If someone were to hold a gun to my head and asked me who my First-Team All-American squad is today, I would be terrified and a bit confused since 1) having a gun to my head has to be a stressful situation to be in, and 2) it seems a bit over-the-top to resort to death threats over something as trivial as mid-season All-American picks. But after drying my tears and in between uncontrollable sobs and silent prayers, I would answer the crazy guy (or gal!) holding the gun with the following five names:
1. Buddy Hield
2. Denzel Valentine
3. Kris Dunn
4. Ben Simmons
5. Brice Johnson (he narrowly beats out Wiltjer and Trimble)
I already wrote a while back on the spectacularness of Kris Dunn, calling him my early pick for college basketball Player of the Year. While I still love Dunn and his ridiculous game, I now have a new favorite to win the coveted POY award - Oklahoma's Buddy Hield. Like Dunn before him, it's time we give Buddy his fair share of attention by diving into the depths of Hield's game and discovering just what makes him so great.
I've had the pleasure of watching Hield in three full games this year (vs. West Virginia, at Kansas, and at Iowa State), along with catching parts of several other of his contests, and don't think I can't count on two hands and two feet how many times I've loudly said "OH MY GOD" at the television after Buddy hits a contested three (or consecutive contested threes). Part of the reason for these exclamations were gambling related as I took Oklahoma +6 against the Jay Birds (hooray Buddy! nice shot!) and Iowa State -2 (Jesus Christ Buddy stop making so many f**king threes!), but another part - a better part - was due to the fact I was so awe-struck by what I was watching. In those three games alone, Hield went 17/30 from downtown (56.7%), and on the season, he is hitting an ungodly 51.5% of his threes (13th best in the country). Buddy isn't shooting a low volume of three-pointer either, his 70 makes are good for 3rd in the country, and his 136 attempts are good for 29th nationally. There really is no way to stop this guy: he hits threes on step-backs, on pull-ups, spot-ups, off-balance, doesn't matter - when Buddy shoots a shot from deep, it's probably going through the net. I mean just look at these shots:
Also Buddy has an uncanny knack of filling lanes, finding space and hitting treys in transition:
The Buddy Two-Step
Scoring comes easy for Buddy Hield, and not just by ways of the three. Hield scores basically however he wants to - at 26.1 points per game, he is 2nd in the nation in scoring, is shooting 51.4% inside the arc, and is converting 90.4% of his free-throw attempts (11th nationally). Buddy's preferred method of scoring inside the arc involves attacking the rim; in fact only 13.8% of Hield's shots come from two-point jumpers which any good basketball coach or statistician would tell you is the most efficient way to play the game (a.k.a. shooting mid-range jumpers is way less efficient than getting to the rim or shooting the three - by this school of thought I am a very inefficient pick-up basketball player).
Hield is a master at attacking the tin and drawing fouls, as his 5.4 fouls drawn per game suggests, and one of his favorite moves to get the basket is what I like to call the "Buddy Two-Step". I first noticed this move when OU played Iowa State - Buddy likes to do this little two-step gather instead of a conventional jump stop or less-conventional euro-step. Here's what I mean:
Here's a little variation with a hook shot:
And here's Buddy using his gather to glide in for a silky smooth dunk, making it look so effortless as if to say, "Everyone can do this!"
Some of Buddy's two-steps toe the line on traveling, but they're so smooth and graceful looking that no ref in the country would ever blow their whistle - especially not on the best scorer in college basketball.
Buddy's scoring numbers are ridiculous and his efficiency compared to his usage is flabbergasting. Buddy takes 30.9% of OU's shots (59th nationally), uses 28.7% of the team's possessions (64th - this is % of plays that end in a turnover or made/missed shot by a player), suggesting that because of the sheer volume of shots he puts up, his efficiency numbers should be relatively low (think "volume shooter" guys like Carmelo or Rudy Gay). But Hield this season is defying logic. Despite his usage, Hield's shooting splits are .514/.515/.904 (2P%/3P%/FT%) which puts him in the fictional "50-50-90" club. For reference, NO other player in college basketball this season is in this "club" and only ONE other player (Isaiah Miles of St. Joe's) is in the 50-40-90 club.
I think there are dozens of articles out there that disprove the "being clutch" phenomenon across all sports, but watch Buddy Hield at the end of a game and tell me he isn't clutch. Yes I am aware OU lost to KU and Iowa State, but Buddy is the reason the Sooners clawed their way back into these contests. I give you three exhibits of Buddy's clutchness to finish the article:
Here's Buddy making a tough layup down three with under two minutes left in the contest on the road against #19 Iowa State:
Here Buddy converts an off-balanced lay-in using a mini version of is patented two-step gather on the road against the Evil Empire down three in triple OT:
Finally, Buddy shot fakes Mason out of his shoes and hits a contested three against the aforementioned Evil Empire, keeping the Sooners alive in what became the best game of the young season so far:
Buddy Hield is a true specimen and one of the most exciting players to watch in all of college basketball. He is hands down the best scorer in college basketball and may be the best shooter as well. Buddy has propelled OU to a top 5 national ranking and has the Sooners on a fast track to a 1-seed in the Big Dance. If that same crazy guy (or gal!) found me after minutes of hiding and came back with that gun to ask, "Hey if I had to watch one player play a basketball game this season, who should I watch?" - I would quickly without hesitation say "Buddy Hield!" then do a spinning back kick, knocking the gun free from the shooter's hand, catching said gun in the air with cat-like reflexes before running away as fast as I could.
Wait one more - Buddy tip-slam because it's awesome: