The Missing Piece: Playoff Scouting, Draft Ranking, and Summer Planning

Published: April 18, 2013

The season has now officially come to a close for the Pelicans, and now we are just a few short weeks away from perhaps the biggest off-season in franchise history. The cornerstone is in place, a sharpshooter has been found, and our oft-injured premier scorer has given us some reason to hope he can be an All-Star after his play improved down the stretch. On top of that, Austin Rivers showed some signs of improvement prior to his injury, Vasquez and Lopez both saw their stock rise dramatically this year, and New Orleans will have another very high lottery pick. Couple all of that with the fact that the Pelicans will have between 16 and 19 million dollars in cap room (depending on whether the cap goes up, as has been reported) and this summer should be insanely interesting.

With all those things I listed, there was one glaring omission – a savvy, playoff-hardened veteran. Ryan Anderson has played in a handful of playoff games, as has Robin Lopez early in his career, but for the most part the core is full of guys who haven’t experienced the NBA’s second season. As all of us know, playoff basketball is dramatically different. When an opponent gets to focus in on you and only you for two weeks, they have the ability to shut down the things you like to do most. Because of that, only the most versatile and highly skilled players truly shine in the playoffs. New Orleans hopes to make a run at a playoff spot next season, and they will likely need one or two guys who have been there before to show them the way. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of guys who the Pelicans could target this summer in trades or via free agency, and what we should watch for in their playoff stint.

Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks

First Round Opponent: Miami Heat

What to Watch For: Can Brandon Jennings make his teammates better?

Brandon Jennings, and the Milwaukee Bucks as a team, have been drastically different offensively since the All-Star break. Right after the break, Milwaukee added more firepower in the form of JJ Reddick, and Brandon Jennings has been more of a facilitator since then. He is taking three and a half less shots per game, and his is averaging a very respectable 7.6 assists per game (up from 6.1 pre-AS break). As a result, the Bucks offense has been one of the best in the league, averaging 103.7 PPG (up from 96.3 pre-AS break). Jennings has also raised his shooting percentages (41.6 FG vs. 39.5 and 39.6 three-point vs. 36.4) but the big difference has been his willingness to get others involved more.

As Milwaukee takes on the Heat in what figures to be a short series, I want to see if Jennings continues his unselfish ways or if he reverts back to being a chucker. He has had huge games against Miami in the past, as point guard is traditionally a position that gives Miami problems, but if Milwaukee is going to steal a game or two, Jennings has to walk that line of getting his own and helping his teammates get theirs. It will also be interesting to watch him defensively, because Miami is one of the few teams that doesn’t use the point guard to create their offense. Jennings can be a terror on the ball, but he gets lost or disinterested off the ball and it hurts the Bucks at times. Pay attention to his focus when he is playing off the ball and his effort when rotating.

Corey Brewer, SF, Denver Nuggets

First Round Opponent: Golden State Warriors

What to Watch For: Can Brewer give consistent offense throughout the entire series?

Corey Brewer has given consistent energy, effort, and defense all season, but he has been one of the most inconsistent shooters in the entire league. In the first two months, he shot a respectable 36.7% from three, but then he was terrible in a 40 game stretch spanning from January to March, shooting just 22% from deep. But lately he has found his stroke again since Danillo Galinari went down, hitting 36% from deep. Throughout the season, his ability to get out and finish in transition has been the biggest part of his offensive game, but since Monty doesn’t tend to let the team run much, Brewer’s value to this team will come down to whether or not he can space the floor.

Defensively, Corey Brewer has been fantastic all year in both isolation and pick and roll situations, two things the Nuggets should see a ton of in this series. Watching Brewer’s possessions as a pick and roll defender this season, he tends to go over the pick a lot and then is amazing at trapping the ball handler with the big who has hedged. Imagine Brewer and Anthony Davis trapping ball handlers with all their length, activity, and quickness. It could be beautiful. In isolation, he does well against anybody – positions one through four. He tends to give guys quite a bit of space, but he is so long that he closes that space in the blink of an eye. Look for him to cover half a dozen different guys in this series, and expect him to look good doing it.

Luol Deng, SF, Chicago Bulls

First Round Opponent: Brooklyn Nets

What to Watch For: How does Luol Deng fare as the #1 scorer in a playoff series?

Luol Deng has been a very good complementary scorer his entire career, but since Derrick Rose went down in last year’s playoffs, he has had to become the go to guy for the Chicago Bulls. For the first time in his career, he leads the Bulls in field goal attempts and has been forced to score in different ways. His spot-up opportunities are down 25% from his previous two seasons (per Synergy Sports) and instead he has been put in the pick and roll more often – both as a ball handler and as a roll man. In fact, he has been most efficient in the pick and pop this season and has improved in isolation situations as well.

