METAIRIE, La. — Buddy Hield, still with his official New Orleans Pelicans draft-day hat atop his spiked mane, stood up from the table after his first NBA news conference and couldn’t wait to fire away.
“Got any more questions?” Hield, one of the college game’s best shooters last season, said with a big smile to the assembled media.
One reporter asked him his preferred choice of conversation topics.
“Where’s the food at?”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, never one to shy away from a one-liner, pointed to the sleeker physique of second-round pickup Cheick Diallo and then to his own before noting, “This is a before-and-after photo.”
There hasn’t been much to joke about for some time in New Orleans, where high hopes for a surge up the Western Conference standings crashed to the bottom of the league last season amid a sea of injury reports. But as Gentry himself said via his usual wry wit, it’s hard to spin this day into a negative.
With their 30-52 season far in the rearview, the Pelicans introduced two draft picks for the first time in four years, when Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers became the faces of the post-Chris Paul rendition. The fit, particularly with the positive-beaming Hield, felt like a natural one.
“He’s a really extroverted kid,” Gentry said. “I think that he doesn’t mind talking, and feels confident in what he’s saying. He’s a fun personality to be around, but an extremely, extremely hard worker.”
Hield himself said he felt at ease when general manager Dell Demps and Gentry visited one of his offseason workouts in Anaheim, California.
“They felt like family, the way they connected with us,” Hield said. “How they connected with me, [agent] Rob [Pelinka]. It just felt like one of my other teammates talking to. When I worked out, the workouts were serious. But after the workouts, we were just joking around. So it felt like family, I felt well-connected, so I felt comfortable. I told Rob, ‘That’s the place I’d love to go to.’ It was the perfect fit, so I’m just glad I’m here now.”
He also seemed to have a clear understanding of where he’ll fit on the court. Though Gentry noted that he sees Hield, who shot 46 percent from the shorter college 3-point line last season, as more than just a spot-up shooter, the rookie-to-be made it clear that his job will be to make life easier for Davis, who watched the events in a red team polo from the back of the room (and probably didn’t mind Hield calling him a “top-five player in the league” and “soon-to-be-MVP”).
“Just a great teammate,” Hield said about what he brings to New Orleans. “A guy that can spread the floor for guys like Anthony. He’s so special the way that he does things, the way he can play both ways, score the ball in a variety of ways — pick-and-pop, face-up, post-up. So just spreading the floor and making life easier for Anthony on the court.”
Which works for the Pelicans, who passed up 19-year-old Jamal Murray for the more established 22-year-old Hield.
“He’s exactly who we wanted,” Gentry said.
“I don’t know why all of a sudden a guy 22, 23 years old is being questioned from an age standpoint. Twenty-four years old is being questioned from an age standpoint. Twenty-four years old … y’know, there’s a lot of us that work in the NBA that’ve got suits that’s 24 years old. So I’m not sure why that translates into anything other than the fact that, if you’re a basketball player, you’re a basketball player. And if you continue to work at your game, you’re gonna get better. And if you don’t work, you’re not gonna get better.”
Diallo, a raw 19-year-old whom Gentry predicts will be a “fan favorite” because of his energy and hard work, has seen the results of Hield’s progression first-hand, when the senior scored 46 points on his Kansas Jayhawks in a January triple-overtime victory by the Oklahoma Sooners.
“I was on the bench, so I was like, ‘Wow,'” said Diallo, who averaged 7.5 minutes a game as a freshman, to the biggest laugh of the afternoon. “On the bench I was like, ‘Wow, No. 24 is good.’ I was like, ‘Wow, someone needs to stop him.'”