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    Does a Buddy Hield trade make sense for the Sixers?

    Kyle Neubeck Avatar
    September 22, 2023
    Buddy Hield celebrating a made shot.

    Pacers sharpshooter Buddy Hield has been on the radar for Sixers fans well before his pro career began. Even when many were dubious of his chances at the NBA level, a strong contingent of Sixers fans saw his outside shooting and couldn’t help but fall in love.

    Perhaps that was prescient — high-volume, high-efficiency shooting has only become more coveted since Hield entered the league in 2016, and few have matched his pace on either front. Despite that, Hield seems destined for a split with the Indiana Pacers. Shams Charania reported this week that Indy would seek trades for Hield, who is seeking an extension on his expiring contract. As a follow-up to that report, Charania said Thursday that a number of teams — the Sixers, Lakers, Mavericks, and Bucks — “had a level of interest in him” over the last few months.

    Having interest and having enough interest to execute a trade are two different things, but Hield is worth the extra glance here.

    What would Hield offer Philly?

    Elite shooting

    As our own Rich Hofmann pointed out during the PHLY Sixers podcast this week, Hield has moved into the top 30 in the history of the NBA for three-point makes. An average Hield season in 2023-24 would push him to around 18 or so, past names like Carmelo Anthony, Peja Stojakovic, Kobe Bryant, and former Sixers guard JJ Redick. This is to say that Hield will take and make a ton of threes for whatever team he plays for.

    “Volume shooting” is often used pejoratively but it is the case for Hield in two words. He is one of the least shy players in the NBA, and unlike Philly’s recent acquisition, Kelly Oubre Jr., Hield can justify it with results. Here is what his shooting results look like next to the rest of the leaders in three-point makes since 2017:

    Buddy Hield155740.3
    Steph Curry147341.5
    James Harden137236.2
    Damian Lillard134537.4
    Donovan Mitchell120336.5
    Stats from 2017-18 season onward

    This is slightly misleading, in that I still think those other shooters are “better” due to their shooting equity off-the-dribble and the average attention they receive from opposing defenses. But Hield’s shooting value is simply undeniable and would be a unique sort of shooting relative to his Sixers teammates.

    While the Sixers have plenty of guys who can knock down standstill threes, they’re not exactly loaded with players comfortable shooting on the move. Tyrese Maxey has made big strides there, and Furkan Korkmaz can get hot if they dust him off this season, and that’s basically the full list. Loading up on standstill shooting is fine in a world built around Joel Embiid, but it does limit your versatility.

    Hield can do basically anything you’d want from a shooter. It all starts with the mechanics, which are consistent and fast. Whether he’s coming off of a pindown, flying down the floor in transition, or just relocating around the perimeter, Hield gets his shoulders square and finds the rim. Teams are so on edge defending the quick release that he’s frequently able to use it against them, using quick give-and-goes to find daylight. The process is so effortless that he can even squander a shot opportunity and create a new one in a matter of seconds:

    Watch any game Hield has played in and you can see his value purely as a transition guy, too. Any team slow to run back with Hield streaking to the three-point line is playing with fire.

    The proof of concept for a player like this succeeding in Philadelphia is already there. JJ Redick made magic with Embiid in two-man actions along the sidelines (as did Seth Curry), and that was with Embiid far less refined on offense than he is now. Hield would maneuver himself to a gaggle of open threes without Embiid’s help, but with the James Harden question mark hanging over the team, another path to reliable offense would be welcome.

    (And don’t discount the value Hield could provide to a partner like Tyrese Maxey. Hield proved an effective partner for Tyrese Haliburton last season, with Hield’s “ghost” screens for Indiana’s point guard putting defenders in a tough spot. Do you shade toward the young star guard, or leave the knockdown shooter with a bit of space? Tough call.)

    I hammer this home constantly, but there is a good deal of value in having players who just want to shoot a lot. The Sixers have been home to quite a few reluctant marksmen over the years, and the forward combo of P.J. Tucker/Tobias Harris has a tendency to bring possessions to a screeching halt with passed-up jumpers. Having to respect a shooter every single time it touches their hands bends a defense, which would inevitably help guys who need space in the middle of the floor (hello, Embiid and Maxey).

    Hield entered the league with a reputation as a black hole, and though he’s certainly not a high-volume playmaker by any stretch, he has shared the ball more with each passing year, so that’s a bit of a bonus on top of the shooting gravity.

    Will he give it all back?

    The, “But….” is always coming with Mr. Hield, or else he wouldn’t be on the verge of moving to a fourth team in the span of seven years. How does a shooter of this caliber in today’s NBA get passed around so easily?

    Part of the problem is that Hield hasn’t defended basically ever. He was a negative defender when he entered the league and has been a negative defender for most of the time since.

