Buddy Hield’s season is impossible


What we’re seeing is Beamon-esque.

This season I’ve adopted a new morning ritual. I check the previous evening’s scores, glance at the headlines, and then I devote a minute or two exclusively to Buddy Hield.

If by chance Oklahoma has played the previous evening, I’ll watch those highlights. Or if the Sooners are between games, I might find myself gazing upon Hield’s body of numerical work and trying, once again, to take the true measure of what I’m seeing….

It’s good to know my need to try to situate Hield within some kind of rational framework is a shared affliction. Last week I realized that Luke Winn, Kevin Pelton, and I were all simultaneously running Hield-triggered searches on 22 years’ worth of Division I basketball at sports-reference.com. Luke heralded Hield’s membership in the 50-50-90 club. Kevin wants to gently dissuade NBA general managers from thinking this remarkable Hield of Dreams thing can possibly continue at the next level.

For my part I want to toss three bouquets Hield’s way.

Hield’s even better at shooting threes than guys who do nothing but shoot threes
Waxing a bit Churchillian, Kevin pointed out that no one “has shot a better percentage on as many attempts as Hield.” True enough. In the two-plus decades covered by SR, Hield stands supreme. As impossible as the idea would have seemed before 2016, he’s a dual-threat featured scorer who’s more accurate (and more voluminous) from beyond the arc than spot-up role players.

Hield vs. major-conference specialists, 1995-2016
Minimum six attempts per game
                                   3FG%   3FGA/G  3FGA/FGA (%)
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (2016)       51.7    8.3      51.6
Jon Diebler, Ohio State (2011)     50.2    6.1      79.4
Duncan Robinson, Michigan (2016)   49.0    6.8      78.4
Pete Lisicky, Penn State (1997)    47.1    7.0      71.4
Ethan Wragge, Creighton (2014)     47.0    6.7      96.7
Brady Heslip, Baylor (2014)        46.0    6.6      87.2

The zero-turnover specialist who does nothing but make threes is the purest distillation of effectiveness on offense. (Heslip’s offensive rating in 2014 was 143.6.) Hield gives the Sooners that same level of accuracy — and, yes, turnovers — while also making twos, drawing fouls, and absorbing the preponderance of the opposing defense’s attention. He is rewriting the book.

While you confidently wait for Hield’s numbers to come down to earth, he’s already close to the moral equivalent of a full season
In the annals of great individual three-point shooting, the full seasons we look at tend to wrap up after, say, 220 or 230 attempts. Hield has already recorded 177 attempts, so in a “normal” season this saga would be about 80 percent complete as is.

Then again, in this as in so many ways, Hield’s season most likely won’t be normal. He’s shooting a high number of threes on a team that has nine regular-season games left on the schedule. Then comes the Big 12 tournament, and after that, we trust, Oklahoma will play deep into March and quite possibly on into April.

So while there will be some serious legacy tonnage attached to whether Hield’s three-point percentage happens to be above or below 50.0 when the Sooners’ run is stopped/completed, we should be under no misapprehensions regarding what has already transpired. Among recent Wooden Award winners, for example, Hield right now has made more threes than Trey Burke did in 2013, and he’ll pass Doug McDermott’s 2014 in the next week or two.

Hield is as efficient being “the man” as Salim Stoudamire was as a co-featured scorer in his Perfect Season of 2005
When the subject is otherworldly accuracy from a featured player on a national championship contender, the year Salim Stoudamire had at Arizona in 2005 will always be a must-see destination. You may remember that Stoudamire’s amazing season triggered a lively exchange between Lute Olson and Dick Vitale on the subject of who the best three-point shooter in the nation really was, the Wildcat star or J.J. Redick. That being said, Stoudamire was far more than the nation’s most dangerous perimeter threat. As it happens he was also an accomplished scorer inside the arc who attempted over 130 free throws and shot 91 percent at the line.

It was a season for the ages, yet even Stoudamire’s 2005 can’t quite measure up to what we’re seeing from Hield in 2016. Playing alongside the likes of Channing Frye and Hassan Adams, Stoudamire didn’t have to carry anywhere close to the load on offense that Hield’s now obliged to shoulder for OU.

                                   3FG%   3FGA/G  3FGA/FGA (%)  %Shots
Salim Stoudamire, Arizona (2005)   50.4    6.6      57.1         24.6
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (2016)       51.7    8.3      51.6         30.7

%Shots: kenpom.com

I’m reluctant to reach for what is an easy and very popular comparison in 2016, however the ease with which over the course of 21 games Hield nullified the sport’s traditional effectiveness-workload tradeoff is at least slightly reminiscent of what’s being done in this same area at the next level.

BONUS note on fate’s happy updrafts. On the eve of last month’s epic game between Kansas and Oklahoma, Bill Self charitably and sensibly admitted that if he’d known then what he knows now KU would have recruited Hield (who prepped in Wichita) a good deal more assiduously. Yet surely there is unconscious irony in this perfectly understandable bit of hindsight: Hield’s averaging better than eight three-point attempts per game, and Self hasn’t permitted one of his players to shoot more than six since J.R. Giddens did so over a decade ago.

So much had to go right for Hield to have this season, starting with a green light. Lon Kruger’s emphasis on the three-point shot has fluctuated wildly during his tenure in Norman. Four years ago today he presided over a team that devoted a smaller share of its shot attempts to threes than any other offense in major-conference play. Now the Sooners rank No. 4 out of 75 teams in that category. Kruger’s been stylistically flexible, and apparently the hoops gods really like that kind of thing. (If anything OU should shoot even more threes. Jordan Woodard’s making the same percentage of his threes as Hield, and, anyway, this is not a distinguished two-point shooting group.) Maybe the parallel to Bob Beamon’s more telling than I know, and fate has decreed that we’ll look back on Hield’s 2016 as a blip. Well, so far it’s been an incredible blip.