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2020 NBA Draft: A look at early, middle and late first round options for New Orleans Pelicans

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With the uncertainty surrounding the offseason for the Pels, plenty could happen with this team. That includes movement in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Ratiopharm Ulm v MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg - EasyCredit Basketball Bundesliga Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

On August 31, we at The Bird Writes released an article detailing three ideal prospects for the New Orleans Pelicans, assuming the team decides to stay at the No. 13 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

Given news from the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor that the Pels may be looking to move up and the fact that the Jrue Holiday trade conversation has amped up to another level as of late, there’s no telling if David Griffin and company deem it fit the team remains in that position on Nov. 18.

As of now, New Orleans currently holds onto the 13th, 39th, 42nd and 60th pick this year. One can assume that with the hire of Stan Van Gundy and the shortened time frame for the return of the 2020-2021 season, it’d be quite a shock for the Pels to bring in four young guys all at once.

SVG is a teacher, but needing to instill a culture of winning, finish off the remainder of his coaching staff, talk with free agents and institute his defensive and offensive philosophies to this team is already a lot. Adding four young guys to the mix, especially with no summer league games played this offseason, just doesn’t add up. Grabbing a player in the lottery, packaging those second round picks and selecting another guy in the late first/early second sounds much better.

That’s assuming the Pelicans don’t acquire another pick in the mid-to-late first from the Brooklyn Nets or the Denver Nuggets, as the Nets hold the 19th pick and the Nuggets are slotted to pick at 22. Given the fact that those two teams are (by most accounts) the likeliest suitors for Holiday, it’s a decently safe bet to assume they’d give up a first this year, especially with the quality of talent available.

Should such a scenario come to fruition, New Orleans could package the 13th and 19th/22nd picks to move into the top 10, or they could choose to stay there and choose two players to fill two needs. Plus, the Pels, in all likelihood, would still have their bevy of second round picks.

Staying at 13

Tyrese Haliburton - G, Iowa State

The guard from Iowa State has been likened to Lonzo Ball by plenty, being called a “genius playmaker” and also drawing comparisons to Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous Alexander.

The difference between Ball and Haliburton, though, is his ability to impact the game off-ball. (He’s also way more confident.) With a low-usage rate and a maintained effect on the game, Haliburton could step in in the absence of Holiday — if he’s traded — and take on the roll of the two guard. He’s also been recognized for his maturity and leadership skills for the Cyclones — a characteristic not to be ignored for the Pelicans.

Even if Holiday is retained this offseason, Haliburton would be an excellent second-unit shooting guard. While not one to run the offense in the half-court, he averaged 6.5 assists per game and has the tools and the court vision to step into that role if need be.

The former Cyclone has, for the most part, gone inside the top 10 in NBA mocks, but in Matt Babcock’s and Tom Ziller’s most recent mock drafts, Haliburton went 13 to the Pels. Babcock had this to say via

“He has an extremely high basketball IQ and simply does not make many mistakes. Although he shoots the ball with extremely unorthodox mechanics, he knocks them down from deep at a high rate, shooting 41.9% from three-point range last year. He certainly needs to get stronger, as he is only a thin 175 pounds. But he should be a solid NBA player, at the very least.”

The jump shot is pretty odd as you’ll see below, but with Fred Vinson at the helm, anything is possible. If he can fix Lonzo Ball’s jump shot, he will deal with this.

Aaron Nesmith - G/F, Vanderbildt

Editor-in-chief Oleh Kosel recently put together an article on Nesmith, citing multiple outlets having the Pels grab the Vanderbildt product at No. 13.

Sam Vecenie @ The Athletic Ricky O'Donnell & SB Nation Jonathan Wasserman @ Bleacher Report USA Today Kevin O'Connor & The Ringer Jeremy Woo @ Sports Illustrated CBS Sports
Aaron Nesmith Tyrese Maxey Saddiq Bey Aaron Nesmith Jalen Smith Aaron Nesmith Aaron Nesmith Kira Lewis Jr.

