The New Orleans Pelicans face the regrettable prospect of abruptly ending the 2019-20 season just as they seemed to start clicking. Unfortunate as that may be, the team is still in an optimal position to challenge the league going forward with one of the best young cores in the NBA and plenty of assets to replenish the depth.
In the 2020 NBA Draft for example, the Pelicans have 6.2 percent odds of landing a top-4 selection and 1.3 percent at the first overall selection. Worst case, they’ll select at the bottom at the lottery, an intriguing landing spot that has unearthed All-Star-level talents like Donovan Mitchell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Bam Adebayo, Donte DiVincenzo, Tyler Herro in just the past three drafts.
However, the 2020 group is said to be weaker than most, without a consensus top-pick among most experts. It’ll take the diligence of the entire front office to find the best available player. Unfortunately, that may not include someone ready to contribute in 2020-21. There are several draft-and-stash prospects that may draw interest and the Pelicans will have difficulty finding roster spots for all four of their potential draft picks. In addition, they still have 2019 35th overall pick, Didi Louzada to consider. Louzada performed well in the National Basketball League in Australia and could warrant an opportunity in the NBA sooner rather than later.
First, we’ll take a look at our own experts Ben Pfeifer and Charlies Gonzalez’s favorite draft prospects and then we’ll discuss who stands out to them.
Although, the chances of landing a top-4 selection will fall between 5-6 percent (depending upon a coin flip between NOP and SAC), it’s worth exploring just how highly ranked this group should be compared to other drafts. After all, the Pelicans have more than enough capital to make a move up should they so desire.
According to Pfeifer, this draft is weaker than most and fewer teams may be as aggressive this year as they will next, when the pool is expected to be considerably deeper. However, this also means that if teams do value someone above the rest, it may be worth mortgaging a bit to move up and grab him.
With that said, here are Ben’s favorite four prospects:
NBA Comparison: Shaun Livingston
Like Lonzo, Ball’s offensive playmaking separates him from others in his class. His unique blend of creativity and command of the offense should make him an All-Star caliber floor general in time. His size and length make him a versatile threat who can score from anywhere on the court. Unlike his older brother, his shot-making is not of concern. However, his physicality and defensive playmaking may be an issue, because frankly, he was not asked to defend in the NBL.
NBA Comparison: Donovan Mitchell
A fiercely powerful shot-maker capable of getting his own shot and converting at will. His athleticism and prowess of a scorer elevate him, but he also shares his own list of shortcomings. Too often he fails to make plays for his teammates, instead forcing bad shots. His handle needs improvement, he’s a below-average finisher for his athleticism and falls short on the defensive end. However, a high-volume scoring playmaker like him would be a welcome addition to any roster.
NBA Comparison: D’Angelo Russell
With above-average athleticism, Hayes’ ability to put you on a poster and make crisp passes to engage teammates could make him an immediate contributor to any team. He already has a feel for the game offensively, capable of executing the pick-and-roll with aplomb. He’s also an above-average defender, suggesting he may become a two-way threat early in his career. He could use a bit of refinement with his right hand dribble though and struggles with the outside shot. His creation could be better. While Hayes can finish and set up, will he be able to get a good look at will on the next level?
NBA Comparison: Kyle Lowry
Both Ben and Charlie have Maxey rated much higher than most experts throughout ESPN, NBADraftNet, Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated, among other places. Maxey has been traced to the Pelicans in many mock drafts, however, toward the latter half of the lottery.
Though a bit undersized, both Ben and Charlie love his leaping ability and penchant for getting to the rim. Already possessing a nice form on his shot, Maxey can use his explosiveness to get off a shot over anyone despite his size (6’2”). While Maxey spent most of his time on-ball at Kentucky, he should translate well to the perimeter due to his shooting and burst in attacking a closeout. Defensively, he’s aggressive on-ball and possesses the strength to give opponents trouble.
If Maxey is to improve, he’ll need to shore up his handle and look to playmake for others, making his game more versatile on the scoring end. Teams could take advantage of his size in switches on the defensive end and NBA-type length could pose a problem for him on the next level. He underperformed at the college level, but his upside may cause a team high up in the lottery to take a swing.
NBA Comparison: Robert Covington
Vassel has been a fast-riser. An incredibly strong defender who can play within team concepts and on the ball, Vassel has a non-stop motor that has impressed scouts. Combined with improving shot-making by converting 40 percent of long twos and underrated passing, his offensive skill set has garnered some attention as of late.
According to NBC Sports, he may just be the best 3-and-D prospect in the draft. Questions exist about his athleticism and ability to get to the rim as well as effectiveness in the post on the offensive end, but Vassell would be a legitimate candidate at the 13th spot.
Devin Vassell is my 6th-ranked prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft. He’s an elite defender, good shooter & flashes off the dribble scoring skill. He hit one dribble jumper as a freshman then 39 as a sophomore after improving his handle.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 18, 2020
Full scouting report: https://t.co/p18NPLs3iM pic.twitter.com/YJdo6TV9Ui
Pegged towards the end of the first round, Patrick Williams is a big, strong, bursty player who can defend all over the floor. Vertically explosive, Williams flashed a little bit of everything in his freshman year at Florida State. He’s got a lot of length and could supplant Kenrich Williams in the rotation if selected. Still, as it's been a common theme with the 2020 Draft, Williams requires more development.
The best three-point shooter in college basketball before a stress fracture sidelined him, Aaron Nesmith can light up the scoreboard from anywhere on the court. With a Kyle Korver-type of scoring penchant albeit with a higher defensive upside. Nesmith could crack his way into the top ten.
A powerful big who can stretch between the 4 and 5 and develop into one of the best shot blockers in the game. Like Zion, he has a nose for the rim and shot over 60 percent from the field on twos in 2019-20. His best comparison may be a more offensively gifted Tristan Thompson.
Second-Round Prospect for the Pelicans
Bane may just be the best shooter in the 2019-20 draft. His athleticism is a concern as is his wingspan, but he operates well in the pick-and-roll and defends strong for his size. Ben has him ranked ahead of both Nesmith and Saddiq Bey.
While a bit older, N’Dole possesses elite size for a point guard with a 6’6” frame and 7’2” wingspan (think Kawhi Leonard). A natural point guard, he can navigate his way through the pick-and-roll and is an above average passer. Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony graded him as the best european defender he saw overseas in 2019. His greatest concern is shot making and contributing as a scorer. His shot is downright questionable, but we’ve seen these type of point guards succeed in the NBA before (Rajon Rondo).
Like Lonzo Ball, Haliburton’s shooting form will need to be completely reworked. His frame is slight (180 pounds). He has a lot of developing to do for someone rated so highly. Not a typical scoring guard, Haliburton might resemble a Dejounte Murray or Michael Carter-Williams. His effect is felt nearly everywhere on the floor, but it’s difficult to assess how he fits with the Pelicans. New Orleans has plenty of players capable of making plays on the ball. They need shooters who can create off the dribble and defend. Haliburton will probably churn out a nice career, but it shouldn’t be with the Pelicans.
Charlie calls Anthony, “Austin Rivers 2.0” which may not be a bad thing depending on where he falls in the draft. Anthony too often finds horse blinders and forces shots without involving the offense. Turnover prone, overdribbles and has short arms.
Worth Trading Up?
Ben recommends standing pat or trading back into the 2021 draft where the stockpiles of talent are much more considerable. If the Pelicans were to move up, adding Killian Hayes, Tyrese Maxey or James Wiseman might be the play.
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Let’s geaux, Pels!