With the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans have selected Buddy Hield, the college basketball sensation who led Oklahoma to the Final Four last season.
Four years at Oklahoma means Hield will turn 23 just a month into his NBA career, but his polished game is one of his most positive traits. A transcendent shooter and all-around versatile scorer, Hield was everything for the Sooners last season (and throughout his college career), having a knack for hitting ridiculous shots during key situations and infusing the collegiate game with some much-needed fun.
There's no question Hield will be able to shoot at an NBA level. He showed it every step of the way at Oklahoma, averaging more than seven attempts behind the arc as a sophomore on 39 percent shooting. But there's no doubt Hield's stock as a lottery pick is thanks to his performance as a senior. Playing more than 35 minutes per game, Hield scored 25 points per night on 50.1 percent shooting from the field and 45.7 percent beyond the three-point line -- statistically, the best shooting season in college basketball. His scoring came frequently, and often in huge binges. His best night came against Kansas, where he dropped 46 points and showed how many ways he's capable of scoring buckets.
Still, there's reasonable concern about Hield's age as a detractor against teams drafting him this high. Upperclassmen are usually targeted toward the middle of the draft, with their potential tapped and their ceilings very well known. How Hield's skills will translate is still a matter of some debate, but those skills, at least, are well-known and rigid.
Like so many elite college scorers, Hield's defense was only mediocre. In a smaller role where he won't have to carry his team offensively, there's reason to believe he can improve. He's 6'4, has a physical frame and possesses average athleticism. That's a decent starter kit for a defender who won't get embarrassed, but it's not something he showed too frequently at Oklahoma.
Similarly, Hield's playmaking could improve at the next level. He averaged three turnovers and only two assists during his last season with the Sooners, but given how much of the offense fell to him, a smaller role could help him alleviate some of the problems he had with the ball in his hands. Still, even though Hield can make a lot of the passes, he'll likely never pass as a point guard.
But still, there's almost no chance that Hield turns into a total bust. Many of the shots he hit in college will work just fine in the NBA. He has a lethal stepback jumper, able to hop behind the three-point line without difficulty and nail long jumpers. He's a capable finisher around the rim who understands the driving angles to get to the basket. It won't be as easy as when he was beating up on younger players while at Oklahoma, of course, but the threat of Hield's jumper is enough to open up space for him to operate inside the arc.
Stephen Curry was also a shooter who spent extra years in college. By every discernable metric, that's not what Hield is turning into. However, nobody doubts his shooting ability, and in today's NBA, you can never have enough of that.