What grade would you give the draft haul for the Pelicans? Are you happy with how they flipped the 4th overall pick for more assets? Do you like all of the guys taken after Zion: Hayes, Alexander-Walker and Silva?
Jason Albert: A+
The Pelicans absolutely killed it on draft night. Had they just landed Zion, I would still give them an A+, but the fact that they managed to land two potential late lottery gems in Jaxson Hayes and NAW makes me extremely happy. As much as I did like the idea of adding Jarrett Culver to the team, Hayes and NAW seem like two perfect fits for this roster after reading up on them. Hayes is a defensive minded big man who can run the floor and help keep the pace that Gentry wants to run, and NAW is a nice sharpshooter to help space the floor —which the Pelicans desperately need. At this rate, maybe the Pelicans will be contending before that team in Los Angeles?
Kevin Barrios: A plus-sized
The Pelicans got thicc quick. Zion Williamson, the love-child of Shawn Kemp and Charles Barkley that sports Tom Hanks’ likeability and the Cheshire Cat’s smile if it were non-threatening, has already Wyde Drexler glided his way into the hearts and souls of the entire city — boxing out memories of former loved ones that spurned us for side-kick roles in bad remakes. This pick alone has changed the basketball narrative in New Orleans, and despite David Griffin’s pleas not to put the franchise on his back like Atlas holding up a giant humid basketball shaped map of the the city, it is Zion’s town now.
This was followed up with another perfect haul — the 4th and 57th picks became 8, 17, 35 and a heavily protected Cleveland 1st round pick in 2020. The Hawks even took on Solomon Hill, opening up $31M in cap space as well as a roster spot to dump all that money into. I wasn’t in love with the Jaxson Hayes pick, but I won’t hate on anything. My concerns are his Hilton Armstrong-like lack of rebounding and an extremely raw offensive game. However, his size and athleticism and hints of skills project him to be a viable rim runner and screen setter in the future. At 17 the Pels grabbed my guy NAW, the cousin of the Clippers SGA — both are long armed big guards with solid defensive instincts, and an already reliable 3-point stroke. I’m not saying NAW will be what SGA was as a rookie, but he should get there at some point. I’d be lying if I told you I knew anything about Silva, but our friends at the Pelicans Brasil twitter handle say we will love him, and when it comes to drafting foreign talent Trajan Langdon’s track record is golden.
Michael Delayo: A+
Am I being led to believe that their were players chosen after Zion? Was the night not over after he walked across the stage? Jokes aside, the fact that Zion Williamson left the Barclays Center a member of the New Orleans Pelicans means the draft went about as well as it could go.
Even if the center position is a target for the franchise in free agency, Hayes should have a reasonable path to playing time. His frontcourt partnership with Zion could be the most athletic in the league, and should at the very least be fun to watch. Alexander-Walker’s spot on the depth chart is a bit more crowded with Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore and Josh Hart around. With that said, Alvin Gentry has employed three guard lineups before, and with so many possible backcourt combinations at his disposal, he should be able to find a place for the well-rounded guard to make an impact. Silva shares a nickname with New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who is pretty great, so how bad could he be?
Jamile Dunn: A+
The NBA is about star talent. Anytime you can get what you believe is a bonafide franchise changing superstar in a draft you’ve hit a home run. The moment NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called Williamson’s name the Pels had won the draft regardless of what happened after that because Zion is the player that mattered most in this draft.
After Zion’s selection, things got very interesting. Honestly, I really wanted to stay put at #4 and select UNC guard Coby White or Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. However, most drafts are much more of a crap shoot after the first few picks so I was fine with the Pelicans trading back to add more picks. Often the best team building strategy is to just get the most bites at the draft apple as possible, thus raising the odds of landing a quality player.
Both Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker were players I personally liked outside the top 5. Hayes’ game is really raw at this point, but very few human beings his size can move as effortlessly as he does. It will take a couple years for him to add strength, but the former Longhorn standout may one day give the Pels a super athletic rim protector who can also switch on 1-5 in a modern NBA defense. Adding Nickeil Alexander-Walker gives the Pels another long guard who has serious potential as a defender and shooter at the next level.
It truly is amazing how a team that went a decade without quality wing depth now is seemingly overflowing with long athletes all over the floor. David Griffin & Trajan Langdon knocked this draft out of the park in my opinion. But, of course, with the #1 pick in this draft they couldn’t really fail.
Preston Ellis: A
The Pelicans received a king’s ransom for Anthony Davis and even offloaded Solomon Hill in the process, giving them the flexibility to do pretty much whatever they want once free agency starts. However, they didn’t snag the All-Star that David Griffin so highly coveted, they have yet to acquire the culture-setting veteran alongside Jrue Holiday and they moved backward in a draft already said to be one of the weaker ones in recent years.
Granted, there is still plenty player movement yet to take place this offseason and Griffin has expertly put himself in prime position to amend for these shortcomings. It’s hard to be disappointed given the stature of the return, but should the Lakers become a win-now team and sustain that success, the return might be significantly smaller than it looks on paper now.
Overall, it would be laughable to question Griffin’s success thus far, but I would have been comfortable selecting De’Andre Hunter at the fourth overall position. He fits the mold of a Danny Green type catch-and-shoot perimeter scorer who has a growing pick and pop game off of one dribble. He is limited offensively but defensively gives you flexibility that ranges from 1-4. Jaxon Hayes is a project with immeasurable length and could become the perfect rim-running pick-and-roll partner for Lonzo, Jrue and Zion, but he remains a question mark.
