By Jimmy Carroll
On September 30, first overall pick Ben Simmons was forced to leave 76ers practice early with a foot injury. He received the devastating news that he is likely out for at least 10 weeks, and possibly the whole season if his agent decides to hold him out for precautionary reasons. On that day, the 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Award got a whole lot more interesting.
One of the contenders for the award is Buddy Hield. He finished first in the NCAA in points scored last year at Oklahoma and was drafted 6th overall by the New Orleans Pelicans. He was the best shooter in the draft and is perhaps the most dynamic shooter coming from college since Steph Curry. Hield shot 50.1% from the field last year and also shot an impressive 88.0% from the free throw line. New research from Andrew Johnson of Nylon Calculus shows that college free throw percentage is a reliable predictor of success from behind the three-point line in the NBA. He states that the free throw percentage conveys information about the player’s shooting stroke without the ‘noise’ that can affect any particular three point attempt from shot clock, pass placements, or opponent contests. Also, Hield finished the regular season with a True Shooting Percentage of 66.5% which is better than the best college seasons of J.J. Redick, Steph Curry, and Jimmer Fredette.
We have established that Hield is a tremendous shooter. But, what is most dangerous about him is that he is more than just a catch and shoot threat. Hield is tremendous at moving around within the offense to get open and has also shown ability to escape defenders with the dribble. He used this ability to increase his shots made at the rim from 55.0% in 2015 to 63.3% in 2016. This dynamic scoring game can be seen in Hield’s 46-point performance against Kansas last year.
Sometimes college players have trouble adapting to the longer NBA three-point line but that will likely not be a problem for Hield. He proved that he could shoot the deep three with confidence last year and has continued this success into the NBA preseason as he is shooting 5-11 from behind the three-point line through two games. As he showed in college, Hield has NBA three-point range.
Hield has the tools to score in the NBA but what really sets him apart is that he is set to get more minutes than any rookie this year. ESPN Stat Projections have Hield playing 31.3 minutes per game, most among all rookies. Hield is expected to start at SG over E’Twaun Moore and will eat many of the minutes vacated by Eric Gordon, who signed with Houston over the offseason. Of all rookies in the NBA this year, Hield is the only one expected to start for his new team. Kris Dunn will be coming off the bench behind the much improved Zach Lavine. Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are stuck in a log jam of big men for the 76ers behind Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. And Brandon Ingram will be brought on slowly by the Lakers behind still productive vet Luol Deng.
Many of the NBA player awards rely on team success. The Pelicans are coming off of a 30-52 season and aren’t expected to be overly successful this year. This shouldn’t hurt Hield as the Rookie of the Year Award is an exception because the last ten ROY’s had a median team record of 27-55. Also, the large number of minutes Hield will get starting for the Pelicans coupled with his unique ability to score points in a variety of ways gives him an advantage. The ability to not only start games but also score points has been a trend among the last 10 ROY’s as you can see in the table below. The number in parenthesis is the rank among other rookies that year.
|GAMES PLAYED||GAMES STARTED||MIN/G||PTS/G|
|Karl-Anthony Towns||82 (1)||82 (1)||32.0 (1)||18.3 (1)|
|Andrew Wiggins||82 (1)||82 (1)||36.2 (1)||16.9 (1)|
|Michael-Carter Williams||70 (14)||70 (1)||34.5 (1)||16.7 (1)|
|Damian Lillard||82 (1)||82 (1)||38.6 (1)||19.0 (1)|
|Kyrie Irving||51 (23)||51 (3)||30.5 (3)||18.5 (1)|
|Blake Griffin||82 (1)||82 (1)||38.0 (1)||22.5 (1)|
|Tyreke Evans||72 (20)||72 (5)||37.2 (1)||20.1 (1)|
|Derrick Rose||81 (8)||80 (3)||37.0 (2)||16.8 (2)|
|Kevin Durant||80 (4)||80 (1)||34.6 (1)||20.3 (1)|
|Brandon Roy||57 (27)||55 (2)||35.4 (1)||16.8 (1)|
Hield has been developing his game since shooting on his homemade hoop in the Bahamas made of a crate nailed to plywood and has flourished on the national stage by leading his team to the Final Four. He has come just as far as anyone and his journey to the NBA was not easy. With a big role to step into in New Orleans, there is no reason to bet against the heart and desire of Buddy Hield. This is why he will be your 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year.
All stats are via Sports Reference and RealGM