The Oklahoma Sooners picked up a nice win at Memphis on Tuesday, clipping the Tigers 84-78 in a fun, up-tempo game.
It was one of those games where both teams came away looking impressive. The Sooners won a road game — something they struggled with last season — by fighting through adversity and figuring out an answer to Memphis’ zone defense. The Tigers were simply better in every facet of basketball in comparison to last season. The guard play was improved, the shooting was better, and the athleticism/activity level was just stronger. If Josh Pastner’s group plays with that kind of energy and gets that kind of floor spacing all season, it’ll have a legitimate chance to
However, one player was the difference in this one. He was the player who knocked down four 3s for the Sooners, slashed to the rim, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out three assists, snared three steals and blocked two shots to go with his 30 points.
Hield is a really interesting case study in how staying four years can improve your NBA Draft stock. As I wrote about this offseason when I got a chance to speak with him and those around him, Hield was basically a non-prospect when he entered college at Oklahoma, then worked incredibly hard both in the gym and in the weight room to get where he is today. Every season, he’s added something new to his arsenal, and this one has been no different.
In his sophomore season, it was an improvement in his 3-point shot, going from a 23 percent shooter to a 39 percent shooter from deep. In his junior season, it was an improvement in his defensive ability and his overall offensive instincts. This time around, it seems to be his ability to create shots for both himself and his teammates in the halfcourt.
Last season, Hield led the Big 12 in scoring, but his numbers were buoyed by scoring more out in transition than any every other player in America according to Synergy (239 points in total, or 6.9 points per game). This offseason, he made it a concerted effort to improve his ball-handling and ability to create. And so far, the results seem to be good.
Here’s an example of him running a pick-and-roll against Memphis.
This is something that he couldn’t do in 2014-15. He patiently waits for the defense to commit, splits the double, then Euro-steps into a nice little scoop shot in traffic. Here’s another where he attacks a switch confidently.
I don’t think he would have as immediately and decisively attacked the big like he does here, and also probably wouldn’t have waited for the help defender to commit then go up for the lay-in. Instead, he makes things look easy by being decisive, yet patient. He’s also improved a bit at making plays for others, and he showed off some vision with this dish to Ryan Spangler on the baseline.
It wasn’t all perfect for Hield necessarily. There were points late in the game here where he tried to take everything on his shoulders and push the action into the paint. That resulted in a few turnovers that weren’t necessary. He also needs to work on adding a bit of an in-between game, as all too often he’ll just attack into two players protecting the rim. And of course, this was only a one-game sample, so Hield needs to continue to show consistent growth in this area.
However, Tuesday showed the progress in this portion of his game that scouts saw at Adidas Nations this summer was legitimate. He looks far more comfortable going off the dribble. If he continues to show this throughout the season, there is a strong chance that this senior will hear his name called in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Hield already has the length, effort, attitude, and shooting ability that scouts want. Now he just needs to round it out.