The talk among Pelicans fans as of late has largely been centered around trading Jrue Holiday and/or Lonzo Ball and which coach New Orleans should seek out to fill the current absence created by Alvin Gentry’s departure, having been relieved of his head coaching duties by the front office and ownership.
And fair enough.
The roster could be completely and utterly turned on its head for a second year in a row, and the hiring of a new head coach may determine the trajectory the Pels head in for years to come. Who will surround Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson? How can New Orleans build a winning culture? Who is available that can lead them to an ever-elusive NBA championship?
These are all valid questions, but there’s one more item that must be considered: How will the Pelicans approach the NBA draft for years to come and especially this next one in a few months time?
In 2019, New Orleans’ number one overall choice was a no-brainer. Acquiring two firsts and one second round pick in exchange for the fourth overall selection was an intelligent move by David Griffin for a team needing an infusion of young talent. Zion has been dominant as expected (when available), Jaxson Hayes’ ceiling remains high, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has shown flashes of his talent and the jury remains out on Didi Louzada, as he has yet to step on the court for a regular season NBA contest, but hope is he’ll be a contributor in time, too.
The question remains for 2020, though. How will the Pels proceed? By need? Best available? Trade and acquire more picks? Package picks and acquire vets?
Referencing Griffin’s days as the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s tough to say.
Between the two picks the Cavs retained in 2014 (No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins was traded to the Timberwolves in Kevin Love trade) and 2015, Cleveland acquired Joe Harris and Sir’Dominic Pointer. In his 331 games played at the NBA level, Harris played just 56 for the Cavs, and Pointer never saw a minute of action in the NBA.
In his lone year representing New Orleans on draft night, needs were clearly addressed. The goals were to grab a young, athletic, developing center (Hayes), a backup point guard (Alexander-Walker), a 3-and-D type wing (Louzada) and, of course, Zion.
One year later those needs remain, for the most part, the same. The one possible change would be to grab a power forward that can create space rather than a center and trust that Hayes develops into what the Pelicans envision.
Should New Orleans look to the draft rather than free agency or trade, there are some college and foreign prospects to fill those roles in the future. Will the Pelicans be able to address all of their needs through the draft? Likely not, but they have options.
At the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Pelicans could walk away feeling victorious, should they choose any of these players to fill one of the aforementioned needs.
At the top of this year’s draft, there are several names that immediately come up at this position: Isaac Okoro from Auburn, Saddiq Bey from Villanova, and Devin Vassell and Patrick Williams from Florida State.
Okoro and Vassell have become names considered to be more-or-less guaranteed top 10 picks, and Saddiq Bey is limited, lacking much of a high ceiling. Thus, one remains — Patrick Williams.
13th is pretty tough spot, to be quite honest. There's a few guys I like, but there's no telling who's going to fall to them.— Eliot Clough (@EliotClough) August 25, 2020
I like Patrick Williams out of FSU -- good size at 6'8 and a projected 3 and D guy. Isaac Okoro is another one.
The former Seminole is a 6’8, 225-lb forward with a seven-foot wingspan. Pair that with good shooting mechanics, explosion, above-average athleticism, defensive versatility and the fact that he’s the second-youngest player in this draft class, it’s difficult to not be convinced the Pelicans should grab him at the 13th pick.
Over Williams’ tenure at Florida State, he averaged just 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting 32 percent from three, but all the tools are there. Shooting 45.9 percent from the field (55.9 percent true shooting percentage) and 83.8 percent from the free throw line, certainly aids in lessening the possible concern of the lackluster three-point percentage. Should Fred Vinson remain in New Orleans, there’s no reason to believe the forward can’t develop a more consistent three-point shot.
On the defensive side of things, his frame stands out immediately. When speaking of the need New Orleans has at this position, the sentiment remains something to the effect of ‘The Pelicans just need one of those guys who are between 6’7 and 6’9 who can guard the three and the four!’ — bingo. With his ability to recover, athleticism and length, Williams has the potential to be that guy for years to come.
While Williams won’t step in and instantly impact the game in terms of guarding the Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo types, he could get there through development. That’s all the Pelicans need to hear to take a shot on the young man, especially with all the other tools he brings to the floor.
Backup Point Guard
The 2020 NBA draft class is deep with point guards, and assuming the Pelicans stick with their four picks, they’ll have their opportunity to grab one on October 16.