David Grubb: B (for prospect haul not including Zion)
Getting Solomon Hill’s expiring contract off the books and getting real assets in return wasn’t something that I anticipated on the day of the draft, so again kudos to David Griffin and his staff on making some incredible chicken salad out of Hill to move back in the draft considered to have a steep drop off after the top three selections.
That being said, I thought that taking Jaxson Hayes with the eighth pick was a bit high for my tastes. I wasn’t in love with Hayes coming out of Texas. He screams project to me. He’s rail thin, and can’t score away from the rim. He’s also very foul prone and I’m not sure how solid his fundamentals are as a rebounder. I struggle to see where he’s going to get playing time in his first two seasons, because he has a lot to learn. But his athletic gifts do give him plenty of potential. I just wouldn’t have used a top 10 pick on it.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker could earn playing time immediately this season, challenging Frank Jackson for minutes at the backup two, and if he grows a bit stronger, could play some small ball three. The Pelicans have a lot of people in the backcourt right now in the 6-3 to 6-5 range, so shooting and defense will be key for him to separate himself from the pack. He’s a solid playmaker considering his scoring responsibilities for Virginia Tech, and his defensive skills allow him to defend multiple positions.
As far as Marcos Louzada Silva, he’s either going to be stashed overseas, sent to the G-League, or traded. Coming from Brazil, he’s going to need time to develop, and with the large number of young players on the roster, he’d be hampered in that development by being asked to contribute this season. Another 6-5, two-way player, he seems to fit the profile of who the Pels want moving forward.
Oleh Kosel: A-/B+
Drafting Zion Williamson was always going to prevent the Pelicans overall grade from falling into B territory or lower, but I would be remiss to not express that I have minor concerns about how the rest of the draft played out. While Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have good upside, they conflict somewhat with the vision I have of a team built around Zion when the Pelicans are ready to contend for championships.
Jaxson Hayes was initially a benchwarmer in high school, not starting a game until his senior year, and he only spent one year at Texas. There are two ways to look at this, and rightfully so because the chasm is wide. But even if he develops in time, a good passer and floor spacer should ultimately flank Zion. After watching how valuable of roles Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol filled for the Bucks and Raptors in the last playoffs, I feel Zion would benefit most from teammates that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard had the privilege to share the floor with.
Cases for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Marcos Louzada Silva are easier to make. E’Twaun Moore, Josh Hart and possibly Frank Jackson could price themselves out of the Pelicans preferred price range once they’re ready for their next contracts so keeping the pipeline stocked with perimeter scorers and shooters is smart. However, outside of Brandon Ingram and hopefully Kenrich Williams, where is that additional length which fuels versatility? This is one reason why I and a few others were high on prospects like Chuma Okeke and KZ Okpala. We’ve seen the importance of possessing players like Robert Covington and Pascal Siakam on competitive rosters.
I know I’m nitpicking here some with my analysis, but it’s important to keep the end result in mind. Obviously, David Griffin and company still have oodles of time to fill any perceived holes with free agency and future draft picks, but until that happens, it’s fair to have a question or two. However, this doesn't mean that I’m not excited about watching how each of these prospects, who individually hold a lot of promise, develop!
Trevor Ritchie: A
David Griffin and company don’t deserve any less after drafting a player as monumental as Zion Williamson to reestablish the franchise, culture and future. The No. 1 pick isn’t always a home run — Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins and Markelle Fultz are examples of that just within the last six years, but this pick is as close to a sure thing as we’ve seen since LeBron James.
With the projects already on the Pelicans roster (Frank Jackson, Christian Wood, etc.) and the young Lakers prospects on their way, I assumed New Orleans flipping No. 4 to Atlanta for No. 8, 17 and 35 would follow with another move to land some veteran. It felt like Griffin was listening to offers for the eighth pick, though, because Adrian Wojnarowski couldn’t even spoil it at his usual pace. In the end, the Pelicans ultimately stayed put, but sending Solomon Hill’s contract to Atlanta did create additional room on the books to give the front office more flexibility to either sign free agents or trade for a star into cap space. Only uncertainty holds this back from being an A+ grade just yet.
ESPN Draft Analytics gave Hayes the second-best odds to reach an all-star level behind Williamson. While the athleticism and potential of that pairing will be unmatched, Hayes’ game is still limited and fit will remain questionable. Alexander-Walker shot 38.3 percent from three-point range in college and could provide much needed spacing for a core including Ball, Zion, Ingram, Hayes, etc. – but he’s still a raw talent who will need to show more consistency at the next level. Tie all that in with stashing Silva, who draft analyst Mike Schmitz has dubbed the Brazilian Josh Hart, and New Orleans came out quite well. Time (and free agency) will tell if passing on Hunter, Garland or a different package involving No. 4 was a mistake.
Travis Tate: Zion gets A+, B+ for the rest
Let’s grade for everything other than Zion because he’s an automatic A+. For the rest of the haul from the No. 4 pick trade, I’m glad we get “multiple bites of the apple,” so I’ll give a B+ grade for the additional picks. After extensively researching...ahem, googling just once...I’m really mixed on the upsides of both Hayes and NAW. The good stuff about them is stuff you can’t teach: size, athleticism and timing for Hayes, and shooting touch and court awareness for NAW. Silva is a complete unknown. Let’s check back after summer league, after this coming season, and in two years! Either way, hope they grow alongside Zion!