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Why the Sixers benched Buddy Hield in favor of Cam Payne

Buddy Hield used to have what basketball people call a shooter’s conscience.

That means the shooting guard would keep shooting after missing five straight attempts because he’s confident the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth shot will go down.

Somewhere toward the end of the 76ers’ regular season, however, Hield lost that attribute amid struggles and a reduced role. And it may be tough for him to get an audition to show he’s regained it after being benched in favor of Cam Payne on Thursday.

» READ MORE: Joel Embiid battling mild case of Bell’s palsy on left side of his face: ‘I’m not going to quit’

Hield didn’t see any action after failing to score on 0-for-2 shooting during a 3-minute, 57-second stint off the bench in the first quarter of the Sixers’ 125-114 Game 3 victory over the New York Knicks at the Wells Fargo Center. He’s shooting 1-for-7 — including 0-for-4 from three — in the best-of-seven series. Hield even blew two layups the exact same way in Games 1 and 2.

At times, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder looks fearful to shoot and passes up scoring opportunities he wouldn’t previously seized. Yet on Feb. 9, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey told us Philly “got the best player” traded at the trade deadline.

“Look, with Joel [Embiid] and Tyrese [Maxey], he puts the fear of God in other teams,” Morey said the day after he acquired Hield from the Indiana Pacers in a three-team trade. “The shots are coming; they’re coming in transition, they’re coming deep, they’re coming off actions. You need to pay a lot of attention to Buddy Hield on the court … and that’s super valuable with Joel and Tyrese in opening up things up for them.”

But Hield has been a major disappointment.

Right now, the Sixers would have been better off keeping Marcus Morris Sr., who they shipped to the San Antonio Spurs as part of the three-team deal. After being bought out by the Spurs, Morris shot 41.4% on three-pointers in 12 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In addition to knocking down shots, the 6-foot-8 forward and North Philly native brought a toughness the Sixers lost since trading him, Patrick Beverley, Danuel House Jr., and Jaden Springer. And unfortunately for Hield, he’s mostly known as a sharpshooter. He’s not a lockdown defender, an elite rebounder, or an assist machine. So it’s hard to justify playing him in a competitive playoff series unless he’s making shots.

That’s why Payne, a reserve point guard, is the better option off the bench.

In Game 3, he made his first three shot attempts and blocked a shot while scoring eight of his 11 points in the second quarter. Payne ended up making 4-of-7 shots — including 3-of-4 three-pointers — to go with three assists in 15:40.

» READ MORE: Nick Nurse impressed with Joel Embiid’s resilience as he battles Bell’s palsy and knee problems

In addition to draining threes, Payne sets up teammates for easy baskets and provides energy off the bench.

He’s also learned how to make the most out of limited minutes — something that Hield isn’t accustomed to doing.

He’s used getting in rhythm and getting shots and averages a career 29 minutes per game. So his limited minutes and shooting opportunities as a Sixer are new to him.

Now, in his first postseason appearance, Hield is finding out that it’s hard to get good shots in the playoffs. Secondly, he’s trying to get shots while averaging just 9.8 minutes in three postseason games, so he must learn how to be impactful and efficient in limited minutes.

When he was playing around 35 minutes as a starter with the Sacramento Kings and Pacers, he could miss five shots and still be in the game and hit his next five. Now, it’s different. As he learned Thursday, being ineffective during one stretch could land you on the bench.

But Payne appears to be in a good place. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He knows that he can do it. His teammates know he can do it. Coach Nick Nurse knows that he can do it. So it’s only right to play him over Hield.

Unless something changes in the near future, Hield could have a tough time getting minutes moving forward.

» READ MORE: Sixers-Knicks Game 3 takeaways: Joel Embiid’s nasty side, Cam Payne’s contributions, and more

Yet, the Sixers can’t completely close the door on him. Nurse must keep him engaged and tell him to stay ready.

“I think that is obviously not easy for him,” Nurse said of Hield losing his minutes. “I’ve said to you guys I really like him. He loves to play. It’s killing him not to be out there, etc., and that is the conversation. I gotta say to him, ‘Listen, I have to — my job is to make decisions that’s best for the team.’ Some nights, some days, some series, whatever, it doesn’t work out for certain guys.

“He’s not alone there, and I needed a spark from somebody, and we got it [from Payne.] Next game’s a new day. You never know how things are gonna roll, so you have to stay ready.”

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