Draft Breakdown: Buddy Hield vs. Caris Levert

The two senior shooting guards came into their last year of college with varying expectations. Levert was seen as a likely first rounder in the 15-20 range while Hield was considered an early second rounder at best. Since then, things have changed dramatically. Hield might be the current NPOY candidate and has leaped right into the same range as Levert. DraftExpress currently projects Levert at 20th in their most recent mock and Hield 22nd. Chad Ford moved Hield all the way up to 15th in his latest mock and has Levert sitting just behind him at 18th.

One of Hield’s critiques is that he’s slightly undersized for a two-guard. He measured 6’4.5 in shoes last summer with a 6’8.5 wingspan. His length is fine, but if he is something like 6’3.5 or less without shoes then he is a little undersized for a wing. On the other hand, Levert’s measurements are a definite strength. He hasn’t been officially measured anywhere, but he reportedly is 6’7 in shoes with a 7’1 wingspan. Those would be good numbers for a small forward, much less a shooting guard.

The biggest reason Hield has rocketed up draft boards is his simply incredible production so far this year. He’s averaging 26.1 points per game in a power conference while shooting 51.5% from three over 136 attempts. More impressive even is the degree of difficulty to the outside shots Hield is taking.

He’s consistently making off the dribble threes with defenders draped all over him. A look at his shot chart from Shot Analytics reveals just how ridiculous his shooting has been so far this season.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 11.02.11 AM

In his two previous seasons, Hield has shot 38.6% and 35.9% from three, so the inclination is to scream “regression” and walk away. However, there are reasons to suspect Hield’s regression will only take him down to the 40-45% elite shooter range, and not all the way back into sub-40% territory. For starters, he’s a career 83% free throw shooter and is shooting 90.8% this season. Free throw shooting is typically a great indicator of pure shooting ability, and Hield’s success at the line gives credence to the idea that this year’s outside shooting is not a fluke.

Additionally, Hield has garnered recognition as one of the hardest workers in the college game. Since I don’t get to interact with coaches/players myself I typically stay away from too much personality evaluation, but in Hield’s case, he has so many glowing reviews that it’s worth my attention. Any shooter will regress from the start Hield has had, but I’m fairly optimistic he has turned himself into a truly elite shooter.

The question for Hield is where the rest of his game falls on the Anthony Morrow-J.J. Redick-Ray Allen scale of elite shooters. Levert is a very good outside shooter himself. He’s shot over 40% from three each of the past three seasons and has some ability to hit threes off the dribble. Neither Hield or Levert are proficient coming off screens for super quick release threes. Hield has shown some ability to do it, but both are more spot up and off the dribble shooters.

If Hield ever develops the ability to fly off screens and hit off-balance contested midrange shots and threes it will open up a lot in his game. For now, he is significantly behind where someone like Redick was his senior year.

The rest of their offensive game is where Levert’s biggest advantages lie. Hield is stronger and a little more powerful with his moves to the hoop, but Levert has a tighter handle, better quickness, and more natural feel for creating shots. Hield is good at making one strong move and attacking the hoop, but he frequently struggles to create space and is forced into difficult shots. He makes this one, but it is emblematic of the situations Hield puts himself in.

Levert and Hield have similar moves in their arsenal, but Levert just seems to execute his a little tighter. His first step also looks better than Hield’s, though neither of them are exceptional in this category. Where Levert struggles is that once he’s created an advantage on his man he doesn’t have the strength or lasting explosion to get all the way to the hoop. Here he shows off his handle and his quickness, but also his inability to just blow by guys with his first move.

The biggest difference in their offensive games is their ability to pass the ball and read the floor. Hield is starting to develop the capacity to hit the open man when he draws two defenders, but still only assists on 15% of teammates field goals when he’s on the floor. His A/TO ratio of 2.5/3.1 is very poor for a potential starting two guard. Levert is a great passer for a wing player. He assists on 31.2% of teammates field goals when he’s on the floor and has an A/TO ratio of 5.2/1.7. He does a great job of freezing the opposing big man in pick-and-roll so he can hit the roller.

