for the Kings. In fact, in two games against the Celtics this season, Hield has erupted for 76 points and shot 18-for-33 from distance. He has hit at least one three-pointer in 18 of 19 games this season, including 13 straight. The Bahamian two-guard from Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama, is on pace to hit over 300 pointers this season despite shooting a career-low so far from behind the arc (36.5 percent).

Hield has repeatedly said that individual numbers is not his focus. He wants to do whatever he can to lead the Kings to the playoffs, and if it takes him scoring at a high rate for that to happen, so be it. So far he is certainly justifying the multi-year contract extension that the Kings gave him prior to the start of the season, and the Kings are once again battling to be among the top eight in the west.

After his career night at the TD Garden in Boston on the second leg of a back-to-back, Hield spoke more of the missed opportunities for his team in getting a win rather than his huge offensive outburst. He wasn’t satisfied, given the end result.

“I felt pissed off,” said Hield following the heart-breaking one-point loss in Boston. “It’s a great opportunity, great career-high, 11 threes, which is hard to do in this league, but it’s all about getting the ‘W’. I’ll have another crack at it and hopefully we’ll get a ‘W’.”

Hield’s 11 threes against Boston were a new single-game franchise record. Still, Hield would trade any amount of points for wins.

“We’re making good strides but we can’t get satisfied. We can’t be too relaxed sometimes,” he said. “We’ve got to stay locked in and keep getting better. We haven’t done anything yet. It sucks not getting the win. I’ll get another crack at it for sure.”

Along with his 20.8 points per game, Hield is averaging 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game – slightly above his career averages. The 6’4” 220-pound 26-year-old guard is 25th in the league in scoring and is making a case for a spot in the NBA All-Star Game this year.

Last season he averaged 20.7 points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor and 42.7 percent from three-point land in 31.9 minutes per game. He started all 82 games for the Kings, setting career-highs in points, rebounds and assists per game as well as free-throw percentage.

In Kings annals, Hield ranks first in three-point field goal percentage (.429), fourth in three-pointers made (513) and third in free-throw percentage among franchise leaders.

This year he is continuing to produce. Both Fox and Bagley are being monitored and are expected to return to action before the end of the year, but in the meantime, Hield is carrying the weight of playoff aspirations for the Kings on his shoulders, stepping up to the challenge night in and night out. About a quarter of the way through the 2019-2020 NBA season, the Kings have rebounded from a rough start and are now just one game out of the eight and final playoff spot in the west. The Kings have missed the playoffs in 13 straight seasons – the longest drought in the NBA.

It doesn’t get any easier for them as they start a four-game road trip out west tonight, taking on the Portland Trail Blazers and then moving into the Texas triangle, playing three games in four nights against San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. The Kings will then come home for two games before going on another four-game road trip, and then will end the year with four out of five at home. 

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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