Recent mock drafts have provided mixed messages for the New Orleans Pelicans fanbase. Chad Ford's Big Board 6.0 has both Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield in the top five. If the Pelicans don't find luck on NBA Draft Lottery night, that could be potentially disastrous. Draft Express, on the other hand, has both Murray and Hield available in the sixth and seventh spots overall. Great news if the draft breaks that way.
If you missed it, most of our writers would prefer either Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield if the Pelicans picked third overall.
So, let's discuss the darker timeline. The Pelicans are picking sixth (or worse) and both Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield are unavailable. What should New Orleans do?
If Jamal Murray and Buddy Hield (Simmons, Ingram, and Dragan Bender as well) are off the board when the Pelicans pick, who should they pick?
Joseph Billiot: If Simmons/Ingram/Murray/Hield are all off the board by the time the Pelicans pick, I will probably cry a bit first. I think those are the four guys in this draft that have "star" potential around them. The next two guys on my board on are Kris Dunn and Domantas Sabonis.
Picking between Kris Dunn and Sabonis is a toss up to me. I think Dunn has a shot of ultimately being the better NBA player, but I think Sabonis is almost the perfect prospect to put next to Anthony Davis going forward.
David Fisher: Drafting around the six pick with those players off the board becomes a choice of need or want. There are a number of high upside players available; Jakob Poeltl, Kris Dunn, Timothe, Luwawu, and Marquese Chriss are all under consideration here. Luwawu is the "need" pick and slots most easily into the gaping maw on the wing. Dunn could form a dual point guard look with Jrue Holiday and has demonstrated the killer mentality at Providence that this team sorely lacks. Chriss is one of the highest ceiling players in this entire draft but is a bit of a tweener who is undersized at PF and a really poor rebounder.
Do the Pelicans "need" a traditional center? No. They surely want one and Omer Asik isn't winning any fans in the front office, on the coaching staff, or in the stands at this point. Investing even more assets in a center is probably a poor play (more below) but Jakob Poeltl has the physical tools and athleticism to be a good center in this league.
For me, I go Chriss here and hope for the lottery ticket to hit.
Quentin Haynes: If all these players are off the board, then the Pelicans should go with Marquese Chriss from Washington. Ryan Anderson has one foot out the door and it’s becoming more and more evident that Omer Asik is limited in this era of basketball. New Orleans’ future should include more Davis at five, which means some minutes will be available at the power forward position. Chriss is a bit of a project, but can do a bit of everything on the floor. As Asik’s deal ends, I can see Chriss emerge as a fairly dominant offensive big man with the ability to space the floor - almost the ideal frontcourt partner for Davis.
Oleh Kosel: Hey, it's the six million dollar question. If the preferred targets are off the board, I could probably be talked into anybody... seriously, I'm that undecided. On the one hand, Kris Dunn or Jaylen Brown ooze potential for days, but they both possess major red flags. Henry Ellenson and Jakob Poeltl, two bigs normally seen inside top-10 rankings, inexplicably scare me. Then there's a glut of freshman power forwards -- Chriss, Davis and Rabb -- all with varying degrees of solid athleticism. But until he agrees to permanently man the center position, why should the Pelicans waste their time developing a question mark who is destined to remain in Anthony Davis' shadow?
Hence, Timothe Luwawu remains my choice. I've been ogling him since early December, and I think he is one of the few players after the top-5 are off the board of being a legitimate starter in the NBA. He size, skills and athleticism scream versatile two-way player, and best of all, he could fill the hole at small forward for years to come for the Pelicans. Go get that 3-and-D player!
If the Pelicans try to trade back further into the first round which two prospects do you think they should target?
Joseph Billiot: The very first option I look at is trading the pick. Trading back inherently means passing on Kris Dunn, who will likely go in the top 7 picks. But, Sabonis will likely go in the late lottery, so if I can get him later, and add a pick, or any other asset, that is by far the better move to me.
The problem with trading back in the draft is that it appears the Pelicans might not want to add one draft pick to this team, much less two. So you would likely need to find a player to swap with. I don't really have any good ideas yet. Maybe Tony Snell and Chicago's pick. Possibly C.J. Miles and Indiana's pick (if Sabonis falls that far).
David Fisher: My preference is to trade down in this situation. My targets here are Domantas Sabonis and Denzel Valentine. There are two qualities the Pelicans should target in the draft; basketball IQ and shooting. Both of these players have those attributes in significant quantities.
My love of Valentine's game is well known at this point. Tom Izzo loves Denzel Valentine and he watched him work on his craft in practice for four years. Izzo knows what that work is supposed to look like and he was impressed by Valentine's development. That says more than the stats or the scouting videos are ever going to tell you. But, the stats and the numbers and the tape are also great. Valentine is a great shooter and shot 40.8% for his career beyond the arc. He stuffs the stat sheet and can function as a spot up shooter who attacks closeouts and keeps the ball moving.
Next is Domantas Sabonis and he brings the skills I think the Pelicans need in a big man beside Anthony Davis. Sabonis is a superb rebounder, posting the highest rebound rate among big men projected within the top 20 picks. In addition Sabonis was the best big man on 2-point jump shots, the best at the foul line, and only Ben Simmons was better at the rim. In one match-up with an NBA-sized big Sabonis dominated expected lottery pick Jakob Poeltl. Sabonis is undersized but I think his combination of shooting, rebounding, and basketball intelligence (go watch some highlights of his father Arvydas Sabonis) will lead to a long, successful NBA career.
Quentin Haynes: If the Pelicans move back in the draft and pick up another first round pick, I think New Orleans should target Taurean Prince from Baylor and DeAndre Bembry from St. Joseph. Prince is my favorite of the two, as he seems to be someone who can provide whoever drafts him with a likable "3-and-D" profile, while having plenty of size to play some power forward. Bembry would be a better pick closer towards the end of the first round. Good size, has an impact on the glass, and while I don’t envision him averaging close to five assists at the pro level, he can be a solid secondary passer. Only issue, to me, is that he can’t shoot from beyond the arc at this time. Still, that’s something that can improve in time.
Oleh Kosel: The wing player theme continues with my first choice if the Pelicans decide to move down in the draft. Denzel Valentine is a proven winner and has the experience Dell Demps seeks. He is relatively a safe pick because his game is so well rounded despite the lack of athleticism. Passing, rebounding and shooting translate well, and guess what, he's got all three tools in the bag. I worry some about him staying with the quicker NBA athletes, but I think his IQ and motor can save him.
Omer Asik, bless his heart, has busted before our very eyes. Unless we learn his mobility was significantly hindered all season long due to some injury (back issue?), there exists no need in committing to him any further. Alexis Ajinca makes for a fine backup depending on the matchup, but that's his ceiling. So, the Pelicans need to find another banger to play alongside Davis. Enter Domantas Sabonis. You know the bloodlines (Arvydas!) so the motor fans witnessed during the NCAA Tournament is quite real. Throw in a relentless rebounding prowess and an incredibly efficient postgame, he needs to be on New Orleans short list.
*Should means what we believe the Pelicans should do, not what we believe the Pelicans WILL do. There's a difference.