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Dragan Bender, not Buddy Hield, projected to New Orleans in ESPN 8.0 Mock Draft

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Stop the presses! Even with Hield still on his board, Chad Ford believes the Pelicans would lean towards the 18-year-old European.

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In his last several NBA Mock Drafts, Chad Ford predicted the New Orleans Pelicans would select the sweet shooting stroke of Buddy Hield. Well, that trend ended abruptly this morning with the release of ESPN's latest version, as 8.0 predicts Dragan Bender will be the name announced on behalf of the Pelicans later this month.

This is not the first time Bender, who currently plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv of the Israeli Basketball Super League, has been linked to New Orleans. In the 7.0 version, Ford revealed the franchise's interest in the young Croatian. This time round, though, Bender drops to the 6th overall selection so Ford envisions the Pelicans perhaps opting for him over Hield.

The Pelicans need backcourt help and it might be hard to pass on Hield if he he's still on the board.

But word on the street is that they are pretty big Bender fans and see him fitting nicely with Anthony Davis in the future -- especially with their fear of losing Ryan Anderson this summer to free agency.

It's one thing to be fans of a particular prospect, another to be ready to select him over the rest of the field. With how tight-lipped the front office has proven during Dell Demps' reign, I imagine we won't have conclusive proof of the team's interest in Bender until Adam Silver reveals the Pelicans selection on June 23rd.

If pressed for a definitive answer, I'd maintain New Orleans will choose Hield over Bender. Time and again the Pelicans have shown a preference for experience over potential, why change now? Tom Benson's regime has decided favored something akin to a win-now mentality for years, deciding to surround Anthony Davis with immediate contributors.

Approximately two weeks ago, The Birds Writes tackled the possibility of drafting Bender (Hield, Kris Dunn and Jamaal Murray were off the board in our scenario) and most of the writers were of the opinion the Pelicans should look to trade him away rather than keep him. I agreed with the notion, but it wasn't for a lack of intrigue.

Dragan Bender is not without allure. He stands over 7 feet tall, shows the potential to be proficient from 3-point range and can move his hands and feet similar to guards. Once his body finishes maturing and if he reaches close to his potential, Bender will rival Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis as the league's most versatile big man for the next decade. Can you imagine a New Orleans twin tower look where height is joined by attributes of perimeter shooting and defensive versatility?

The problem is, the Pelicans can't wait for that some day far off in the future. The roster is full of holes, and as a small market team, their odds of addressing a weakness are likely better through the draft than free agency.

Stay tuned for a complete Dragan Bender prospect breakdown in the near future.