In his article, Oleh hit it on the head. Nesmith is a long wing who shot 52% from three on eight attempts a game last year, which, in itself, is absolutely bonkers. Not to mention the fact that his three-point shooting percentage increased to that from 33.7% — that percentage hike just doesn’t happen in one year. Had Nesmith been healthy the whole season, one would have to think he’d be a guaranteed top ten pick. But, season shortened by injury or not, that three-point percentage is out of this world.

The former Commodore also has the potential to impact the game defensively, despite the lack of lateral quickness. Being 6’6 with a 6’10 wingspan has its perks. Throw in the fact that Nesmith was coached by Jerry Stackhouse last year at Vandy, and it’s pretty difficult not to be convinced he’s worth the 13th overall pick.

Jalen Smith - F, Maryland

More of a contentious pick among Pelicans fans, Smith is less of a certainty and much less desired than Haliburton.

The 6’10 225-pounder is a spacing big who has the coordination and athleticism to protect the rim. Shooting nearly 37% from three (jumping from 26.8% from deep as a freshman) and 75% from the free throw line are solid numbers, especially for a big. Throw in the fact that he averaged 2.4 blocks and 10.5 rebounds a game, and he’s got the tools to be exactly what the Pelicans need from a four or five next to Zion Williamson.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Whether he actually does the defensive part of his assignment is another issue. Smith is a player that absorbs contact, but doesn’t dish it out. In this facet of his game, size and strength are a primary issue, adding to that the fact that he’ll need to absorb some of Josh Hart’s dog mentality around the basket.

With his dimensions, Smith should be able to have much more impact under the basket than he did this previous season. If his athleticism does enough to garner 2.4 blocks and 10.5 rebounds, he’ll be able to do a whole hell of a lot more if he beefs up and learns how to throw his weight around. If he’s unable to go toe-to-toe with heavier, meaner opponents than what he saw at the collegiate level, the NBA could prove to be a difficult step up for the former Terrapin.

Moving into the top 10

Killian Hayes - G, Germany

If you’ve been waiting for the inevitable James Harden comparison that has come with, bare-minimum, one player per NBA draft in the last 5-10 years, bingo.

The French lefty has athleticism and skills that nearly mirror Harden, and we can’t forget he’s left-handed. He’s also got plenty of size for his position, standing at 6’5 and weighing 215 pounds.

Hayes is a shot-creating guard, who can thrive in that role but can also play off-ball (which is the perfect compliment to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram). Like Van Gundy said in his appearance on The Lowe Post podcast in July, he believes that the offense can run through Jrue, BI and Zion at times. It definitely still can, but Hayes’ playmaking ability and court vision makes it so that won’t be a requirement for New Orleans this upcoming season.

Not only does his offensive arsenal include fluid, confident shot-creation, the kid can get to the hoop and has incredible touch when he does so. This type of point guard adds another dimension to an offense that struggled in the half-court last year. Rather than settling for a shot late in the clock, Hayes provides the option to get to the bucket or draw the defense and find an open shooter at the three-point line.

The glaring issue with Hayes is his three-point percentage. While shot creation is great, shot-making is better. The 19-year-old made shots from deep just 29% of the time last year in the BBL. The level of play in the German league isn’t necessarily the second-best in the world, either.

There is one nugget of positivity in the previous paragraph, though. Free throw shooting percentage overseas and at the collegiate level translates much better to successful three-point shooting in the NBA than does three-point shooting at a lesser level. Given Hayes’ 90.9% shooting clip from the stripe last season, the shooting from deep becomes less of a concern.

There’s mixed opinions on Hayes, but for the most part, the product of Germany is widely regarded as a top-10 worthy pick in this year’s draft, and could be one of the integral pieces for the Pelicans going forward.

Devin Vassell - F, Florida State

In our last draft-centered article, Patrick Williams was listed as a desired three-and-D player out of Florida State. Citing not only his talent, but the fact that his college teammate, Vassell, was projected by many to be a top ten pick, Williams was the fit at 13. Should New Orleans trade up, Vassell may be their best option inside the top 10.

