The New Orleans Pelicans had their surprising run to the NBA Playoffs ended by the Phoenix Suns thanks to Chris Paul’s perfect night. All of the players are now headed to their vacation destinations. The front office just locked into the offseason war room.
New Orleans should have a top 10 pick in this year’s draft thanks to the Anthony Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. Fans are holding out hope for a top-four pick while Executive VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin was knocking on wood to superstitiously avoid the 0.4% chance of losing the pick to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Pelicans have the eighth-best lottery odds but they could fall to tenth. However, there is a 26.3% chance of selecting in the top four and a 6.0% chance of picking first overall.
New Orleans needs to get this late-lottery pick right before the rest of the roster gets expensive. That’s why New Orleans might draft another Duke Blue Devil if they land the top pick once again.
1: Paolo Banchero- Duke PF/C
The 6’10” 250-pound Banchero finally gets to play against some people his size. His height, strength, and athleticism have been NBA-ready for years. Banchero has all the best attributes of Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes. He has the frame to power through the paint, jump out of the gym, and run a transition like a pull-up point guard. He can even initiate the half-court offense off the dribble.
He has a go-to spin move that will command help defender respect on Day 1. His fadeaway and midrange game are polished enough to keep those defenders at bay. He can finish with either hand down low but adds a soft touch out to the three-point line. His raw talent and physicality are enough to make him the front-runner for Rookie of the Year if he pays any attention to defense.
Phoenix showed the Pelicans that Jonas Valancuinas needs help patrolling the paint. Jaxson Hayes and Larry Nance Jr. can only do so much. Banchero would also be an insurance policy in case Zion Williamson has another setback.
2: Jaden Ivey-Purdue PG/SG
Ivey can be the strong lead guard for reserve units while learning from CJ McCollum. He can shoot and provide spacing when playing with the starters. He uses his 200-pound, 6’4” size well as the point of attack defender who can switch on to wings. He also has the speed to beat everyone up the floor as a one-man fast break, finishing in traffic above his size ala Josh Hart.
Ivey showed he can be a point man for big units or play with three guards at Purdue. The Boilermakers did not have the ball in his hands as much as other one-and-done top-4 lottery picks but he still averaged over 3 assists per game. Fred Vinson can work on his 46/36/74 shooting splits while Ivey continues to look like a young Ja Morant on his drives.
3: Chet Holmgren- Gonzaga PF/C
Holmgren is listed as a big but that’s only in certain half-court situations. In today’s end-to-end game Holmgren is a 7’1”, 195-pound wing in the same slim mold as Kevin Durant or Brandon Ingram. He can rebound, push the tempo, pass, and pull up from three-point range better than almost any else in the draft.
He understands what his slight frame can do in the pick and roll on both ends of the court. Holmgren is active on defense logging plenty of steals, deflections, and blocks while posting 60/40/70 shooting splits. The last two things he needs are more muscle and fewer fouls. Once those issues are addressed Holmgren will be a perennial All-Star candidate.
The fit in New Orleans just might not be right though. CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and Zion Williamson will dominate the areas and times where Holmgren usually excels. If the Pelicans can draft Holmgren they should look to move Jaxson Hayes. There is just too much overlap and Holmgren is too talented to spend his first pro season on the fringes of the rotation.
4: Jabari Smith Jr.- Auburn PF
Smith might be the closest thing to a traditional, prototypical stretch-four power forward in the draft. He can even slot down in a three-and-D role as still shoot 42% from deep, 80% from the charity stripe, dish out 2 assists per game, and play solid defense (1 block, 1 steal).
Smith can power his way into points at the rim and even has a midrange game. He just has a hard time dribbling to the right spots. His ball-handling hurts the team just as much as it might help a rookie year highlight reel. As his scouting reports got out, his stats started to slip at the end of the year.
Smith might actually be a better fit than Holmgren though it is doubtful he ever gets drafted before the Gonzaga star. Smith’s dad, Jabari Smith, played in the 1990s, and knowing the hierarchy of the league from that perspective might help the younger Smith adapt quicker than other prospects.
