The Pelicans season has been a bust of epic proportions. In much more fun news, the Pelicans do have their 1st round draft pick this year! You know what that means, right? Time to project all of our irrational hopes and dreams for the Pelicans onto some 19-22 year old kid!
Before trying to project what the Pelicans big board might look like right now, it is necessary to explain a few things. First team needs: As Pelicans beat writer for The Advocate, Brett Dawson, once told me:
I agree, the Pelicans probably could use a player at every single position -- except for Center. If Ryan Anderson re-signs with the Pelicans, they may not need a PF. At the moment, however, that seems unlikely.
The Pelicans, barring a miracle finish to the season, will likely finish no worse than 10th in the lottery odds. The Pelicans are 5 games back of the team with the 11th best record, the Orlando Magic. For that reason, I have capped the big board at the top 10 picks. Logically, one of those players should be available. The Pelicans are also 5 games ahead of Minnesota, the team with the 5th best lottery odds right now. Hence, the Pelicans will likely be picking somewhere between 6th-10th.
Note, because this big board is focused on players you can watch during March Madness, Dragan Bender has been left off. Bender would have slotted in as the 7th best prospect for the Pelicans. I rate him lower than most mock drafts because he is widely considered a project who will take several years to develop. Dell Demps and the Pelicans organization will likely value higher the players who can contribute sooner rather than later.
The Pelicans Big Board
#1 Ben Simmons (PG/SG/SF/PF/C - LSU)
Ben Simmons is the best player in this draft and the best prospect to enter the NBA draft since Pelicans big man Anthony Davis. Do not believe anyone who tells you different. Simmons can play any position on the court. The one small tarnish on his game is the lack of a consistent outside jumper.
Simmons has a certain edginess to him that I love. Doesn't want to play on the Australian international team because they snubbed him when he was 15. That kind of kill or be killed mentality intrigues me. (Note: Ben Simmons will likely not be playing in the NCAA Tournament unless LSU wins the SEC tournament)
NBA Comparison: His best NBA comparison is probably Magic Johnson. At very worst, he is likely the best version of Draymond Green. So ya. He is pretty damn good.
#2 Jaylen Brown (SF - Cal)
I have Jaylen Brown rated higher on the Pelicans big board going into March than Brandon Ingram. The central reason is that the Pelicans desperately need a wing defender and Brown will fit that bill far more than Brandon Ingram ever will. Part of the reason, however, is that I have a lower grade than most on Ingram.
Like Simmons, Brown has struggled with his jumper all season. Also like Simmons, Brown has pretty much every other tool that you could ask for. He is big, powerful, finishes extremely well after contact, can pass, rebound, and defend. If you trust that you can fix Brown's jump shot, then you guarantee you draft a star.
NBA Comparison: Brown has a shot to be the next Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. A guy who has all the physical tools, right attitude, and intelligence to be the next star and is just a jump shot away. At worst, he is the next Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
#3 Brandon Ingram (SF/PF - Duke)
Brandon Ingram is legit. He can shoot, drive, and pass. Ingram also plays extremely smart defense and his size helps him recover from his slow foot speed. Speaking of which, Ingram is extremely flat footed on defense. That scares me a lot because I'm not sure it is fixable at this stage of his career.
Also, I'm not in love with his overall demeanor. His attitude is very similar to Al-Farouq Aminu or Eric Gordon in that he lacks a fiery passion on the court. Pelicans fans have been known to eat those guys alive.
NBA Comparison: A lot of people have suggested that Ingram is the next Kevin Durant. That is insane and an absolute disservice to Brandon Ingram. Kevin Durant was a much more polished offensive player and was more athletic than Ingram. The best comparison I have heard for Ingram was Tracy McGrady, so I will go with that. Worst case, he is the best version of Allen Crabbe.
#4 Kris Dunn (PG, Providence)
Kris Dunn is the guy I have the hardest time reading. He is good in a lot of areas but not particularly great at any one thing. He does, however, appear to have the proper athletic ability and passing chops to play PG in the NBA.
Is he going to be a star in the NBA? Probably not. Could he be a very good NBA PG? Almost certainly. I do love his attitude; Dunn has some dog in him. New Orleans desperately need a guy like that.