Making an appearance on BLEAV in the New Orleans Pelicans podcast in August, Ethan Piechota of Prospect Pod detailed his affinity for Vassell saying “The ultimate dream scenario for Pelicans fans is if Vassell falls to them at 13. … He’s the most sure-fire impactful three-and-D guy in this class. He’s got a high floor and a high ceiling.” On a previous appearance on the podcast, Piechota added that Vassell is far and away “the best team defender in this draft class.” Oh, how New Orleans could use one of those.

Ranking 19th in defensive efficiency in the regular season and 16th out of 22 teams in the bubble is certainly a product of Alvin Gentry’s system and coaching philosophy, but adding talent to that end of the floor is something the Pels could use — especially if they decide to move on from Holiday. Coming in at 6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan and off-the-charts defensive IQ and awareness, Vassell is an immediate impact guy for New Orleans should he be taken by them.

Vassell won’t solely add to the defensive end of the floor, though. Shooting 41.5% from three and showing flashes of being able to score off the dribble, Vassell won’t be in a primary scoring role, but he’ll compliment Zion and Ingram well. Should the Pels prefer small-ball style of play and still want to play Ingram at the three, Vassell will slide in and immediately contribute as a spacing four for New Orleans.

Isaac Okoro - F, Auburn

Another superb defender in this year’s class, Okoro has drawn comparisons to Andre Iguodala and is typically mocked within the top five or six picks. Given the Cavaliers need for talent outside of the guard position and Atlanta’s desperation for some defensive help around Trae Young, it makes sense.

Considering the Hawks are listed as potential trade partners with the Pelicans for Holiday, it’s possible New Orleans acquires the sixth pick by the time it’s all said and done. Okoro would be another solid acquisition.

Although not generally thought of as an incredible team defender, Okoro’s on-ball and off-ball defense provides the opportunity to (at least to some degree) replace what Holiday brought for so long in New Orleans. He won’t be a Holiday-type defender immediately, and he won’t bring the same offensive threat that Jrue did by any stretch.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

But, the Pelicans struggled against talented offensive wings this previous season — due to the ineffective team defense and Holiday’s size and stature as opposed to said wings. Okoro brings the frame that Holiday couldn’t. Again, will he be the quality defender Jrue is and was this last season? No. However, Okoro is a 6’6 225-pound wing who has a 6’9 wingspan. Advantage Okoro.

Offensively, the Auburn product leaves much to be desired — a stiff jump shot with inefficient mechanics, and he shot a measly 28.6% from deep last season. He does offer high level athleticism and versatility, though and is a solid finisher around the rim. He’s also a high-motor player whose basketball IQ always has him in the right spot, whether he’s on offense or defense. Okoro is a player that’s ready to step in and contribute, and given the upside of his offensive game, he could be a player that’s proven to bring sustained success in New Orleans.

The 19th or 22nd pick

Desmond Bane - G, TCU

Although not quite the caliber shooter that Nesmith is, Bane is a welcomed consolation prize. Shooting 44.2% from deep on 6.2 attempts per game this season on top of being an 80.4% career free throw shooter for TCU, Bane is a player who can earn minutes off the bench as three-point threat right off the bat. Especially in the system SVG is known for of four-out, one-in.

Although Bane is 22 and lacks some versatility to his game, his shooting, defensive potential and basketball IQ are what get him into the first round. He has a decent enough shot off the dribble, but where Bane shines is coming off a screen for a catch-and-shoot three. In 2019, Bane was one of 20 NCAA Division I players with at least 90 possessions off screens. Of the other 19, 18 were mid-major players. Bane shot 40.9% from the field on the shots that ensued.

The other facet to his game that stands out is his range from deep — those 6.2 attempts per game were not directly in front of the collegiate three-point line. Bane is a knock-down shooter from anywhere inside the half-court line. No, he won’t be off the Damian Lillard and Steph Curry level when it comes to chucking up any type of shot, but Bane isn’t afraid to launch it.