5: Adrian “AJ” Griffin Jr.- Duke SF/SG
The family connection applies to Griffin Jr. as well. His dad is an assistant with the Toronto Raptors. There are also arguments for Griffin Jr. to top the team’s draft board. At 6’6”, 225 pounds, Griffin Jr. might have been the most efficient player in college basketball last year.
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He was also one of the most unselfish players, taking a back seat to Paolo Banchero in most games. Teams should take a chance any time there are signs of Jaylen Brown and Kawhi Leonard in prospects willing to play sidekick to a bigger star.
6: Keegan Murray- Iowa SF/PF
Murray has the size to see over most wing defenders and the savvy to make up for any lack of speed. He makes the smart play instead of attempting the sensational. He might not be able to stick to the shifty guards but Murray can shoot. He averaged almost 24 points per game with elite-level shooting splits.
Murray can switch from being an on-ball defender to help Herb Jones to the small-ball center role next to Zion Williamson. He can be one-dimensional and probably won’t be the best athlete at the combine. Still, the almost 22-year-old Murray seems like one of the safest picks in the back half of the lottery.
7: Jalen Duren- Memphis PF/C
The Pelicans would have to build Duren’s game out from the low block but he would provide immediate depth behind Jonas Valanciunas. He hunts powerful dunks on every play, understands timing, and can pass out of short rolling actions.
Duren will be able to function in an NBA system but he might not be as extraordinary as the preseason rankings suggested. A lack of versatility might precipitate a fall out of the lottery just months after being a projected top-5 pick. The Pelicans could be a buy-low candidate if Duren falls past the 7th pick.
8: Dyson Daniels- G-LEAGUE IGNITE PG
Daniels averaged 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists for G-League Ignite. His passing, feel for pick-and-roll nuances, length, and versatility will have many at the NBA Draft Combine intrigued. He showed court vision and playmaking skills similar to LaMelo Ball with the IGNITE. Standing 6’6” and growing, Daniels is a true, pass-first point guard who still needs to rework his shot to be more efficient.
He is a bit too slow to get to the rim consistently and only shoots 53% from the free-throw line when he does draw a foul. His pass-first approach is a reminder of Chris Paul though, so Daniels is worth a look. New Orleans needs someone on the court who is not looking for a shot on every possession.
9: TyTy Washington Kentucky PG/SG
Washington had a mixed bag of a season that matched Kentucky’s. Coach Cal did what he could to help slow the game down for Washington, who is lightning quick with a sharpshootering trigger. He averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists with 48/41/81 shooting splits.
Washington’s shooting efficiency paired with his elite talent and athleticism will get the attention of every lottery team. New Orleans might not be able to pass if he falls too far.
10: Johnny Davis-Wisconsin SG
Davis had one of the highest usage rates in the country yet his pride in playing competent defense stands out after every game. He won’t blow by his defender all game but Davis has the guile to get a bucket when the game slows down. He can get a step ahead when defenders overcommitt or closeout recklessly then finish through contact at the rim.
Wisconsin might have asked him to do too much last year. Just like Trey Murphy III this season, a more specific and limited role might help his shooting percentages.
11: Ben Mathurin- Arizona SF
The Pelicans need shooting but Mathurin might be the prospect with the most red flags after watching the tape. He was a top recruit who likes the attention on offense. When his shot falls, he is one of the best players available.
When it doesn’t, he disappears from the game. That inability to change the game when not a focal point is concerning. He did not seem to play up to his size on defense either, getting passed and shot over by smaller players far too often.
12: Shaedon Sharpe- Kentucky SG
Sharpe is a curiosity but not high on the draft board at the moment. He just has not played enough games against top competition in the last year which is why the Pelicans will have extra eyes on him at the combine. A call to Coach Calipari is merely due diligence.
Sharpe is a great young prospect that will be able to help a playoff team in three to five years. His inexperience and questionable developmental time are the only knocks on Sharpe but he will have such a steep learning curve as a rookie. Unless he is on a lottery team he might have to spend time in the G-League. Selecting Sharpe might be a sign Kira Lewis Jr. is not yet ready for the start of the regular season.