After 173 days of NBA basketball, the arguments of who will be this year’s MVP are still going back and forth, but there is one particular award that should not need much of a debate. This would be because a certain 26-year-old has seen his game improve dramatically over the course of the year, and although Buddy Hield’s season finished outside of the playoff hunt, it is one that he can look back at his season with great pride.
The Sacramento Kings were not in anybody’s playoff predictions at the start of the year, and those turned out to be correct. However, it hasn’t been a typical season from the Kings, as the team is starting to show signs of improvement. In fact, it is where you can find this year’s Most Improved Player, who has come of age, and by one year more than we bargained for on his recent birthday.
Prior to this season, Hield hadn’t hit the heights in his career that he promised when he was awarded the John R. Wooden Award for the best college basketball player after his senior year with Oklahoma in 2016. Given that the award has been won by the likes of Larry Bird, Micheal Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis, it’s fair to say that the expectations were always going to be huge for Hield. He failed to get off the ground and it almost looked as if he would only just be a solid but not significant team option, but that has now changed.
Not only has his improvement been a major key as to why the Kings almost defied the odds and broke the league’s longest playoff drought but he’s also helped himself to some history along the way. Hield has had his best career year to date and has finally shown the signs of the player he was expected to be coming out of college.
On the year, the 6’4 shooting guard is averaging 20.8 points per game while shooting 45.8% from the field – both career highs. What makes it even more impressive is when you look at his shooting from behind the arc, Hield has averaged 42.6% from three – enough to see him ranked sixth among guards in the league (minimum of 62 games played).
On March 24, Hield broke the franchise record for most three-pointers in a season, overtaking Kings legend and now assistant coach Peja Stojaković. Hield made three 3-pointers before halftime against the Pheonix Suns to get the job done and now finds himself in Sacramento history.
Another area of Hield’s game that has improved is his Effective Field Goal Percentage. Last season, he averaged 54%, which has jumped nearly two points to 55.9%. This places him just inside the top 10 for starting guards, and he sits just outside the top 10 by position on True Shooting Percentage with 58.6.
Hield became a starter for the first time, and before Harrison Barnes was added to the line-up in hope of making a final push at the playoffs, he led all Sacramento players in minutes ahead of fellow MIP candidate De’Aaron Fox.
Hield’s game has improved dramatically over the year. Toronto’s Pascal Siakam makes a strong case but you have to remember one thing should you compare the two players.
Siakam is on a contending team and has fully recognized stars Kyle Lowry and former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard beside him. Hield doesn’t have that kind of talent to help him develop and cover up mistakes – and while this Kings team has the potential to be great, at present, it’s far from the level the Raptors play.
Sacramento was written off at the start of the year, but has instead recorded its best season in a long time and a ninth-place finish in a tough Western Conference. Hield’s improvement is a big part of that, and enough of a case to earn the Most Improved Player Award.
Feature photo – Chris Elise / Getty Images / NBAE / USA Today / Double Clutch illustration