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2016 NBA Draft: Weighing Jamal Murray, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, and Denzel Valentine for the Pelicans

Mock drafts think the Pelicans are going to pick a guard. Which one fits New Orleans best?

The New Orleans Pelicans are expected by many mock drafts to select a guard or wing. Jamal Murray (Draft Express), Kris Dunn (CBS Sports), and Buddy Hield (ESPN) have all been selected in mock drafts by the Pelicans in recent days. Denzel Valentine, a favorite of the blog, is the next wing off the board in four of the five mock drafts. There is the slim possibility that Murray, Dunn, and Hield are selected with picks 3-5 giving the Pelicans a difficult choice in selecting Dragan Bender or possibly trading back in the draft.

What do the Pelicans need? Eric Gordon's expected departure creates a possible opening at shooting guard. All four players could eventually fill that slot, although in order for Dunn to do so it likely requires playing a two point guard set with Jrue Holiday. The defensive potential of those two together is the highest, and defense is the real weakness on this team.

There's also the Tyreke Evans question. As Oleh has noted in January, a Holiday-Evans backcourt has been quite successful although in few minutes. Will Evans be back next season? After three knee surgeries should New Orleans expect much from Evans during the 2016-17 season? The plan in the front office for Evans may impact who the Pelicans select on June 23rd.

Let's jump into the numbers, beginning with measurements from the NBA Combine.

Measuring Up

Born Height Wingspan Standing Reach
Average NBA PG 6'2.1" 6'5.1" 8'0.8"
Jamal Murray Feb 1997 6'4.25" 6'6.5" 8'1"
Kris Dunn Mar 1994 6'4.25" 6'9.5" 8'4"
Buddy Hield Dec 1993 6'5" 6'9.25" 8'5"
Average NBA SG 6'5.6" 6'8.6" 8'5.5"
Denzel Valentine Nov 1993 6'5.75" 6'10.75" 8'6"
Average NBA SF 6'7.7" 6'10.9" 8'8.2"

Player measurements from Draft Express. Average size thanks to this superb Nylon Calculus article.

Jamal Murray was not measured at the NBA Combine so his measurements above are from Kentucky's pro day. The measurements for Skal Labissiere and Tyler Ulis did not vary significantly from the pro day and the NBA Combine, lending some support to their accuracy. All the others did participate in the measurement portion although only Valentine went through the medical evaluation and athletic testing.

Murray's measurements are the most troubling by far. He's tiny for a combo guard, in the same vein as C.J. McCollum. McCollum posted an even smaller 6'6.25" wingspan at the combine compared to Murray. The best case scenario for Murray is a rich man's McCollum in my mind and he certainly has the skills to get there. Remember that McCollum played four years at Lehigh.

The other three measured out quite well. Dunn is a massive point guard and could defend both guard positions reasonably. Hield is ideally sized for a shooting guard. Valentine helped himself tremendously at the combine, measuring at a very similar size to a number of wings succeeding in the league right now. Let's take a look at how he stands up to other wings who came out after three or four years in college.

Height Weight Wingspan Standing Reach Lane Agility Max Vertical
Klay Thompson 6'7.25" 205.6 6'9" 8'7.5" 10.99 31.5"
Khris Middleton 6'8.25" 216.2 6'10.75" 8'7" 11.45 31.0"
Danny Green 6'6.5" 208.0 6'10" 8'7" 11.30 33.0"
Denzel Valentine 6'5.75" 210.4 6'10.75" 8'6" 10.51 32.0"

Klay Thompson is roundly considered one of the best two-way players in the NBA today. Coming into the NBA scouts had serious concerns about his athleticism and defensive potential. Like many older prospects, his age led many to lower his potential ceiling. This analysis of Thompson might sound familiar...

On the defensive end, Thompson's problems are still largely the same, and he'll always be at a disadvantage athletically, not having the foot speed to stay in front of most NBA-caliber athletes consistently. His effort level on this end of the floor has improved throughout his three years in school, and he does do a good job using his length to compensate for some of his other shortcomings, but this is still an area he needs to continue working on. His problems are even more pronounced in pick-and-rolls and when coming off screens, as once his defender has a half-step on him he has little chance of recovering from behind.

...when you start reading the scout takes on Valentine in the coming weeks.

