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Buddy Hield, Pelicans off to fast start in preseason

BOSSIER CITY, La. -- After he answered a few questions for the New Orleans Pelicans' radio team and signed autographs for fans, and then got dressed and went back to sign more autographs for more fans, Buddy Hield finally sat down for a postgame interview, thanked God and, with that, officially put an end to his NBA preseason debut.

As he rose from his locker at CenturyLink Arena, he made sure to not forget the newest, brightest accessory in his professional ensemble: a pink, child-sized backpack decorated with Disney princesses.

"His backpack's dope," guard E'Twaun Moore said with a smile. "One of a kind."

Hield, the sixth overall pick in the 2016 draft, tied Moore for the game high with 19 points (8-for-12, 3-for-6 from 3) and totaled six rebounds, four turnovers and three assists in a 116-102 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Northwest Louisiana. Some of Hield's shots, such as a step-back 3-pointer late in the third quarter that left his defender reaching, even got resident Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis, limited to 12 minutes as he works his way back from a left knee procedure, out of his seat.

"He calls himself 'Buddy Buckets,'" said Davis, who had 13 points (5-for-11) and three rebounds. "That's what he did tonight. He got a lot of buckets, made a lot of shots, looked good on the defensive end. I'm definitely excited to play with him."

But if the backpack didn't highlight it, Alvin Gentry, playing the role of level-headed head coach, was quick to remind the assembled press that Hield is indeed still a rookie.

"I think he had his moments," Gentry said. "Obviously, he shot the ball well and made some plays. I just think it's typical. He's a rookie. He's going to have games like this, and he'll struggle in some games. The thing I liked best about it is that he always gives maximum effort. And as long as he gives maximum effort, I think there will be some chance for him to have some success."

The lasting impression of Hield's debut won't be the buckets, which he has a strong track record of getting. It will be the all-around game he flashed at times, most notably in setting up easy looks at the rim for both Davis (off a cut with a pocket pass) and Omer Asik (on a pick-and-roll).

Pelicans brass has championed the versatility of its rebuilt roster since it finalized its free-agent haul of hard-working, "multi-positional" defenders such as Moore, Solomon Hill and Langston Galloway. While Hield's ability to stretch the floor for Davis will be critical, especially with Jrue Holiday expected to miss an indefinite number of games to start the season, seeing the rookie run a pick-and-roll to completion two months after he struggled with ball pressure in summer league was an encouraging first sign.

Moore, Hill and Galloway were also active on the defensive end to start the game, which was a pleasant site for anyone who watched last season's patchwork roster slump to 28th overall in defensive efficiency. Terrence Jones, who signed for the minimum this offseason, flew around the court and effectively utilized his unique blend of size and skill at both power forward and center to the tune of 17 points (5-for-8, 2-for-3 from 3), five rebounds and three assists. Although the team let its lead over a Mavericks team without Dirk Nowitzki, Andrew Bogut, Devin Harris, Wesley Matthews or Deron Williams slip away soon after halftime, the Pelicans had enough without Davis' help to take it back and keep it for good.

"We've been working on it, and I think they've done a good job to play with pace," Gentry said. "And also I think it was good to see more faces to play against than playing against the same people all the time. I like that part of it too.

"But we've still got a long, long way to go. I thought it was encouraging that, like I said, the effort was there, we played unselfishly, and I thought we did a good job of making the extra pass, finding the open shooter. There were a few possessions where we passed up good shots to get great shots, so all of that is real positive."

Hield, never one to revel in a good performance, sounded like a veteran in echoing his coach after the game.

"Yeah, don't rush it," Hield said of his performance. "Let it come to you. The ball will find you. Coach always says the ball will find you if you're [in] the right spots. Once you give the ball up, it comes right back to you, and you're [not] taking a contested shot to a wide-open shot.

"So that's cool. ... I'm just learning as I go."