Why Buddy Hield’s proof that the new NBA Draft early entry deadline will be a good thing

(AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
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HOUSTON — The latest change to the NBA Draft early-entry deadline is going to be a major talking point over the course of the next two months.

For those that haven’t been paying attention to the deluge of players putting their name into consideration for the draft, the difference is this: Testing the waters is a thing once again. Players can declare for the NBA Draft and go through the process, attending workouts and interviewing with teams and going through the NBA combine, and return to school as long as they withdraw from the draft within 10 days of the end of the combine. They can do this up to three times in their career.

This is phenomenal for the kids. They’ve never had a chance to be this informed about what is arguably the most important decision of their basketball career. But it’s not necessarily a good thing for the college game — Will this mean that more kids end up turning pro? — and it certainly won’t reduce the stress level of the guys that are coaching them — These control freaks aren’t going to know what their rosters look like until late-May and you expect them to be happy about it?

So don’t be surprised when this becomes a major talking point once the season ends and the draft season begins.

And through it all, what you need to remember is that allowing players to get the access to information is the most important point in all of this.

Because without it, Buddy Hield wouldn’t have turned into #BuddyBuckets.

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“He comes in at 5:30 a.m. and shoots.”

That’s how Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler sets up his favorite story about teammate Buddy Hield’s notorious work ethic.

“I used to come in at 7:00 a.m., so by the time I was getting there at 7:00 a.m., he was coming out,” Spangler continued. “I come back at 11 and he’s there before me again. He had four workouts that day. I came up there with my roommate [that night] and we go on The Gun and he was still there at midnight.”

“That’s an everyday thing, not just one day.”

That is how Hield operates. That is how he went from being a 23.8 percent three-point shooter as a freshman to the guy that put together a season that can be favorably compared to J.J. Redick’s senior year, to a guy that is shooting 46.5 percent from beyond the arc while firing up nearly nine threes a night.

A change like that is possible, but it requires putting in the effort, and there’s no question that Hield is willing to put in the effort. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that that’s all he did in his spare time over the course of the last two years.

He’ll even admit it.

“I’m always in the gym. I’m always shooting. All I do is shoot in the gym,” Hield said.

But that was also part of the problem.

Because he focused all of his energy on ensuring that he’ll be a threat to shoot from beyond the arc, it meant that the rest of his game was lacking. Specifically, his ability to handle the ball, and when he was able to get feedback from NBA people about his potential as a pro after last season, they gave him the cold, hard truth.

“I wasn’t a good enough ball-handler and I couldn’t create a shot for myself,” Hield said of the feedback that he received. It was that inability to put the ball on the floor that limited the Big 12 Player of the Year to being a likely second round pick if he had decided to enter the NBA Draft as a junior.

And as you might imagine, that didn’t sit well with Hield.

“It was embarrassing,” Hield said. “You either fix it or you don’t fix it. I had to fix it this summer, and I did.”

“I just went out there and did what they say I couldn’t do.”

His teammates noticed.

“His first three years he just shot on the gun, so his first two or three years of college he was a set shooter pretty much,” Spangler said. “So he got feedback last year from the NBA saying he had to work on his handles, and I haven’t seen him on the gun since then.”

“Everything that he’s doing in his workouts is coming off ball-screens, double moves, combo-moves, shooting that way. That’s why he’s shooting so good this year. Obviously he can hit his set shots, but if someone wants to come up in him, he can break them off and get his shot, too.”

The end result of that hard work is a handful of National Player of the Year awards, leading Oklahoma to the Final Four and, in all likelihood, a spot in the top ten of the NBA Draft. That would not have been possible without Hield’s ability to get feedback from the NBA.

And in the end, that is what matters the most in this situation.

Because Hield’s deal was different. He didn’t declare for the NBA Draft. He didn’t go through the draft process. He didn’t attend the combine or workout with NBA teams. He simply got some information from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee and went to work.

But Hield is a different beast, bordering on the insane. Most of the greats are. You need to have certain physical gifts in order to be a player at that level, but you also have to have a drive that’s almost inhuman. It’s not normal to be as good at something as they are at basketball, and it’s certainly not normal for any player to make a jump like this their senior year.

“He was Player of the Year last year after his junior year,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “If they had a most improved player in the league, he maybe would have won that this year.”

The love of basketball, the desire to get better, has been in Hield since he was still a kid back in the Bahamas. As he tells it, he used to sneak out of his house when his mother would go to church at night, heading up to the park that had a basketball court. He just had to make sure that he would get home before she did to avoid getting in trouble.

That didn’t always happen.

“I heard her van come squeaking and I just ran home through a shortcut,” Hield said, telling the story of one of the nights he lost track of time. “After I got home, I hopped in the shower and acted like I was sleeping. She came in and started beating me. She is short, 5-foot-2 or 5-foot-3, but no matter how short she was she would still start slapping me or get a wire hanger and hit me.”

“It was all worth it, I’m not going to lie.”

That’s who this dude is.

He’s the kid that was so focused on getting better at basketball that he would risk getting hit with a wire hanger just to play.

Not every kid is like that.

Not every kid is going have the drive to take a couple of sentences from an advisory committee and use it to turn a weakness to a strength in the span of a summer.

Most of them are going to need to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

And that’s what makes the chance to test the waters so important.

The way the system is set up is probably not perfect. Do we really need kids having the ability to declare three times before their senior seasons? Once should really be enough, and then they either improve enough to raise their draft stock or they don’t. And the idea of a player going through this process without representation is risky. If he has an agent, and a team promises that they’ll use a second round pick on him and then balks on that promise, there will be repercussions. I’m not sure any team wants CAA mad at them. But if it’s just the kid and his parents? How many NBA teams are going to honor that handshake agreement?

So there are inefficiencies in the process that can be improved upon.

But the point is that there is a process.

And if Buddy Hield showed us anything, it’s that the process may be more valuable than we realized.