Like many Michigan State players, Valentine has developed in a good defender with great fundamentals and understanding of team defense. On the ball, Valentine positions himself well between his man and the basket, and shows average lateral movement over short distances. He reacts well to his man’s movements, but will tend to play on his heels if guarding a quicker player, leaving him vulnerable to quick changes in direction. Though his lateral movement could show some improvement, he can be very active and has the ability to pressure the ball, when needed. Valentine won’t make any chances on the ball, choosing to contain rather than try and force mistakes. Valentine seems to know his limitations against quicker players and does a great job looking to force them into help situations. If he does get beat on a quick first step, he doesn’t give up on plays, and his ability to use angles to cut off players has improved substantially. Valentine needs to work on getting over screens, and Michigan State will often rely on switches instead of forcing players to get through screens.

Statistical performance

Jamal Murray 22.7 59.0% 65.5% 39.1% 40.8% 78.3% 0.283 11.2% 12.1% 12.1%
Kris Dunn 23.2 54.1% 62.6% 29.6% 37.2% 69.5% 0.462 14.7% 41.8% 18.8%
Buddy Hield 28.2 66.5% 64.1% 36.9% 45.7% 88.0% 0.333 13.0% 12.7% 14.0%
Denzel Valentine 29.7 60.8% 60.3% 41.6% 44.4% 85.3% 0.214 21.2% 45.8% 14.8%

Stats from Sports Reference and Hoop Math.

FG% 2PT is from Hoop Math, their percentage on two point jump shots. I'm surprised that Murray, the youngest and smallest player, finished the best around the rim. It is even more shocking when considering Murray was the only 3-point threat on a spacing deprived Kentucky team compared to Hield and Valentine.

Dunn's inability to shoot sticks out like a sore thumb. He's the worst inside the arc, worst from deep, and far behind the pack from the foul line. He's also the most careless with the ball, turning over the ball in college at a rate similar to Omer Asik (19.0%) in New Orleans. There are positives in the numbers for Dunn as his contributions on the glass would be welcome on the Pelicans roster. Another area Dunn is extremely strong is getting to the foul line. Considering the weakness in New Orleans getting to the line his contributions there would be welcome.

Hield has pluses and minuses. He's obviously a tremendous shooter and has improved getting to the line throughout his career. However, after watching him in college I think there is a reasonable issue with his ability to move the ball, demonstrated by his preposterously low assist rate considering how much he handled the ball. Might Hield be a shooting guard version of Ryan Anderson, where the ball goes out whenever it hits his hands? Considering the Pelicans issues getting the ball to swing should another potential black hole be high on their list?

Valentine's numbers are partially due to his role as point guard and his assist rate increased dramatically as a senior compared to his first three years at Michigan State. However, even off the ball he consistently posted assist rates above 22%, impressive for a non-point guard. The rebounding has always been there for Valentine, as well as shooting behind the arc where he shot 41.6% as a junior and 37.7% as a sophomore.

Intangibles and Potential

Youth and athleticism oftentimes drive players up draft boards. Murray, at least three years younger than the competition here, has youth on his side. Dunn is by far the most athletic of the group followed by Hield. Valentine, with concerns about both age (he's the oldest) and athleticism, finds himself outside the top 10 of most mock drafts.

Then there is the issue of leadership, where the gripping personal story of Kris Dunn (cannot recommend watching that video enough) leaps to the forefront. Buddy Hield's penchant for hitting the big shot and acting as a very vocal leader also gains positive marks. Denzel Valentine was the next in a long line of leaders at Michigan State but his more laid-back style is evident on television and noted in numerous pieces dissecting his mental approach. Murray is just a freshman but his performance last summer certainly gave reason to believe he has that "clutch gene" many seek out in prospects.

What do the Pelicans need? Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are both less vocal leaders than many fans desire, which is why Quincy Pondexter was able to step into the leadership void the moment he arrived last year. Is the barking and swagger of Hield or Dunn the ticket to success? Can this franchise afford to be patient and wait on Murray to develop? Or is the steady hand of Valentine checking as many boxes as possible, including the often cited basketball IQ box, the superior approach?

I don't envy the decision Dell Demps could have before him on June 23rd. However, I do think the possibility of trading down to gain a second first round pick tips the scales ever so slightly in Valentine's favor. If that is not an option the decision might be as simple as picking who is left between Murray, Dunn, and Hield when the Pelicans are on the clock.