No one predicted this season so far. The injuries continue to mount. Alvin Gentry will play tonight with a skeleton squad at best as the New Orleans Pelicans take on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Tyreke Evans, Norris Cole, Quincy Pondexter, and Kendrick Perkins are all out. Jrue Holiday should be sitting the back half of a back-to-back out as he continues to manage his return from a stress reaction. Anthony Davis could be out as well after leaving last night's game in the first quarter with a left shoulder injury. Despite carrying an additional player (Jimmer Fredette) due to an injury exception New Orleans may only have ten players available against a rested Thunder team hoping to welcome Kevin Durant back to the lineup.
However, there is hope. Not hope in the fashion of the Pelicans making a miraculous recovery and making the playoffs. Hope in the form of ping-pong balls. For the first time since 2012 New Orleans owns the rights to its first round draft pick without any qualifications or stipulations. In addition they will have the lesser of their own second round pick and that of the Sacramento Kings. Real GM has the entire list of draft pick obligations here for your perusal.
New Orleans only has two debits to discuss. Their 2016 second round pick will go to Milwaukee if it is better than the Sacramento Kings pick. In that case New Orleans will have the Kings pick. The 2017 second round pick is owed to the Minnesota Timberwolves, but protected for selections 31-55. The only way New Orleans loses the 2017 second round pick is if they finish with one of the top five records in the league.
Promising top five prospects
The 2016 draft is headlined by LSU freshman phenom Ben Simmons, originally from Australia. He's absolutely ridiculous. 6'10" and 240 pounds with a 7' wing span and insane 41.5" vertical at the LSU Combine. He might be a power forward. Or a small forward. Or whatever his eventual NBA coach can possibly dream up. Read up on his Draft Express reports and watch those videos.
Other enticing candidates to dream about placing around Anthony Davis are Jaylen Brown (California), Brandon Ingram (Duke), Jamal Murray (Kentucky), and Dragan Bender (International). Brown has a prototype NBA wing body right now (6'7", 222 pounds and a 7' wingspan) and Murray is a big combo guard (6'4", 207 pounds, 6'6" wingspan). The most intriguing is Bender, a 7'1" big man who just yesterday turned 18. Marc Stein got an look up close at Bender in October and came away thoroughly impressed.
And I can assure you that he's the realest of deals. The slender 7-footer doesn't turn 18 until November, but he can already do a little bit of everything. Bender runs the floor. He handles the ball. He scores inside and outside. He knows how to pass. He's not afraid to bang even though he clearly needs to add bulk and strength. And, most of all, he's already an impact player defensively who, despite his tender age and slight frame, can play the 3, 4 and 5.
In both his Chicago appearance and Sunday's rematch with Milano at Madison Square Garden, after spending last season in Israel's second division with Maccabi's B team, Bender was a shot-blocking (and shot-changing) force at the rim. Even better: In the most high-profile game of his career to that point, Bender showed us his healthy appetite for playing small forward in United Center crunch time opposite one of Europe's better swingmen in Alessandro Gentile.
It flat out sucks to even be thinking about the NBA Draft already in November. Here we are as Pelican fans. The lottery is on May 17th, over 180 days from today. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or in this case, losses and lottery balls.