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2017 NBA Draft Prospect Review: Ivan Rabb lasting until Pelicans 40th pick would be a dream

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A Cheick Diallo backup plan or not, Rabb’s talent is worth the gamble.

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament Oregon vs Cal Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Ivan Rabb was billed as high as a lottery pick prior to the 2016 NBA draft, but a faltering sophomore season and concerns about his perimeter game have caused him to slip — potentially putting him in play for the New Orleans Pelicans at the 40th pick overall.

Around a decade ago, Rabb would have been all the rage like Tyrus Thomas or Brandan Wright, but today’s era and style of game have shifted the thinking away from traditional power forwards. To be sure, the Pelicans already have a couple of premier big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins and Cheick Diallo progressing nicely in the wings, yet when selecting in the second round, it sometimes just becomes a matter of getting a talent that will even stick at the NBA level. And to be sure, that spells Ivan Rabb of California.

Rabb had rave reviews last season and was projected to be able to expand his range, but he failed to make any leap during his sophomore season. He certainly did not put together the type of season that renders him an absolute first round talent this year. Rabb also is just 220 pounds, so before he could be a major player at the 5-spot, he might need to get in the weight room and add 10 to 15 pounds of raw muscle.

These drawbacks are all to New Orleans’ benefit, though, as Rabb could serve as a replacement for Diallo should the need arise. After trading for Cousins, the Pelicans are short on assets so Dell Demps might be forced to move Diallo in order to shore up other parts of the roster. Plus as we’ll get to, the overall strengths Ivan Rabb offers are definitely ones the Pelicans could benefit from in building a competent bench.

Despite a down season, Rabb still possesses a lot of positives. He has the strength and physical attributes that will at least enable him to excel defensively and on the glass, both areas the Pelicans could use a boost—particularly on the second unit. NBADraft.net offers a very flattering correlation (and one that is far less so, at that) in comparing him to the once highly useful role player P.J. Brown. Like Brown, he is a 6-foot-10 forward with the physical strength to matchup against both 4s and 5s. Also, he is adept at hitting the offensive boards, averaging 3.7 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes last season.

Last but certainly not least, he has a great pair of hands. That is a trait that cannot be understated after watching Omer Asik bobble countless passes in his notorious decline as an NBA player last season. In fact, it is Asik’s decline and the fact that the Pelicans lack big men suited for Gentry’s pace and space strategy that makes Rabb so enticing. And while Rabb may never be a court stretcher in the mold of what Ryan Anderson was prior to departing, his defensive skills harken thoughts of Willie Cauley-Stein and other mobile bigs capable of stepping out and covering the new breed of NBA big men.

Rabb’s strength is back to the basket moves and he is already adept with his footwork. Despite not having top billing, there is no reason to think of Rabb as a project necessarily, but simply a player whose skillset seems to be mismatched with the era in which he plays. There are also concerns about his consistency and motor, but to be fair, there are going to be major concerns about any player selected 10 picks deep into the second round of an NBA Draft.

Beyond these concerns about Rabb, there are a lot of other things to like:

  • He comes from a great athlete pedigree, with his sister and brother both having been major players in the state of California.
  • He at one point was a premier prospect, but one whose talents simply failed to flourish at the NCAA level in such a manner that the lottery teams will even be considering him.

Ivan Rabb isn’t going to sit at the top of too many wish lists, not with New Orleans desperately in need of 2-way perimeter players, but the Pelicans aren’t likely to fill these holes in the 2017 Draft with the 40th pick. Those concerns will have to be addressed in free agency or through possible trade. So, in the meantime, Dell Demps should consider exploiting a possible market inefficiency — that is if Rabb is available — and draft an immediate rotation player that, for starters, could give Davis and Cousins longer breathers.