NCAA Tournament: Just How Dominant Has Buddy Hield Been?
We don’t deserve Buddy Hield.
We are imperfect human beings who have created a flawed world -- Buddy Hield's game is pure, blending statistical dominance with an aesthetically pleasing style.
Oklahoma's senior guard had one of the best regular seasons in recent memory...and is now essentially putting it to shame with his performance in the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a treat to watch the whole way through (unless, perhaps, you root for a team the Sooners have taken down).
Regardless of how the season ends, we’ll be able to say “Buddy” in the same breath as “Doug,” “Jimmer,” and “Adam.”
Since 1994, we’ve seen as many new presidents sworn in as college basketball players who have attempted at least eight three-pointers per game while still shooting at least 50% from the field in a single season (George W. Bush and Barack Obama; Hield this season and Vanderbilt’s Shan Foster in 2007-08).
He's shooting 50.4% from the field, 46.5% from three-point range, and 88.0% at the free throw line, so while he did miss out on a 50-40-90 line, he did become the college game’s first 50-45-88 player since 2011.
Hield’s 25.4 points per game scoring average trails only that of Howard’s James Daniel (27.1), and he leads the Big 12 in both Effective Field Goal Percentage (62.8%) and True Shooting Percentage (67.0%).
He also produced a mix of efficiency and high usage rarely seen in a “power” conference, as since 2009, Doug McDermott (in 2013-14) is the only player in a high-major conference with a Usage Rate above 30% with a higher Offensive Rating than Hield’s 124.6 (McDermott posted a rate of 127.4 that season; Offensive Rating measures points produced per 100 possessions).
Perhaps the craziest part of all this is the fact Hield’s numbers have gone up since the NCAA Tournament began.
Oklahoma finished third in the conference standings and managed to get a two seed in the NCAA Tournament, thanks in large part to Hield’s 25.0 points per game in the regular season and conference tournament.
As it turns out though, he was just getting started.
This is normally the time I give a reminder about how flukey a small sample size can be, but I’ll just shut up and let you look at those tournament numbers again.
Hield has been the tournament’s leading scorer in terms of overall points (117) and points per game, and his increased output has been driven by the huge uptick in two-point percentage. Three-pointers will always be the center of Hield’s game, as he took over 52% of his shots from the field from beyond the arc. This ratio has actually gone up during March Madness, which has seen his Three Point Attempt Rate shoot up to 59.7%.
He is evidently doing more with the other 40% of his shots, though, to Oklahoma’s benefit.
Perhaps surprisingly, Hield has not actually been himself from the free throw line during the tournament, where he is shooting 75.0%, compared to his regular season average of 88.5%.
He's getting to the line at a higher rate in his last four games, however, posting a .418 Free Throw Attempt Rate in the tournament, versus his .330 FTAR in the regular season.
One other note is that Hield’s tournament looks even better if we disregard Oklahoma’s tournament opener against 15 seed Cal. State Bakersfield. Hield averaged 30.0 points per game in the following three games against VCU (which ranks in the 88th percentile in our defensive efficiency rankings), Texas A&M (94th percentile), and Kansas (93rd).
In these three contests, his Effective Field Goal Percentage shot up to 71.7%, while his True Shooting Percentage was 72.6% (a frankly negligible decline from his overall tournament average).
You were almost certainly planning to do this anyway, but make sure to get in front of a TV at 6 p.m. on Saturday. It will be the last or second to last time we see Buddy Hield play in a college uniform, and we’ll all be worse off for it.