If Buddy Hield becomes the sort of player in the NBA that he was in college, they'll tell you that the first signs of what was to come came this week.

They'll tell you that the Pelicans rookie was commanding a huddle right from the start, that he had an infectious energy from the first time he stepped on the practice court to prep for Friday's Las Vegas Summer League opener.

And they'll talk about the shot.

It was just a summer scrimmage on Tuesday, Hield's first day of NBA practice. But Summer League teammate Larry Drew II said he'll always remember the shot.

"We were scrimmaging, we were down two, had the ball and he immediately – called a timeout – and he immediately went over to the bench and the coaching staff and was like, 'Give me the ball and watch what I do,'" Drew said. "I'll never forget it. He was like, 'Right wing, iso, give me the ball, watch what I do.'"

The coaches didn't give in to Hield's request to go one-on-one in isolation. Instead, Drew said, they ran a set play that ended up with Hield taking a pass from Drew on the right wing where he'd wanted to set up.

"He buried the 3 like it was nothing," Drew said. "Like, he knew already it was going to go in. I'm definitely looking forward to playing with somebody like that."

It's a great story, a perfect prologue if Hield is the kind of success story New Orleans wants him to be. But a highlight behind closed doors is a long way from the bright lights of the NBA.

As Hield prepares for his Summer League debut, he's taking his first steps as a pro. And whether or not he wows the crowd in Las Vegas the way he did Drew at the Pelicans' practice facility, there are important lessons to learn, in every aspect of the game.


Though he averaged 25 points a game as a senior at Oklahoma, Hield sometimes could barely breathe offensively. Many of his shots were over the outstretched arm of a nearby defender. The focus of every opponent's defense, Hield often was swarmed by help.

"Thank God we ain't got that no more," Hield said.

Still, in the NBA – and particularly in Summer League, where Hield figures to be the Pelicans' scoring centerpiece – defenses will continue to key on him. And though he may find himself with more room to operate in a much more wide-open league, he'll have to adjust to playing against more gifted defenders.

"No matter what, guys are still going to play me tough," Hield said. "They're going to be the best defenders on me, guarding me hands-on. So I got to find ways to get open, get better shots, take smart shots and find ways to get my teammates open when guys play me too tight like that."

The NBA's longer 3-point shot, Hield said, is "not a problem for me." He's "very comfortable," he said, shooting from deep, a confidence that comes from emulating extra-long-range shooters like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in his workouts.

More challenging, Hield said, is learning the pace of the NBA game.

The 24-second clock is an adjustment from the 30-second clock in college. Shorter possessions mean more trips up and down the court, and though Hield said he's in good shape, he said he'll be putting in extra conditioning after Summer League to prepare himself for the rigorous running in the pro game.

He can ease into that with 40-minute Summer League games, the length of a college game and eight minutes shorter than NBA regulation.

Even in a shorter game, Hield has a lot to learn.

"We just want Buddy to pick up on the little things as a scorer," said Pelicans assistant Robert Pack, who will coach the Summer League team. "He scored a lot of different ways in college, and it'll be a little different. Guys will be putting their hands on him a little more. He's going to have to work through contact."


Hield is a better defensive player, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, than he's given credit for, and multiple NBA sources who scouted Hield said he was a better defender his junior year at Oklahoma than in his senior season, when the Sooners asked so much of him offensively.

Even if the potential is there, it doesn't mean he's an NBA-ready defender, and he'll struggle at times as he adjusts to defense at this level.

This week provides the chance to lay a foundation. The Pelicans "want to be one of the best defensive teams in Summer League," Pack said, and Hield will have to do his part.

At the start, Hield said, coaches want him to focus on "little things" defensively. That means getting back in transition, not missing box outs on rebounds and contesting as best he can to force his man into difficult shots.

"He's in his right spots. He's working hard," Pack said. "That's the main part, if you're willing to learn and willing to put for the effort. All the details and techniques and things he'll continue to learn, but as far as being in his right spots, putting the effort in, he's where he needs to be."


From his first practice this week, Hield was comfortable taking on a leadership role, Pack said. He was talking in the huddle from the moment he took the court.

"Extremely hard worker and great leader," Drew said. "I wasn't expecting him to be as vocal as he's been. I guess it makes sense; he was a four-year senior at Oklahoma. But I would say his leadership ability has probably surprised me the most."

Hield hopes to carry that from the practice court to gametime in Vegas. Though he's one of five rookies on New Orleans' 14-man Summer League roster, Hield said his role is "to lead everybody, get everybody on the right track."

When fall camp comes around, this is Anthony Davis' team. Hield wants to use the coming week to be as ready as he can to give the franchise forward a hand. To that end, he's set lofty goals beyond Summer League.

"Of course you want to win games (this season) and get back to the playoffs," Hield said. "That's the one goal. And of course compete for the Rookie of the Year. I'm trying to win it, to be the best rookie out there, be the best leader for my team and help my team in every aspect on defense and offensively. AD needs lots of help, so me, I (need to) come in ready and locked in to play."

Follow Brett Dawson on Twitter, @bdawsonwrites.