The Pelicans will have many players to choose from come draft night, who they select may end up deciding the direction of the franchise.
The New Orleans Pelicans have a long and important offseason ahead of them. The contracts of key roster pieces are expiring, they have the 6th pick in the draft, and the roster is in need of some serious fine tuning if they want to even begin to compete in the Western Conference. Everything, of course, will start with the draft. While the lottery didn’t bless the Pelicans with another first overall pick, it didn’t smite them either, as the team ended up being slotted right at the position they were projected to. They’ll miss out on the two big names (as will 11 other teams), but truthfully, after Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, there is no consensus third best player in this draft. That bodes well for the Pelicans, as a player they have high on their board could easily be lower on the rungs for the teams in front of them. Another point in favor of the Pels is the fact the team has so many needs that they should be getting an immediate upgrade no matter who they draft. Here, we’ll look at some of the prospects the Pelicans should be in position to draft. For the sake of this article, I won’t take into account the possibility of the team trading the pick.
Dunn is large point guard out of Providence who has recently been in the news after making it known that he doesn’t want to go to a team with young and established point guards. This almost certainly means he won’t be selected by the Boston Celtics or Phoenix suns, who are drafting third and fourth respectively. The Pelicans have Jrue Holiday, but he isn’t young and his contract expires after next season. Dunn actually is reminiscent of Jrue in certain aspects. Both have great size and inconsistent outside shots, but Holidays is years ahead when it comes to scoring the ball and bringing it every night on defense. Dunn, however, may be the superior playmaker, and he loves to play in transition which is a must for anyone playing under Alvin Gentry.
One thing that plagued Dunn in his college days was his tendency to try and do too much when the simple play would have sufficed. That’s the case for a lot of players in the collegiate ranks, especially on teams without many other options. While Dunn clearly desires to be a team’s point guard of the future, he would be third on that totem pole in his first year with the Pels, behind Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Perhaps a year of sitting behind established players and learning the NBA would do him good.
A young two-guard who played one year for Kentucky, Murray would instantly improve the long range shooting of a Pelicans team that ranked 9th in three point percentage, but didn’t have many players who could hit the long ball. On top of that, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, the team’s top shooters, are both free agents and there is no saying if either will be back. Murray shot 40% from deep on 7.7 attempts per game, and is comfortable shooting in any situation, whether it be spotting up, in transition, or coming off of screens. He also projects as a nice secondary ball handler at the next level, and has shown come craftiness around the rim.
The upside is there with Murray, no question about it, but he does have some very off-putting weaknesses. He isn’t an elite athlete, and there are concerns about how he’ll fare going against NBA caliber defenders. Length at the rim also bothers him, and it’ll be interesting to see he fares trying to get his floaters off over taller and quicker NBA big men. Due to his lack of physical tools, he also struggles on the defensive end, although he does give effort. The Pelicans were one of the very worst defensive teams last year, and Murray won’t help rectify that. But, when you’re picking sixth, you have more than one issue and Murray can help them fix one. If he’s available, it would be shocking to see the Pelicans pass on him.
Hield was the best player in college basketball last season, carrying Oklahoma to a final four appearance and winning numerous honors. The senior is similar to Murray in a lot of ways, actually. Both are sharpshooters with solid off the dribble games, and like Murray there are questions about Hield’s ability to create at the next level. He’s about three years older than Murray, but Murray is arguably the better passer already. Hield also struggles in the in-between game, and is not an elite athlete. He is a hard worker, and improved dramatically in his senior season. Whether teams see that as a negative or positive probably varies from front office to front office, but because he can shoot the lights out, he will have a spot in the NBA.
One thing to keep in mind is that owner Tom Benson seems to prefer short term gains without much thought for the future. If it comes down to Murray or Hield, the Pelicans front office may decide Hield the more NBA-ready prospect and go with him.
Brown is the first non-guard player to be examined in this piece. The Cal freshman is a physical specimen at the small forward position at 6’7, 223 pounds, with a near seven foot wingspan to boot. Like Dunn, he also excels in transition, and has terrific defensive potential. In contrast with Hield and Murray, however, he struggles mightily with his outside shot. He shot below 30% from three, and only 65.4% on free throws. If Brown is the choice, and they lose Anderson and Gordon, the Pelicans could go into next season with almost no shooting at all on the roster, dooming them before the games even tip off. Brown has the potential to grow into a productive player, but I don’t think that potential exceeds the risks.
Bender dropping to sixth would certainly be unexpected. The young Croatian has largely been mocked to either Phoenix or Boston, and NBA front offices seem to be enamored with his potential. But, there’s always a chance someone slips, and if Bender falls to the Pels, it’s likely he’ll keep falling. Bender is tall (7’1) and mobile, but he’s extremely young (he turns 19 in November) and will likely take years to develop. By the time he turns 23, the Pelicans will be facing the free agency of Anthony Davis, and they will have wanted to make tons of progress towards becoming a title team by then. Its unlikely Bender will be ready to help them in that pursuit early on, and if he is somehow available here, it’d be a shocker to see him selected.
This would be another out of left field type of selection, but one the Pelicans may give some thought to. Poeltl is a legit 7’1 big man, and like the aforementioned Bender, he’s more mobile than he looks. Omer Asik is currently signed to a long term deal, but he’s set to turn 30 soon, and the Turkish big man declined heavily last season. If the team views him as a sunk cost, it would make sense to replace him sooner rather than later, and a player like Poeltl, who is solid in just about every aspect, would be a nice fit next to Davis.
It seems as though the Pelicans are positioned nicely to pick up a young and talented player. They all have their faults, as young players always do, but each of them possesses a skill that the Pelicans sorely need. And anyone one of them could end up being the steal of the draft.