The 2016 NBA Draft Lottery is just 135 days away on May 16th. Sadly, New Orleans Pelicans fans are already thinking about the draft 32 games into the season. That's what happens when the entire roster gets injured in training camp, the shiny new coach doesn't reach expectations, and the team starts 10-22. 12 games under .500 is not just a hole, it is a chasm. Consider, if the Pelicans play at a 50-win pace for the remainder of the season (roughly 60% win rate) they still won't reach .500 before the season ends.
Rightly, most eyes are fixed 80 miles west at the P-MAC where Ben Simmons is trying to carry Johnny Jones into the NCAA Tournament against his will. Simmons is deemed by many to be a once in a generation-esque talent; a 6'10" tweener with the ball handling and vision of a point guard. The Pelicans, with an ongoing hole at small forward that has existed nearly as long as the franchise has played in the city, would be a dream fit. Simmons and Anthony Davis would form the nucleus for this team for years to come.
Of course, even with the fourth worst record in the league right now the Pelicans have just an 11.9% chance of winning the lottery and a 37.8% chance of picking in the top three. In the last five years the team with the fourth worst record has picked 2nd, 5th, 5th, 1st (thank you Anthony Davis), and 6th. There is a greater chance of moving down in the draft (52.3%) than staying pat (9.9%) or moving up (37.8%).
Fear not, as there is one ideal prospect who might very well be on the board with the fifth or sixth pick in the draft. Looking for a second guard to play along Jrue Holiday, keep the pace up, and still stretch the floor? Kentucky's Jamal Murray is your guy.
Playing out of position
Murray has rarely played point guard for the Wildcats this season, logging a great deal of minutes beside 5'9" Tyler Ulis. Murray has slid over to the two-guard slot and leads Kentucky in scoring so far this season; averaging 16.7 points to go along with 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists. While Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe have manned the point Murray is the only credible shooter on the floor, accounting for nearly half of the Wildcats 65 made 3-pointers. Despite that attention Murray is shooting an impressive 39% behind the arc.
Murray has solid size for a two-guard, measuring in at 6'4.25" in shoes with a 6'7" wingspan at Kentucky's recent pro combine. Those numbers might sound familiar because they are the exact same measurements for current Pelican Jrue Holiday at the NBA Combine in 2009.
Before coming to Kentucky Murray had a party all summer long. Playing for the Canadian team at the Pan-Am games in Toronto he was a star. Here is Murray operating as a point guard primarily while leading the Canadians to a victory over the US team. I am absolutely salivating.
The chemistry Murray has with Anthony Bennett (yes, former first overall pick Anthony Bennett) in the pick and roll is sublime. That step back to tie the game? Wow. The second step back, over the length of former LSU standout Anthony Randolph in overtime to drive the nail in the coffin? As Bill Raftery likes to say, "Onions!"
The little stuff is what I like. Notice on the few moments of defense that Murray forces ball handlers to go away from the screen by using positioning and his length. The subtle hesitations in the pick and roll to get space for himself or others on the pocket pass. Murray will turn 19 in February; he was doing that stuff against D-League talent at age 18 on a comparably huge stage in front of his home crowd in Toronto.
For flashier highlights, watch Murray fill it up against Ohio State from deep.
Murray is currently 7th in the Draft Express Mock Draft. Even if the Pelicans improve some it is possible for Murray to be on the board when their pick comes around. The good folks over at Liberty Ballers already have their sights set on Murray. Some Pelican fans are already clamoring to trade away Tyreke Evans for more shooting and ball movement. Selecting Murray would inject shooting, ball movement, and youth into a franchise direly in need.
Lottery odds are against Ben Simmons staying in the state. That doesn't mean the Pelicans cannot find a serious upgrade in the draft. Murray will have to hunt down a new number though, Anthony Davis is going to be sticking around in a 23 uniform longer than a year in the Crescent City.