Armchair GM. The hallmark of blogging, especially around the NBA where a simpler salary cap and limited roster makes such discussion far more digestible. Certainly it happens in the NFL and MLB as well, but those discussions typically center around what to do in the draft or a target or two in free agency. The NBA, with just 15 possible roster spots and the NBA Draft and Free Agency separated by less than two weeks, thinks of building the ideal roster all at once.
Chances are high the New Orleans Pelicans will not make the playoffs this season. This is not to say making the playoffs is impossible, as crazier things have happened and a 5.5 game deficit is not insurmountable. However, those chances are slim. Instead let's discuss the Pelicans ending up in the lottery, where a lucky bounce by a handful of ping pong ball could change the future of this franchise. Might the Pelicans get another superstar beside Anthony Davis? How about finally fixing the small forward position?
Step One: The Lottery
A little lottery luck never hurt and the Pelicans moving up would be a superb turn of events. Now, what to do with the third pick in a draft where everyone is focused mostly on the top two players...
Step Two: The Draft
Pelicans receive: 7th and 15th selections
Nuggets receive: 3rd and 40th selections
Now the Pelicans have the 7th, 15th, and 36th picks in the draft. Let's consult the most recent mock draft from Draft Express to begin. A couple of these players will be selected slightly higher than currently projected but I will not select players who are already projected to be gone when the pick rolls around.
7th Pick: Timothe Luwawu, 6'7" wing, Mega Leks
Here's a look at Luwawu's European stats so far in his career. His current team, Mega Leks of the Adriatic League, was most recently the home of Denver Nuggets rookie Nikola Jokic. Jokic won the league MVP last season and the year before Philadelphia 76ers prospect Dario Saric brought home MVP honors. Corey Webster, who had a training camp contract and is most known for his exploits in New Zealand, also played for Mega Leks last season and struggled mightily (0/55!) behind the arc.
Unlike many young European prospects Luwawu, who is just 20 years old, starts on the wing for Mega Leks. Luwawu is averaging a healthy 31 minutes a game while leading the team in scoring. Mega Leks has already secured a playoff bid in the Adriatic League. This excerpt is from Jonathan Givony's 11-day scouting trip in Europe.
Perhaps Luwawu's most NBA ready attribute is his defense. He showed the ability to stay in front of point guards, shooting guards and small forwards in the game we attended, thanks to his quick feet, long arms and ability to get over screens. Mega Leks likes to utilize him at the top of their full-court press, and Luwawu has wreaked quite a bit of havoc in the Adriatic League this year with his very quick hands.
While not nearly as well known as the others I considered for this pick (Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray) Luwawu projects as a potential 3&D candidate on the wing. His calling card, as Givony notes, is defense. Still, Luwawu is shooting 38.5% (52/135) behind the arc so far this season.
15th Pick: Denzel Valentine, 6'6" wing, Michigan State
Valentine might be the smartest player on the Pelicans roster the moment he suits up, even as a rookie. He's older with less perceived upside thanks to both age and limited athleticism. Right now he's playing point guard for the Spartans and piling up unbelievable stats. Valentine is shooting 45.1% from deep (and over 40% for his entire collegiate career) while averaging 19.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists with an impressive 2.78 assist-to-turnover ratio. He's turning in one of the most efficient collegiate seasons in the last decade.
Physically he's a capable NBA wing; 6'6" and 220 pounds with a 6'10" wingspan. Average for a small forward prospect according the DraftExpress and bigger than the typical shooting guard. Plenty of smart people who write about basketball think Valentine is brilliant. For instance, from Kevin O'Conner.
He can thrive in the pace-and-space systems of the modern NBA because of his precise reads on the floor. Teams like the Spurs, Hawks and Celtics (among many others) have primary playmakers, but most of their players share the responsibility.
Valentine is a limited defender, but his hard-nosed mindset on that end coupled with his reliability on offense could allow him to gain the trust of his coaches and earn an early opportunity. Even if he never develops as expected, his sky-high basketball IQ and skill set gives him the edge over many other players on the fringes of NBA rosters.
A wing rotation consisting of Quincy Pondexter, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Timothe Luwawu, and Denzel Valentine features a good combination of shooting (all four can shoot behind the arc) and length. Valentine projects as the worst defender of the bunch but has the intelligence to make do. Drafting Valentine and Luwawu instead of keeping the third pick feels like taking a couple of singles instead of swinging for the fences but for a franchise that has long lacked depth and shooting on the wings it would be a welcome change.
36th Pick: Monte Morris, 6'3" guard, Iowa State
Malik Newman, the top point guard prospect (8th overall) in 2015, would be a more daring selection. Morris is over a year and a half older and has two additional seasons under his belt in college, boy does it show. Monte Morris has a preposterous 4.60 assist-to-turnover ratio (511:111) for his career. Experience in his first two years under Fred Hoiberg, current head coach of the Chicago Bulls, provides a level of knowledge in an NBA-esque scheme rare for incoming rookies.
According to Hoop-Math Morris is shooting 48% (61/127) on two point jumpers and an impressive 66.7% at the rim. While his shooting behind the arc is down this season over his three year career it is functional; 38.7%. Morris would provide a developmental talent that could be the pass-first point guard this team needs filling the minutes vacated by the soon-to-depart Norris Cole.
Step Three: Free Agency
Jrue Holiday has agreed to terms on a four year, $91.9 million extension that will keep him in a Pelicans uniform through the 2019-20 season beside Anthony Davis.
The next step is the hardest. Should the Pelicans make another move? Assuming Anthony Davis makes the All-NBA team and the salary cap is $92 million New Orleans would have about $6.6 million in cap room after considering the cap holds for both first round picks and signing Morris to a three year contract (with cap room) to retain his Bird Rights if everything pans out.
That's not enough room to retain the Bird Rights to Ryan Anderson or Eric Gordon, who would both need to be renounced to fit Holiday's renegotiation and extension. Could the Pelicans trade away Tyreke Evans or Omer Asik (maybe both) to create additional cap room? Finding such trade partners may prove to be difficult, and even if such a trade were to take place it might be after much of the free agent class has been signed elsewhere.
Jason Kidd reportedly tried to engineer a "massive trade" between the Milwaukee Bucks and Pelicans that Bucks ownership ultimately rejected. New Orleans has long been linked to big man Greg Monroe, and Zach Lowe reported during trade deadline week those interests continue unabated. The Pelicans front office will want to keep Holiday and a Monroe for Asik swap makes no sense for the Bucks.
For now, this is where I stop. It isn't the drastic makeover I thought it would be when I first started this process. I can't find a realistic trade partner for any of the Pelicans big remaining contracts (Asik and Evans are it) to create substantial cap space to make other moves. Here's what the cap picture looks like at the end.
|Timothe Luwawu (#7)||SG/SF||21||$2,675,700|
|Denzel Valentine (#15)||SG/SF||23||$1,656,200|
I understand you might be underwhelmed. Where did I go wrong? What would you do differently? Have your own Dream Scenario? Post a FanPost! Excellent submissions will find their way onto the front page. That's how I got started!