Buddy Hield lit up the NCAA this season and became a top-tier prospect in the 2016 draft. More than anyone else in the league, his production strongly mirror’s that of former Weber State guard Damian Lillard.
Buddy Hield will be a great player. He’s got fire, tenacity, drive, and an unbelievable knack for accurate shooting and inside scoring.
Despite having arguably the best season of anyone in college basketball, he’s projected to be drafted just outside the top five due to concerns about his age and low ceiling. At 22 years old, many are asking the question “how much better can he get?”
Damian Lillard faced the same criticisms in 2012. His production was virtually identical to Buddy’s, but he fell to 6th in the draft due to concerns about how his limited ceiling.
To illustrate just how similar Buddy and Lillard’s college careers have been, take a look at how their production and efficiency improved over the years.
Both Buddy and Damian came into the league raw and unskilled, and then jumped to becoming solid 16-17 ppg scorers in their 2nd and 3rd seasons. Then came senior year, where Buddy and Damian became explosive 25 ppg scorers and reached incredible efficiency levels with 66% and 63% true shooting percentages respectively.
Lillard racked up slightly more assists, and Buddy grabbed a few more boards, but otherwise their careers have followed exceedingly similar improvement paths. Buddy is basically the shooting guard version of Lillard, with a little less ball-handling ability and a little more size and strength.
April 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots a basket against Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
How was Lillard viewed before the 2012 draft? Does it mirror our current perception of Buddy?
This DraftExpress scouting video from 2012 lists Lillard’s strengths as:
- Deep Range
- Physical Tools
- Work Ethic and Character
- Takes Care of the Ball
This DraftExpress video from a few weeks ago lists Buddy’s strengths as:
- Shot Making
- Improved Slasher
The primary strength noted in both was their deep shooting range. 2nd was Lillard’s physical tools, which were referenced in the video as the reason he excelled as a slasher as well as shooter (though 66% of Lillard’s offense still came from jumpshots), while DraftExpress noted Buddy had improved as a slasher as well (shot 59% at the rim this season).
Finally, both noted that Buddy and Damian have exemplary work ethics, and the kind of drive you see in NBA superstars.
The only real difference between them was that Lillard was a much more capable ball-handler, though this recent video shows that Buddy is clearly focused on improving his ball-handling more than anything else.
The same videos list Lillard’s weaknesses as:
- Creating for Others
- Mid-Range Game
- College Completion
While Buddy’s listed weaknesses in this video were:
- Creating at NBA level
- Limited Playmaker
- Lack of versatility on D
Once again, the similarities are striking. Lillard wasn’t a good distributer at the time, and much like Buddy he was criticized for his low assist totals. Additionally, both were criticized for their limited defensive ability. If Lillard’s NBA career will mirror Buddy’s, he should improve as a passer once he enters the league and has greater talent to pass to.
The video also lists Lillard’s age as a weakness, which is obviously a criticism Buddy has dealt with these past few weeks as well.
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Digging into the advanced stats brings up even more similarities between them. Both Buddy and Lillard liked to get out in transition, and it accounted for 22% and 27% of their points respectively. In transition, Buddy scored 1.3 points per possession, while Lillard scored 1.2. As a pick and roll scorer, Buddy averaged 0.92 points per possession, while Lillard averaged 1.04.
In isolation situations, Buddy was actually better than Lillard averaging 1.11 points per isolation as opposed to 0.94 points for Lillard.
Shooting wise, Lillard and Buddy are both spot-up monsters. Coming off screens, Buddy scored 1.25 points per possession while Lillard scored 1.32. Spotting up without a screen, Buddy scored 1.31 points while Lillard scored 1.39.
Mar 20, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield (24) celebrates with fans after the game against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Buddy Hield is the shooting guard version of Damian Lillard.
They both stayed in college for four years, became 25 ppg scorers in their senior seasons, pride themselves on their intense work ethics, and are at their best when they’re bombing long-range threes.
If I had to guess, I would think that if Buddy’s rookie season will mirror Damian’s rookie season the same way his college career did. Damian fell to the 6th pick, and the team that took him was rewarded with the winner of the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award and a perennial 20 ppg scorer.
I don’t think Buddy will ever be the ball-handler or distributer Lillard is, but his shooting and scoring will continue to grant him similar volume and efficiency levels.
The only question left is whether the team with the 6th pick in this years draft will be smart enough to take him…