Buddy Hield knows the weather is warm in New Orleans, like it is in his home of Freeport, Bahamas.
He knows his new city has “a lot of good food.”
Mostly, though, the former Oklahoma shooting guard, whom the Pelicans made the No. 6 pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft, knows what his job will be when he arrives.
“I can shoot the ball a lot,” Hield said in a news conference in New York after he was drafted. “Love to shoot. And I feel like when I go there I can open up the floor for Anthony Davis and other guys to be able to penetrate. And for a guy like Anthony Davis, they have a guy like me who can shoot the ball really well, can keep the floor spaced.”
It’s a need for New Orleans.
The Pelicans ranked 13th in the NBA in 3-pointers per game, but New Orleans’ leading 3-point shooters, Ryan Anderson (131) and Eric Gordon (113) are unrestricted free agents.
In the 6-foot-4 Hield, who averaged 25 points and shot 45.7 percent from 3-point range on 147 makes as a senior at Oklahoma, the Pelicans landed the best shooter in the lottery, a logical fit for coach Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo, pace-and-space offense.
“I got to talk to him when I was in Anaheim and he came to Newport and watched me play, and he envisioned us playing fast, and that’s how I usually play,” Hield said. “So I want to go there, give it my all and work the best and learn from him.”
Hield has a lot to learn. But at 22, he’s more seasoned than some of the draft’s top prospects. Entering the night, the Pelicans were believed to covet Hield and Providence point guard Kris Dunn, also 22.
The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Dunn with the fifth pick.
“I think in Buddy Hield, you have a guy who not only is a great shooter but makes tough, contested shots because he has great footwork,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said last month. “He’s a product of four years of just being in a gym. You combine it with his athleticism, and he’s ready-made to help a team right away.”
Four years ago, Hield wasn’t ready to provide significant help to a college program. As a freshman at Oklahoma, he averaged 7.8 points and shot 23.8 percent from 3-point range, making 19 of 80 attempts.
That quiet start sometimes signals limited NBA potential, and last week ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford suggested he would take Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, 19, instead of Hield were he in the market for a shooting guard. Murray went seventh to the Denver Nuggets.
“Guys that don’t figure it out until they’re 20, 21, 22 can struggle more in the NBA, despite where they end up topping out in college basketball,” Ford said.
Once Hield figured it out, he was hard to stop. His scoring average jumped every year in Norman, to 16.5 points as a sophomore to 17.4 as a junior to 25.0 as a senior, when he was college basketball’s Player of the Year.
He finished his college career with 349 3-pointers and shot 39 percent from long range in 132 career games. Pelicans general manager Dell Demps called Hield “a self-made guy” and said the Pelicans were “thrilled” to land one of the players they’d targeted through the draft process.
“He’s going to be like any other rookie,” Demps said. “He’s going to have to go through the learning curve. But we think that’ll help with him playing college for four years.”