But, we’re not entirely sure about the future of Lonzo Ball — if he’ll be on the roster in 2020 and if New Orleans could get another starting caliber point guard in exchange for him. Therefore, the Pels have got to keep their options open.
There’s three young men that will likely be gone by the time the Pelicans are up to pick at 13: LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton. No need to discuss them. That leaves us with a few other options, players with the potential to go in the lottery or to fall to the second round. It all depends on who you ask.
Cole Anthony, RJ Hampton and Kira Lewis.
Cole Anthony dribbled the air out of the ball and took plenty of ill-advised shots as a score-first PG at North Carolina. No thanks.
RJ Hampton’s two best skills are scoring in transition and the mid-range shot. Those are not two things that scream “I’m worth a lottery pick in an NBA draft!”
Lewis it is.
Other than pure talent level and basketball IQ, one of the primary differences between collegiate and professional basketball play is the speed at which the game is played. Evaluators, coaches and players would all share the same sentiment — the NBA is much, much faster.
With that said, Lewis is one of, if not the fastest player in this year’s draft class. Looking at his style of play, it’s clearly reminiscent of his predecessor from the Alabama Crimson Tide, Collin Sexton.
Taking on more of a heavy load his sophomore season as opposed to his freshman year, Lewis saw an improvement in literally every single statistical category. Points, assists, rebounds, shooting percentage (three, free throw and field goal) and blocks. While his minutes did increase from year to year, Brad Bohannon made it abundantly clear he trusted Lewis at the helm and did so for good reason.
Lewis not only took over games at the collegiate level, he’s got plenty of the tools to be successful in the NBA. Athleticism, ball-handling, gets to the rim, can create shots for himself when necessary and he plays always plays at 110 percent. Given how the Pelicans played in the bubble, they could use some of that.
At 6’3, 165, the Meridianville, Ala. native doesn’t have the most ideal frame on the defensive end, but makes up for the lack of bulk with a 6’7 wingspan, and again, his speed. He will need to gain weight to play consistent defense in the league, but he’s got other tools to rely on in the meantime.
A Power Forward
Let’s get real for a second. If the Pelicans fanbase gets their way, Derrick Favors won’t be returning for the 2020-2021 season. The 10-year NBA vet isn’t quite as nimble as he once was, and struggled on both ends of the floor in the bubble. It wasn’t pretty.
There will more than likely be a need for another center this off season, but the Pelicans won’t get what they need from the position in this year’s draft, it will have to be in free agency.
Even with the way basketball is played now, this draft class (at least at the top) leaves much to be desired in terms of having a modern five. James Wiseman was the talk of the draft for awhile and is still widely regarded as a top-5 pick. Onyeka Okongwu is also loaded with potential and is believed to be worth a similar pick.
After those two young men, there’s a pretty hefty drop-off, and the Pelicans need veteran, defensive help and the ability to (at least somewhat) spread the floor from their five. They won’t get that from the draft.
So what’s the next best option?
A four who can use his length to help on defense and can absolutely fill it up from anywhere.
Enter Aleksej Pokusevski.
The Serbian 7-footer is so smooth with his ball-handling and jump-shot that, in his overseas play, he’s been labelled a shooting guard at times.
Pokusevski earned the majority of his recognition playing in the FIBA U18 European Championships, putting up 10 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals and 4 blocks in 25 minutes per game. Talk about do-it-all.
Transitioning to the professional level, the 18-year-old played in Greece’s Olympiacos league — the same as Giannis before his being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. Pokusevski lost a large part of his season due to a knee injury. However he did average 10.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 blocks in 23.1 minutes a game.
Lacking strength and gerth on the defensive end, Pokusevski won’t be as valuable. But, much like the other young pieces the Pelicans currently field, he’s got plenty of time to grow there.
If Pelicans fans are looking for pure upside, this could be the way to go. Pokusevski shows clear basketball IQ, smoothness and playmaking to the degree that taking him at 13 overall might be worth the gamble.
All of these picks and more were discussed with Ethan Piechota of Prospect Pod on the most recent episode of BLEAV in the New Orleans Pelicans, hosted by Eliot Clough.
Second ever returning guest @EthanPiechota of @ProspectPod & @OT_Heroics joins us to talk #NBA draft for the #Pelicans!— Eliot Clough (@EliotClough) August 26, 2020
-Ideal grab for the New Orleans at 13
-Possible second round steals
-Ethan's favorite prospects
Don't miss it! #WontBowDown #NBADrafthttps://t.co/YHioVvFUVq