And watch here as he progresses through his reads like a Quarterback. He first looks for the roll man, then looks to the backside corner, and now that he’s sent the help defender scurrying to the corner he hits back inside to the roll man. That’s advanced stuff for a wing player.

Neither Levert or Hield are expected to be offensive creators at the next level. Hield lacks the creativity or quickness to create much off the bounce. Levert doesn’t have the explosion to drive through a crowded lane and finish over the trees. Hield might be able to do some creating by running off baseline screens, but Levert has shown more in pick-and-roll manipulation than Hield has off screens. Levert’s talent at reading the floor should also make him better than Hield at attacking closeouts and making good decisions.

Hield’s incredible shooting has made him a better NCAA scorer than Levert so far this year, but at the next level, the gap in their ball handling and vision should be greater than the gap in their shooting. If Hield’s shooting continues to be this hot I will reconsider, but I expect Levert to be a slightly better offensive pro.

On the defensive side of the floor, the two of them are also close. Both are only slightly above-average college defenders, and I wouldn’t expect either to be even average at the NBA level. Hield does a good job using his strength to contain the ball, but his lack of quickness can still hurt him. Villanova guard Josh Hart misses, but watch how Hield is unable to cut off his path to the rim.

Here, the admittedly very speedy, Jawun Evans just blows by Hield in isolation.

Hield also isn’t very good at getting through ball screens. He too often goes under screens and doesn’t have the quickness/anticipation to consistently get over well.

These are all issues with his on-ball defense, but he has enough strength and quickness that he won’t get abused at the NBA level. More concerning is his poor defensive awareness for a college senior. He has a tendency to overhelp on drives he shouldn’t, or just lose track of his man on the perimeter.

This time, he gets caught ball watching and again gives up an easy look.

I’ve watched a lot of his Hield this year and his general understanding of defensive principles is definitely a weakness. He’s not J.R. Smith like – he usually tries hard and doesn’t stupidly gamble, but he’s got a long way to go to being a good NBA team defender.

Levert has a lot more potential on the defensive end due to his length and quickness. He theoretically has the quickness to switch onto point guards and the length to guard most small forwards. He also has much better off-ball awareness than Hield and has a good grasp of how to help and rotate.

The problems for Levert on defense lie where Hield succeeds. His lack of strength hurts him on ball screens and makes it hard to contain penetration, and he just doesn’t play with the intensity you want on the defensive end. This play shows off both his quickness to cut off his man, but also the way his frame prevents him from taking contact.

Here you see Levert completely unable to fight through a screen. In order to make up for his skinny body, he needs to have better instincts on the defensive end.

Levert’s flaws on defense hurt, but I would still give him an edge over Hield. His issues on the defensive end of strength and tenacity are more easily fixed than Hield’s poor awareness and quickness. Even if neither improve much on defense, Levert’s size/speed combination give him versatility that makes him more appealing than Hield.

Hield has been the better college player so far this year, but Levert strikes me as a slightly better NBA prospect on both ends of the floor. I don’t expect either to be NBA starters due to their defensive deficiencies, but both have a good chance of fitting in as backup wings in a league starving for them.

Buddy Hield Draft Value: Mid/Late 1st 18-25

Caris Levert Draft Value: Mid/Late 1st 16-23

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2 thoughts on “Draft Breakdown: Buddy Hield vs. Caris Levert

  1. Strong analysis, Zachary. Given Hield’s progress and hard work to improve his shooting in college, will he make the same progress in improving his weaknesses over the next couple of years or he will just settle for being a 3 point man in the Big League? Seb

    Like

    • He will definitely work and improve his game more than the average NBA player, but shooting is in many ways the most improve-able skill, so I’m not sure just how much room for growth he has.

      Like

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