He was also one of the top players in the country shooting off the dribble. With 1.07 points per possession, he ranked 13th in the nation compared to other players with at least 100 off the dribble shots. He scored in other ways in college, but in the league, he’ll bring the best part of his game to the table — and that’s shot-making.

Malachi Flynn - G, San Diego State

The Pelicans are desperate for another point guard, and preferably one who can run half-court offense. Flynn is phenomenal in the pick-and-roll. In 2019, the former Aztec’s teammates scored 95 points when rolling to the basket after passes from him — which, according to Synergy, is the most among all draft-eligible players. He also led the Mountain West Conference in assists (162) and assists per game (5.1).

Having clearly studied pick and roll coverages, the Washington State transfer has plenty of options when attacking defenses in the PnR. While Flynn is indeed an excellent passer, he’s also a good shooter off the dribble. Using screens to create space for a quick pull-up is a key part of what Flynn has in his basketball arsenal. Attacking the basket is also right up his alley, showing continued capability to finish at the rim.

NCAA Basketball: Mountain West Conference Tournament- Utah State vs San Diego State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Outside the pick and roll, Flynn has solid jump shot mechanics, and can become an adequate catch and shoot guy, being made more valuable offensively. He’s also good enough in transition to somewhat mirror Ball’s talent when the game speeds up.

Another older player with less of an upside, Flynn is an off-the-bench point guard who can be complementary to Ball in the long term should they both stay in New Orleans and a decent starter should Ball depart. Is Flynn a player to take you over the top? No, but he’s a solid role player who can contribute when need be.

Tyrese Maxey - G, Kentucky

Maxey is an interesting player. With plenty of versatility on the offensive side of the ball, the fact that he’s a Kentucky product and recently impressed in workouts, one would think he’d be a lock for the lottery — but NBA mock drafts don’t reflect that.

Occasionally, Maxey will sneak into the lottery, typically around the 13th or 14th pick. For the most part, however, the former Wildcat has hovered between the 16th and 20th pick, typically. There’s a few reasons why. While he was a score-first point guard at Kentucky, he did average just 3.2 assists per game.

On always-loaded John Calipari teams, stud, future NBA point guards come through on a regular basis. Less score-first guards like De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averaged more assists per game, with Fox putting up 4.6 and Gilgeous Alexander 5.3 per game. Then there’s prolific scorers like John Wall (6.5), Tyler Ulis (5.3), Brandon Knight (4.2) and Derrick Rose (4.7), all averaging more assists than Maxey. He’s not a distributor.

In the NBA, Maxey won’t be able to fill the role of score-first PG immediately. Heck, he may never truly play the one. He looks more like a typical NBA two-guard. Should he fall into that category, his three-point percentage has to get drastically better. Shot selection wasn’t great at the collegiate level for Maxey, and making just 29.2% of your threes from the guard position in the NBA won’t cut it.

There’s a hell of a lot of upside to Maxey, though.

He’s a better shooter than the percentages show, frankly. As a spot-up shooter, Maxey can get it done. His mechanics are fluid, and he’s got enough confidence to launch from anywhere at any time (see his game-winning three pointer to open his freshman season against the number one ranked Michigan State Spartans). Get him in the gym with Fred Vinson, and the Pels should be confident in him soon enough.

Add the fact that he’s got scoring off the dribble down, and the Garland, Texas native adds another facet to his game. Not only can he separate from defenders solely through his speed, he also uses the jab step and change of pace on the dribble to blow by defenders and get to the basket. Another weapon in his arsenal off the dribble is the floater — this is a big part of his game, and the soft touch there is another indicator he’ll improve his shooting percentage in the league.

As a hellacious on-ball defender, Maxey utilizes his foot speed to recover excellently on that end of the floor and does an excellent job mirroring his opponents. Quick hands make for turnovers and easy buckets in transition as well.

BLEAV in the New Orleans Pelicans 2020 draft podcast appearance link:

Another BLEAV in the Pelicans draft episode will release soon with Derek Murray, director of scouting with Babcock Hoops! Stay tuned!