Buddy Hield is taking a break from a mentally fatiguing grind by going to back to his office.
However, this time the stakes inside the Smoothie King Center are very different.
The New Orleans Pelicans rookie guard is a member of the World Team in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge, a showcase exhibition featuring first- and second-year NBA players, formally kicking off the festivities of New Orleans’ All-Star Weekend.
It’s a moment Hield said he’s anticipated since breaking into the league as the No. 6 pick in last summer’s draft. And it comes at a welcomed time.
While the ebullient Hield is well known for his wide smile and sunny disposition, he’s admitted this season has come with a heavier-than-expected dose of difficulty, after inconsistency defined the first half of his rookie campaign.
“I haven’t gotten to where I want to be,” Hield said. “There’s so much I need to do. And I feel a little limited because of my opportunity that I have and know that the way we are playing now, I can’t just rush a shot or take a bad shot.
“It’s hard. Because you never know what’s going to happen because the roles are so inconsistent, and I know why coach is doing it and I respect it. But one night, I’ll play 25 and then I’ll play 17 and then it goes up and down. The more you play, the more opportunities you get and the more freedom you’ll get. It’s all good though, because I know my time will come.”
Hield certainly isn’t irrelevant, though.
He’s been a starter 35 times, scoring double digits in 23 games and earned Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December, thanks to converting 47.8 percent of his 3-pointers. He’s caught fire from the beyond the arc, had his name chanted in the arena and his jersey sold at the team store.
These are all the things he dreamed of when coming out of Oklahoma as the reigning James Naismith Award winner.
But, Hield’s deficiencies are apparent, even though they’re common amongst rookies, coach Alvin Gentry said. He’s struggled to finish at the rim, (making just 51 percent of his shots within 3 feet) or find a reliable spot on the arc to consistently score from.
Most disheartening to Hield is his inability to routinely crack the Pelicans’ finishing lineup. Despite serving as a starter, he’s only cracked the 30-minute barrier seven times in 55 games. Hield typically plays the opening stretch of each half and then takes a seat, watching the Pelicans veteran guards take his spot in crunch time.
“If you’re a competitor, it’s always going to be difficult,” Hield said. “If you’re a guy who loves to be in those types of moments, it sucks not be a part of them. Because, you can’t get that feeling while being on the bench.
“But, I went through this my first 10 games at Oklahoma, too. This is the NBA, so it’s different. I know it may take a year or a year-and-a-half before I can be out there. When I get the chance, I just have to live up to the expectation. Those are fun moments. They will come. Everyone will get their opportunity.”
Throughout the season, Gentry repeatedly said he believes Hield is on the same path nearly every one of the league’s stars began on. It’s a cyclical process for rookies, with good nights followed by bad nights and few in NBA history are immune to it.
But, the 23-year-old came to New Orleans with added pressure on his shoulders after a four-year college career and the expectation amongst fans that he would be closer to a finished product than most of the 19-year olds that make up the top-10 draft picks.
“Buddy, is part of our future, I want to make sure I say that,” general manager Dell Demps said in December. “And when the time is right, the time will come for him. I think this is all just a part of the process.”
Hield said he’s felt nothing but support from both the organization and Pelicans fans. He just wants to return the favor in a more meaningful way.
“The fans have been great,” Hield said. “Even when I wasn’t playing, they were anxious to see me get on the court, because they saw what I did in college and they just want to see me get out there and be that guy to explode. Everybody wants to go out there and be that Stephen Curry player who excites the world, so I want to do that for them.”
Friday night in the Smoothie King Center may be his chance. The Rising Stars Challenge has built a reputation as a scoring showcase known best for one-on-one shooting battles and an endless barrage of 3-pointers.
It’s an environment Hield knows he can thrive in, even if it’s in the same building where he’s experienced those growing pains.
“I take it as a competitive thing, but I know it’s fun and it’s a showcase,” Hield said. “You know it’s all the best rookies and sophomores, so it’s a chance to show you belong but it’s also a game where you just want to fill it up and have some big moments and get everyone excited. It’s all about getting points up and making some ‘oohs and aahs.' ”