Seven games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Playoff odds hovering below 2%. That's where the New Orleans Pelicans actually exist this season. Tyreke Evans is going to be held out until after the All-Star break. Eric Gordon is still out for a couple more weeks at least. Quincy Pondexter has already undergone season ending surgery. The brightest spot on the roster is a guy on a 10-day contract.
Far too much time has been focused on where the Pelicans are compared to preseason expectations. That doesn't matter if those expectations have been proven, quite clearly, to be incorrect. What is important is how the franchise proceeds from this point in time. The teams the Pelicans would need to catch to make the playoffs are improving rapidly. Both the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers are 10-5 in the last 15 games. New Orleans, in contrast, is just 7-8 with two embarrassing losses to the Los Angeles Lakers.
|Last 15 Games||W||L||ORtg||DRtg||Net Rating|
|Portland Trail Blazers||10||5||107.2||104.0||3.3|
|New Orleans Pelicans||7||8||107.0||106.0||1.0|
The Pelicans are a bad basketball team. One hope remains this season; General Manager Dell Demps is not permitted to trade away the 2016 First Round Pick at the trade deadline. New Orleans might not be bad enough to out tank teams built to fail like the Philadelphia 76ers or in complete disarray like the Phoenix Suns. Still, even the eighth spot in the lottery has a 2.8% chance at the first overall pick. Higher than the odds the Pelicans have at making the playoffs according to nearly every site I have checked.
For now let's break the draft up into three tiers. First up, two potential franchise changers.
Congratulations, you have a top two pick in the NBA draft
Ben Simmons - 6'10", 240 lbs, 7'0.25" wingspan, 19.5 years old
Brandon Ingram - 6'9", 196 lbs (soaking wet), 7'3" wingspan, 18.4 years old
Depending on who you read there is actually debate on which player should be the first pick in June. Ingram seems to fit more easily on any team. He's a great shooter at an impossibly young age and he draws some comparisons to Kevin Durant thanks to his absurd frame and lack of mass. In an NBA that seems to value space more than anything some believe, with good reason, that Ingram is a possible first pick.
Not me. Ben Simmons is the guy. He might actually be a point guard even though he's 6'10". LeBron James is often used as a comparison but I think Magic Johnson might be more appropriate if we must use legends to explain the ceiling of a kid not yet 20 years old. Simmons can't shoot (yet) and he might not ever develop a reliable 3-point stroke. He's playing point center for LSU but is a combo forward in the eyes of many at the NBA level. I think he's a point guard on offense but he'll defend other positions on defense. Good thing a flexible player like Jrue Holiday is on the roster.
Now what (Guard Edition)
Anthony Davis isn't going anywhere so the Pelicans don't need a power forward. Davis doesn't like to play center and Omer Asik's contract is nearly unmovable so that takes centers off the table in my opinion. Let's take a look at the guards available.
Jamal Murray - 6'4.25", 207 lbs, 6'6.5" wingspan, 18.9 years old
Wade Baldwin IV - 6'3", 177 lbs, 6'10" wingspan, 19.8 years old
Kris Dunn - 6'4", 205 lbs, 6'9" wingspan, 21.8 years old
Buddy Hield - 6'4.5", 215 lbs, 6'8.5" wingspan, 22.1 years old
Baldwin and Dunn are both considered point guards in the NBA. Baldwin is a much more accomplished shooter than Dunn but has struggled against quality opponents. (I cannot recommend that scouting report by Kevin O'Conner enough.) Dunn has been in college for a really long time and he still cannot shoot. Any guard shooting below 70% at the free throw line sends up red flag for me.
Jamal Murray is my preferred choice out of this group. He's a combo guard who can handle, shoot, and pass. There are big question marks on the defensive end. In the end my hope is Murray develops some craftiness on defense to get by while really taking on in the NBA which better suits his strengths than what is asked of him at Kentucky.
Hield, or Buddy Buckets, is a pure shooting guard. He's not big enough to reasonably expect to play the small forward position. Be sure to check out this incredible video breakdown of Hield. My real concern is Hield is no better than Eric Gordon is healthy (ok... stop laughing now) on offense and just as deficient on defense. When Gordon was 22 years old he averaged 22.3 points a game. In the NBA.
Now what (Wing Edition)
Jaylen Brown - 6'6.5", 222 lbs, 7'0.5" wingspan, 19.2 years old
Furkan Korkmaz - 6'7", 185 lbs, 18.5 years old (International Prospect)
Timothe Luwawu - 6'7", 205 lbs, 7'2" wingspan, 20.7 years old (International Prospect)
Denzel Valentine - 6'6", 220 lbs, 6'10" wingspan, 22.2 years old
Let's get the two international guys out of the way. We hardly know anything. A highlight video here, the occasional game footage there, and some reporting from other websites like Draft Express and CBS Sports is about it. Korkmaz is considered a pure shooter and Luwawu compares himself to Paul George. Korkmaz has played just 102 minutes in Euroleague play this season. Luwawu has a much larger sample size with 679 minutes with some good (37.7% behind the arc) and bad (40.7% overall from the field). International players typically don't go to the NBA Combine. These two will probably hold private workouts and rumors about how great they looked will pop up. We won't actually know anything.
Jaylen Brown and Denzel Valentine are a totally different story. Brown is a stupendous athlete with a body that already looks prepared for the rigors of an NBA season. He lives at the free throw line but shoots just 65%. (Red flag!) On the season Brown is shooting 34.2% on two point jumpers and 27.3% behind the 3-point line. At the top end he could be an elite defender and get into the paint (and to the foul line) enough to overcome his lack of shooting. A quality coaching staff might even turn him into a passable threat behind the arc given enough time and patience from management.
Denzel Valentine is practically a triple-double machine in college. This season he's averaging 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists a game. He can shoot; knocking down 82.8% of his free throws, 44% of his two point jumpers, and 43.2% from deep. On 566 career collegiate 3-point attempts Valentine is shooting 40%. Check out another superb breakdown of Valentine from Kevin O'Conner here.
Valentine is a pure player, with an impeccable blend of instincts, ballhandling, timing, vision and shooting. He can change speeds as a ballhandler and use his elite footwork to sneak into crevices in the paint. He makes lightning-quick decisions as a pinpoint passer. He’s a nifty scorer who can shoot from anywhere and use floaters or runners to finish creatively around the rim. He hustles on defense, never misses his rotations and rebounds well.
There are questions about his athleticism. I don't care. I know he can shoot and pass and rebound. I know he's spent four long years learning basketball from a preeminent teacher in Tom Izzo.
"He hustles on defense, never misses his rotations..." and I've passed out. A legitimate threat behind the arc with a lunch pail attitude at small forward. Have you watched what this team rolls out at small forward for the past decade? "Sky-high basketball IQ?"