NBA Comparison: A taller Eric Bledsoe is his best comparison. Any NBA team would be very happy with that kind of production. His worst case outcome is Darren Collison with better defense.
#5 Jamal Murray (PG/SG - Kentucky)
Jamal Murray is a guy who has definitely raised his draft stock through the course of this season. He is just a natural scorer. Murray can shoot, drive, finish after contact, and pass at a high level. Murray is the most polished offensive scorer in the draft, and he is just 19 years old.
Two knocks on Murray: One, he is a bit of a tweener at 6' 4". I'm not sure whether he is a PG or SG in the NBA. Two, like Ingram, he seems to be a bit flat footed on defense.
NBA Comparison: He is the hardest guy to make an NBA comparison with on this big board. I think JR Smith without all the off and on court issues is the best answer. If he reaches his ceiling, however, I could see him becoming comparable to James Harden.
#6 Buddy Hield (SG - Oklahoma)
Buddy Hield, AKA BUDDY BUCKETS, has raised his draft stock from second rounder to lottery pick. The rapid rise is Hield's draft stock isn't a fluke either, the guy has earned it. After getting a second round grade in the 2015 NBA draft, Buddy went back to Oklahoma and worked his butt off. Myself, and probably every head coach in the NBA, would kill to have a guy with that attitude on their team.
Hield has shot lights out from three-point range this season and has done so consistently. Only twice all season has Hield shot below 30% from beyond the arc. Hield has also improved his dribble and is competent at driving the ball in the paint. Buddy is not a great defender, but his long wingspan and effort goes a long way. If you watch him during a game, you can constantly see him pointing out to his teammates where they need to be. I love that.
NBA Comparison: I think there is a 90% chance that Buddy Hield is as good as, if not better than, Danny Green. Worst case scenario, Hield has a Jodie Meeks type career.
#7 Denzel Valentine (SG/SF - Michigan State)
If you watch Denzel Valentine, he is a guy who is impossible not to fall in love with. He has shot 40% from three point range every season of his college career. Valentine is also an amazing passer. I think he is a bit underrated on defense because his size gives him ability to switch 1-4. Again, another guy whose attitude and leadership could be used on the Pelicans roster.
What Valentine lacks is elite athleticism. He will struggle to get by the better NBA defenders because of that first step.
NBA Comparison: At best, Valentine is Jared Dudley. At worst, Valentine is Jared Dudley. There is perhaps a 5% chance he can turn into Paul Pierce.
#8 Domantas Sabonis (PF/C - Gonzaga)
What sets Sabonis apart for me is his fort work. Sabonis' footwork in the post is the best I have ever seen for a guy his age. Amazing. As the NBA continues the trend towards more smaller lineups, a guy with his set of post skills will have value in the NBA.
Sabonis can also step out and hit the 15-17 foot jump shot and is an excellent rebounder. He has the perfect skill set to stick next to AD. Sabonis' stock amongst scouts is a little low because his wingspan is an half inch shorter than most NBA big men. Regardless, the dude can ball.
NBA Comparison: Jared Sullinger without the weight issues. Worst case, he is Lavoy Allen.
#9 Jakob Poeltl (C - Utah)
Jakob Poeltl has a very polished offensive game. Pelicans fans will fall in love with his passing and post game abilities.
On the flip side, I'm not sure what position he plays. Also, I don't think he is strong enough to contribute right away. I watched Ryan Anderson (a player from Arizona, not the Pelicans Ryan Anderson) take Poeltl from 15 feet out, to right under the basket without much resistance. That worries me.
NBA Comparison: Best case scenario, you get Al Jefferson. Worst case, he is a slightly worse version of Enes Kanter.
#10 Diamond Stone (C - Maryland)
Diamond Stone has every physical tool you could want in an NBA center. Big and strong with great hands and a soft touch around the basket, Stone has a chance to be the next great center in the NBA.
There are questions about his attitude. Diamond Stone is the guy in this draft who will either become a star or be out of the league in four years.
NBA Comparison: Clint Capela. Worst case, Fab Melo.
*** If you have an opinion about something I wrote, or have a thought about a prospect, be sure to leave it in the comments below. Better yet, make your own Pelicans big board and put it in an fan post and it may even get published! For more brilliance you can follow me on twitter @jdbillio.