Lon Kruger is trying to pinpoint a moment, to find an illustration of Buddy Hield’s magnetic personality.
The Oklahoma coach is trying to tell a story that encapsulates the charisma of his former star guard, whom the Pelicans selected with the No. 6 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, trying to recall a time when Hield lifted spirits or lit up a room.
This is proving difficult.
“That’s Buddy every day,” Kruger said Friday. “There are a lot of moments, but to better to describe Buddy, he is like that every day. He’ll walk into the office every day and say hello to everyone and ‘How you doing?’ and ‘You having a good day?’ He’s not just doing that. He likes that. That’s who he is.”
It wasn’t just the charm that won over the Pelicans.
It helps that the 6-foot-4, 214-pound Hield was the most prolific 3-point shooter in college basketball last season, that he improved in each of his four years at Oklahoma. And it doesn’t hurt that Kruger stressed to New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry that Hield is a “gym rat” who puts in long hours after practice perfecting his game.
Still, the personality is undeniable. It made an impression.
“It doesn’t take very long” to get a feel for Hield, Gentry said Friday at a news conference to introduce Hield. “He’s a really extroverted kid that doesn’t mind talking, feels confident about what he’s saying. He’s a fun personality to be around.”
The fond first impression, it turns out, was mutual.
After he posed for pictures holding up his new No. 24 New Orleans jersey, Hield said Friday that a predraft workout for the Pelicans in Anaheim, California, helped sell him on Gentry, general manager Dell Demps and the franchise.
“It felt like family, and I felt well-connected,” Hield said. “I felt comfortable, and I told (agent) Rob (Pelinka), ‘Man, that’s the place I’d love to go to.’ It was the perfect fit.”
It didn’t hurt when, on Friday, Hield stepped off a plane and felt the wave of New Orleans heat that took him home to Freeport, the town in the Bahamas where he grew up before moving to the U.S. at age 17.
“It reminded me of home,” Hield said.
Now he’s trying to settle into his new one.
Hield said all the right things Friday. He called new teammate Anthony Davis — who attended the news conference to introduce Hield and second-round pick Cheick Diallo — “a top-five player in the league and a soon-to-be MVP.”
He said he’s heard that New Orleans fans are “great” and that he can’t wait to play in front of them.
And he expressed confidence in his own game and his ability to help elevate the Pelicans back into the playoffs, where they were in 2015 before falling to 30-52 this season.
“Playing with a superstar like Anthony and a 3-point threat like me, it’s kind of hard to pick your poison,” Hield said.
Gentry was careful to temper some of the enthusiasm. Though he won the Naismith Award, Oscar Robertson Trophy and John R. Wooden Award as college basketball’s top player this season, there’s “a learning curve,” Gentry said, for a rookie even with so much collegiate seasoning.
“There’s very few players that just step right in and dominate the league,” Gentry said. “I think he’s going to be a special player, but I think it’s going to take a little bit of time to do that.”
But Hield will be a front-office favorite in short order, Kruger predicted, and “the most popular guy in the community” in New Orleans. Fans will be drawn to him.
They’ll have a chance to spot him around town.
Hield plans to remain in New Orleans until he leaves to play for the Pelicans’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He might squeeze in a little time off, but he intends to return after summer league to work closely with the Pelicans coaches this offseason.
Hield’s personality is a pleasure. But he’ll spend this summer focused on his business, and his college coach predicts he’ll adjust to the NBA “as fast as anyone can.”
“He’ll communicate with the staff and coaches and do what they want him to do to get better, and he’ll work at that,” Kruger said. “He’ll take it to heart. He’s not entitled. He wants to work. He wants to earn it. He’s not coming in (content) as a first-rounder. He realizes, ‘There’s a whole new world now and I got to get a lot better.’ That’s exactly how he’ll approach every day.”