On the defensive end, he is still very good, but the biggest worry is that Deng’s body might be ready to break down. For the second straight season he is the league leader in minutes per game and by the end of the year he will have logged over 24,000 minutes even though he is only 28. By comparison, Paul Millsap – a guy who most fans say is too old for our rebuilding project – only has 16,000 NBA minutes logged despite being four months older. So far, there has not been a noticeable drop off in Deng’s game, and in this series I expect to see on Deng on Joe Johnson a lot, especially late when he gets looks with games on the line.

Eric Bledsoe, PG, Los Angeles Clippers

First Round Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies

What to Watch For: Can Bledsoe create offense in the half court against an elite defensive team?

Eric Bledsoe has been fantastic offensively in the open court this season, but the game slows down drastically in the post season and defenses focus on taking away what you do best. In addition to transition, Bledsoe performs well on cuts and put backs after offensive rebounds, but his pick and roll, isolation, and spot up numbers are all mediocre. If the Pelicans want to bring in Bledsoe to run their team long term, then they need to see him create for himself and others in this series.

On the defensive end, it will be interesting to see how Eric Bledsoe fares against Mike Conley. Conley is the engine that makes the Grizzlies go and Bledsoe has given him nightmares in limited minutes this season. Per NBA stats, Bledsoe has covered Conley for a total of 38 minutes this season and Conley has shot 3 of 16 (18.8%), while dishing out just 4 assists in that time, to go with three turnovers. Conley is a guy who has given Vasquez nightmares in the past, so adding a guy who could render him ineffective in the playoffs could make Bledsoe even more tempting.

Where Do These Guys Rank?

We’ve heard a lot of people say that this draft class stinks. What cracks me up, however, is that if you get these same “experts” talking about the prospects in the draft, they rave about several of them. Chad Ford was on the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons last week and they started off by saying that this could be the worst class since the dreaded 2000 class, but then gushed over Noel, McLemore, Porter, Oladipo, CJ McCollum, and more. Confusing? Yeah, it was to me too.

My personal opinion is that while this draft does not have an Anthony Davis, or probably even a Blake Griffin or Kyrie Irving, it does have a handful of guys that could be All-Stars, and a few more that can be very, very good starters. To put these guys in perspective, let’s take a look at where I think they would rank if we threw every prospect from the last five years into the pool.

Big Board (2009-2013)

1. Anthony Davis – Best prospect to come out since Greg Oden

2. Blake Griffin – The most explosive big in this five year span.

3. John Wall – Had an unreal freshman system that had people saying he was a “better Allen Iverson”

4. Ricky Rubio – Was 1B to Griin’s 1A and would have went higher if not for contract issues

5. Kyrie Irving – People knew the potential was there, but he only played 9 games

6. DeMarcus Cousins – The best low post prospect in nearly a decade, he slipped because of immaturity

7. Nerlens Noel (2013) – 2nd best defensive prospect on this list behind Davis. Not as skilled offensively, but better passer

8. James Harden – His offensive efficiency at ASU was unreal

9. Ben McLemore (2013) – Can’t create for others like Harden, but does everything better than Beal.

10. Evan Turner – Had an amazing final season at OSU, but has’t found game yet in NBA

11. Derrick Williams – An incredible stretch had some questioning whether Cavs should take him over Kyrie

12. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – He graded out as a 6 on offense, but a 10 on defense, intangibles, and sheer will

13. Marcus Smart (2013) – Closest comparison as a prospect is Russell Westbrook, who went 4th in 2008 

14. Otto Porter (2013) – Well rounded like Evan Turner, but didn’t put up same raw numbers

15. Victor Oladipo (2013) – People still question his offensive ceiling, otherwise he would be much higher on list

16. Tyreke Evans – Had the NBA body already, but only three months of fantastic production in college

17. Jonas Valanciunas – Rare combination of size and mobility, plus he has a very nice low post game

18. Derrick Favors – GM’s saw the raw talent, but his guards never got him the ball at GT

19. Stephen Curry – Had great production, but playing against small schools left question marks.

20. Enes Kanter – Weird situation at UK left him without a way to showcase his skills prior to draft

21. Thomas Robinson – Was terrific in his only year as a starter at KU

22. Bradley Beal – People saw his potential coming into the draft, but he didn’t produce much at Florida

23. Wesley Johnson- He filled the stat sheet at Syracuse and had tremendous athleticism. Bust so far.

24. Trey Burke (2013) – Racked up a ton of awards and had memorable Tournament moments. Stock is way up

25. Harrison Barnes – Never reached his potential in college, but he showed out at Combine and in workouts

26. Greg Monroe – Another top-3 HS recruit who was  bit of an enigma come draft time

27. Andre Drummond – Perhaps the best specimen in the last five years, but poor production at UConn

28. Damian Lillard – Small school questions plagued Lillard, but workouts helped him rise up boards. Much older, though.

29. Anthony Bennett (2013) – Would be much higher on this list if he was two inches taller and cared about defense

30. Hasheem Thabeet – Good defender in college, he went #2 because Memphis was picking

*Shabazz Muhammad and Cody Zeller would be in the 32-36 range. 