    The optimist would say that Hield made some important strides on defense last season, posting better defensive metrics in some areas on a team that frankly didn’t care about defense all that much. He was more disruptive and worked the defensive glass slightly better than in the past, getting closer to neutral on that end than any other year in his career. The Pacers were better in lineups that included Hield (117.8 points given up per 100 possessions) compared to lineups without him (120.4 per 100 possessions). But it’s up to you to decide how much that matters on a team that bled points basically by design.

    Hield has essentially never played for a team that played competent defense, and expecting him to shed seven years of habits in this context would be a bit unrealistic. Haliburton/Hield lineups won their minutes in Indiana, a noteworthy feat on a bad team, so maybe combinations like Maxey/Hield or Harden/Hield would score enough points to render defensive concerns meaningless. But you’d have a shortage of size, athleticism, and defensive chops in either of those combinations, doubly so if Hield played minutes as a nominal small forward.

    If it were a problem with man-defense alone, you could get away with Hield’s limitations more easily. But Hield’s off-ball attentiveness has been rough and at times scheme-breaking during his career, which in the opinion of this writer is a bigger problem. You can game matchups and work around players who get scored on in isolation, but it’s hard to work around guys whose focus and effort are unknown play-to-play.

    Hield’s happiness would also be a potential swing factor for the team, as he has not been one to hide his emotions when he’s displeased in the past. The veteran shooter voiced his displeasure publicly and privately when his role was yanked around under Luke Walton in Sacramento, and while it never really ate into his effectiveness on offense, Hield wore that unhappiness on the defensive end, where he has never had room to buy in less.

    Here is an (admittedly funny and NSFW) snippet of how Hield feels about the Kings specifically:

    Suffice it to say that the Sixers would not be trading for him to extend him this season, which would leave them in a potentially volatile situation. Hield has matured and he said basically all the right things in Indy last season while battling with younger guys for playing time, but it would be another wild card on a team with tons of those. Is the gamble worth it?

    What would a trade look like?

    Here’s where the Sixers really run into issues. A trade with the Pacers for Hield would have to take shape in one of two ways:

    1. Trading 2-3 mid-sized contracts in exchange for Hield’s $19 million salary
    2. Trading Tobias Harris for Hield and additional Pacers role players to make the money work

    The Sixers are low on mid-sized contracts, so there aren’t a lot of palatable deals for them to make in the first category. A swap of P.J. Tucker and De’Anthony Melton for Hield is an almost exact salary match, for example, but that would be a foolish deal for the Sixers that makes them worse.

    Perhaps you could argue for using Tucker’s $11 million in combination with some small Sixers contracts to make it happen. But a base of Tucker and Furkan Korkmaz still leaves you short of the outgoing salary threshold you’d have to hit, and isn’t giving Indy the value they’d presumably want. Can a relatively old and unathletic Sixers team afford to throw Jaden Springer into a package like that? I would argue no, even if Springer is more concept than player at the moment.

    So that leaves us with Harris-centric deals to debate. I think in the situation the Sixers are in, Harris is simply better to have on the team than Hield. His offense is more scalable than Hield’s, with the veteran forward able to pick up a larger share of the offensive responsibility if Harden decides he’s truly done with this team. And Harris may not be Scottie Pippen, but there’s a pretty steep two-way dropoff from Harris to Hield. On a team with little size and athleticism on the wing, it would be a tough sell to move a 6’8″ forward, flaws and all, for another 6’4″ guard.

    But let’s say the Sixers decided to do so. A one-for-one swap is illegal for cap purposes by about $12.4 million. Add Daniel Theis’ $9.1 million and T.J. McConnell’s $8.7 million cap hit, and you have yourself a workable deal. But Theis offers no real value to a Sixers team overloaded in the frontcourt, and McConnell has a $5 million partial guarantee for the 2024-25 season. For a team whose current plan is keeping the books clean for next offseason, that $5 million could be significant.

    Could you talk Indy into sending Aaron Nesmith (2024 RFA) instead of Theis? Maybe, though given that he finally had a breakthrough year as a shooter, maybe they’re a little pushy about including him. And at the end of the day, you have to continue asking how this downsizing ultimately helps the Sixers, who already look vulnerable against any big wings with their current roster.

    I actually like the idea of a Hield trade a lot more than in previous seasons, as the one-year risk is fairly low. You could have written the possibility off immediately in the past, but his shooting ability combined with an expiring contract are nothing to sneeze at.

    But with Hield looking to get paid and the Sixers low on matchable salaries to send for him, a Buddy Hield trade ends up being more trouble than it is probably worth. The word is that Indy is in no rush to move him, so I’d expect this one to linger for a while.

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