Sports

Kings winning despite benching for Hield

Bahamian “Buddy” Hield is as productive as he has ever been, but the Sacramento Kings have flourished since he was relegated to the bench.

Hield is averaging almost just as much minutes as when he was a starter, and is no doubt worthy of the starting position, but the Kings have benefitted from him being the first man off the bench and adding some fire power to their second unit. Going into tonight’s match-up at home against the Washington Wizards, the Kings have won two straight, five of their last six, eight of their last 11 of their last 16 – all with Hield coming off the bench.

The Bahamian 27-year-old two-guard is still putting up respectable numbers – averaging 19.8 points per game over that span as opposed to 20 before that. For the season, he is at 19.9 on 42.8 percent from the floor. He is shooting 38.6 percent from distance and is second in the league and made three-pointers at 225, still on pace to surpass the franchise record of 278 he had a year ago.

More importantly, for Hield and the Kings, their latest surge has them just three games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association (NBA), sitting tied for ninth in the west with a 26-34 win-loss record. The eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies are 29-31.

It’s going on 14 seasons since the Kings last made the playoffs – the longest drought in the NBA, but now, they are very much in contention. They would have to go 15-7 the rest of the way to get to .500 basketball and give themselves a shot of making the playoffs.

Hield hasn’t been completely supportive of his new role off the bench, but the Bahamian sharp shooter has accepted it and the Kings have turned the corner. Just six weeks ago, they were 15-29 and tied for 13th in the west. Just the Golden State Warriors were worse in the west. The Kings give a lot of credit for their sudden rise to second-year power forward Harry Giles III, who had the best month of his season in February, and has started off March the same way.

Hield spoke highly of the impact of Giles.

“I think Harry is probably the reason why we win,” Hield said to Jason Jones of The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website covering the Kings. “With his energy, the way he moves without the ball, he screens, he competes. He makes some silly fouls, but that’s Harry, he’s going to compete, and that’s one thing we like about Harry, he’s going to compete each and every possession. He’s not going to quit.”

Hield has led a resurgence off the bench, and for the Kings in general, during this recent stretch. On Sunday, he had 19 points on 7-for-17 shooting in a 106-100 comeback win over the Detroit Pistons – their fifth win in a row at home. Hield was 3-for-11 from distance and added six rebounds and two assists. He had a +16 -/+ statistic while on the floor – the largest on the team.

“Right now, as a team, we’re moving in the right direction,” said Hield to ESPN. “We’re playing together, having fun and competing every night.”

The Pistons were off to one of its best starts of the season after leading 18-1 and 27-6 early on, but couldn’t keep up the pace after point guard Derrick Rose suffered an apparent ankle injury in the first quarter. Led by Hield and the Kings’ second unit, they came all the way back, pulling to within at the half, 51-51, and surging ahead 76-70 at the end of three. The Pistons fell behind 102-89 in the fourth before scoring 10 straight. Kings’ point guard De’Aaron Fox, who was questionable before the game with lower abdominal soreness, ended the run with an 11-foot jumper. Brandon Knight made a free throw for Detroit before Hield made two to help Sacramento hold on.

This marked the third time this season that the Kings overcame a 20-point deficit or more and won – most in the NBA.

Fox led the Kings with 23 points and seven assists against the Pistons on Sunday. Hield contributed 19 off the bench, and Bogdan Bogdanovich who starts in place of Hield, had 15. The Pistons were led by 20 from Christian Wood. Knight had 16 off the bench and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk added 14.

For the season, Fox leads the Kings in scoring at 20.1 points per game. Hield is right there behind him, averaging 19.9, and was one of the guys who carried the team when Fox was out with injury for the first portion of the season. Hield is averaging a career-high 32.4 minutes per game this season.

Hield, as the primary scorer off the bench for the Kings, is a huge reason for the turnaround they are experiencing. The Kings are still lacking an identity, on both offense and defense, and are still eight full games under .500 basketball, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that they will miss the playoffs for a 14th straight season. They have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league as 13 of their final 22 games are at home – inside the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California – and 13 are against teams below .500 basketball.

A strong finish would go a long way toward them ending their league-long playoff drought.

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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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