Other Notes

– New Orleans finished 27 -55 this year and that puts them 5th in the lotto hunt. Their odds for each pick is as follows: 1st (8.8%) 2nd (9.7%), 3rd (10.7%) 4th (0%) 5th (26.1%) 6th (36%) 7th (8.4%) 8th (0.4%).

– If I had to guess right now, the Pelicans draft board goes: Nerlens Noel, Marcus Smart, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, in that order. After those five  four, I have no clue who they would have next. None. I get asked a lot whether Dell would really draft Noel if we got lucky and won the lottery. I think that ideally he would look to trade down to 2 or 3 and pick up some assets, then grab Oladipo or Porter, but if he couldn’t, I do think he would have to take Noel. And with Smart out of the draft now, I think the odds of New Orleans trading the pick just went up 50%. They would rather add a veteran than reach for a rookie that they don’t love. Huge curveball Marcus Smart threw us this week.

– The Pelicans hold the following team options this summer: Robin Lopez (5.2 million; 500,000 guaranteed); Jason Smith (2.5 million, zero guaranteed); Lance Thomas (885K, zero guaranteed); Brian Roberts and Darius Miller (789K, zero guaranteed). So, if the Hornets wanted to go after a super max guy, they can get their salary obligations down to 32.5 million with AD, Ryno, Gordon, Rivers, and Vasquez. Factor in cap holds of about 5.5 million (including the rookie hold) and that puts them at $38 million. The cap last year was a little over $58 million and it will likely go up. Long story short, if CP3 shows any interest whatsoever, we would be able to offer him a max deal. We can probably even pick up Smith’s option and still do that, seeing that the cap will go up this summer. Not saying it is probable, just that the numbers say it is possible.

– Here are some important dates to remember with regard to the draft:  Scouting Combine – May 16th and 17th. NBA Draft Lottery – May 21st. NBA Draft – June 27th. College players must announce that they are entering by April 28th, but they can withdraw their name as late as June 17th and still be eligible to go back to school as long as they haven’t hired an agent.

– Just for clarification, my personal Big Board is different than what I think Dell’s Big Board looks like. I personally really like Trey Burke. When other sites were still comparing him to Travis Best or TJ Ford, I was saying Terrell Brandon. I think the kid will have a nice impact offensively. The CP3 comparisons are beyond insane to me personally, but I can be talked into production similar to Kevin Johnson if Burke hits his ceiling. But we at Hornets247 have been fortunate to hear from Monty and Dell plenty this year, along with other off the record sources. Putting together everything I have heard from these men, I just can’t see Burke being the pick unless the ‘Big Four’ are off the board and Shabazz, along with the bigs, look bad in workouts or are horrible in interviews. The team wants to put pressure at the point of attack and wants length on the perimeter to contest when we rotate. A backcourt of Burke and Gordon would do fabulous offensively, but there would be no length on the perimeter to contest shots when we rotate. Burke is great at a lot of things, but his weakness just happens to be in an area where we are determined to do something specific.

– Another trick I use for whether or not I really like a guy in this draft is to ask myself, “How scared would I be if the Thunder got this guy?” Remember, the Thunder have Toronto’s pick, which will likely be #11 or #12. Shabazz and Burke would scare me if OKC added either of them. Bennett and Len, not so much. Cody Zeller could be a much better Nick Collison down the line, so I would prefer they don’t get him. Also, CJ McCollum could be a rediculous scorer off the bench for them as early as next year. I am praying they draft Cole Aldrich 2.0 with their pick, otherwise, it might take forever to catch up to them. The Thunder will either draft 11th or 12th depending on who wins the coin flip between Philly and Toronto. My guess: They gamble on French big man Rudy Gobert.

– Houston is the other team to watch this summer. The way things are going, it looks like the Pelicans and the Rockets are the future of this division. Depending on what they do with different team options, the Rockets will likely have over $20 million in cap space to play with this summer. They have tons of young talent, a fun system to play in, no state income taxes, and a star in James Harden to attract free agents. Dwight Howard is probably Plan A, with Josh Smith a solid Plan B. After that, they could choose to split the money up amongst several guys, including Paul Milsap. Like OKC, I hope they choose the wrong guy because if they don’t, they will be downright scary.

– As you can tell, I started this piece before Marcus Smart announced that he would return to Oklahoma State. Some will say that it is a stupid decision, but Smart obviously believes that he will make it long term in the NBA. You dont get paid much on your first contract, it is your second and third that brings the big bucks, so if Smart goes 7th next year as opposed to 2nd this year, but has a better career, he will make way more money. I don’t like the decision because it hurts this draft, but I don’t think it is as dumb as most do. He’ll make next year’s draft even stronger, which will push someone to us wherever we draft. Silver Lining.

The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on For past articles in the series, click here. 


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