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2022 NBA Draft: Better N.O. a Prospect - Ochai Agbaji Pelicans Preview

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NCAA Basketball: Final Four-National Championship-Kansas vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

College players with three or more seasons in college. Rarities to land in the NBA, unless you look at the New Orleans Pelicans roster. Naji Marshall, 3 years at Xavier. Trey Murphy III, 2 years at Rice then 1 year at Virginia. Herb Jones, 4 years at Alabama. Jose Alvarado, 4 years at Georgia Tech. Every single one of them logging vital minutes in their first or second season with the Pelicans down the stretch run and in the first round of the playoffs.

Ochai Agbaji, 4 years at Kansas. Kansas withdrew from the 2021 Big 12 Tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test, then the Jayhawks were embarrassed by USC in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and failed to make the Sweet 16. Agbaji withdrew from the 2021 NBA Draft after declaring (but not hiring an agent) and elected to return to Kansas for his senior season.

His reward? 2021-22 Big 12 Player of the Year. 2022 Big 12 Champion. Consensus All-American. Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. 2022 National Champion. In his final season in Kansas he checked off every box. Increased his scoring average from 14.1 to 18.8 points per game. Shot 40.7% behind the arc his senior year.

Since Agbaji went through the combine process last year we already have the typical data you’d look at. 6’5.5” in shoes. 6’10” wingspan. 8’7.5” standing reach. 214.4 pounds. That’s close to ideal for an NBA wing. His age is going to stand out. Having just turned 22 in April and staying four full years in college “low ceiling” will be the go-to analysis. That’s a big reason why he lands closer to the back end of the lottery for Sam Vecenie at The Athletic and Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

The hope in drafting someone like Agbaji is two-fold. One, by putting him into a more confined offensive role in New Orleans he can really lean into the defensive side of the ball. Being surrounded by Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III, Naji Marshall, and Larry Nance in the Second Line will help tremendously on that front. Two, and even more importantly, by drafting an “older” player his first and second contracts will include real production and not so much potential and development.

Agbaji wouldn’t be my first choice if the Lakers pick lands in the 8-10 range. Dyson Daniels takes that crown with Bennedict Mathurin not far behind. But, if the Pelicans are willing to trade down as they did last year to get off of some long term money (*cough* Devonte’ Graham *cough*) I hope that drafting Agbaji is the target.