Can the Pelicans Match the Warriors 2012 Draft and Would It Be Enough?

Harrison Barnes. Festus Ezili. Kent Bazemore. Draymond Green. All in one rookie class.

Collectively, there hasn’t been a better draft in recent memory, and that draft (combined with what was already in place and a couple of savvy FA signings) led to a title, and a potential dynasty in the making. The idea of that just 40 or so months ago would have seemed ludicrous, as Golden State was coming off a 23 win season and featured a 23-year-old star who had a checkered medical history. They also had some perimeter pieces that didn’t fit (Monta Ellis and Nate Robinson), and what many considered a shaky front office.

But that 2012 draft changed everything. Well, that and Steph Curry ascending to superstar status and kicking the injury bug. Harrison Barnes slotted in to their biggest hole on the roster and offered unlimited potential. Assistant coach Darren Erman banged the table for Festus Ezili, knowing he could be impactful if developed properly. They obviously saw Bazemore’s potetial, but didn’t have minutes for him after signing Iguodala. Atlanta is thankful. And lastly, they took a productive college player in Draymond Green who had heart and hustle in spades, but lacked a “true position.” Nowadays that is a plus, not a minus.

With the trade of Ish Smith, the Pelicans have multiple second round picks that figure to be in the range where Golden State took Green. Heck, Khris Middleton, Jae Crowder, and Will Barton all went in those top 10 picks in the second round that year. The Pelicans would kill to have any of those guys. Now, all the Pelicans need to do is acquire a late first round pick (like the one used to take Ezili) and they can try to recapture Golden State’s magic.

But how exactly did Golden State pull this off in the first place? How did they extract so much value from one draft, with picks that are not typically the ones that change a franchise’s destiny? Barnes was a prodigy from an early age, and a potential #1 overall pick from his sophomore year in high school. He had moments in college, but some were scared off by his inconsistency, so guys like Thomas Robinson and Dion Waiters skyrocketed past him in the draft process.

Jaylen Brown is the guy most likely to be this years Harrison Barnes. He has athleticism for days and was a consensus top 3 recruit, but he has been inconsistent to say the least. He shows flashes of greatness and then completely disappears, or makes a bonehead play that conjures up memories of Julian Wright. While dreams of Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram are running through all our heads, the likelihood of the Pelicans securing a top 3 pick will be less than 50% unless the wheels truly come off, and they will be forced to look at guys who have that level of talent but fall like Barnes and Drummond did that year.

The harder part will be finding an Ezili late in the first round, or a Draymond Green in the second round. Finding this year’s Draymond Green will be downright impossible, but the intangibles that Green brought before his on-court game truly developed can often be found later in the draft. Juniors and Seniors often slip in the draft because they lack the potential that teams drafting higher seek. You can also get guys who do many things well, but nothing great and/or guys who don’t fit a specific profile that decision makers are comfortable with.

Taurean Prince fits those criterias, for instance, as does Nigel Hayes, Monte Morris, Gary Payton II,and Denzel Valentine. You want another Ezili? Maybe AJ Hammons or Kaleb Tarczewski can be your guy. Either way, this team needs some maturity and heart on its roster. It needs a few guys who have spent multiple years in college and played for their teammates instead of playing for themselves. Is it a coincidence that the leader on this team is Pondexter, a four-year college player? He and Norris Cole, another four-year guy, were the spark that this team needed last summer, both on and off the court. Meanwhile, the guys everybody was hoping would lead (Gordon, Davis, Jrue, and Tyreke) have a collective four years experience. All one and dones.

But even if they hit on the draft picks like Golden State did, will it be enough?

We discuss numerous things when it comes to this franchise, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to Anthony Davis. If he gets back to MVP form, and becomes the leader of this organization that they need, the Pelicans have a cornerstone that every other franchise would envy. Beyond that, identifying another core piece like the Warriors had in Klay Thompson would help too. Jrue Holiday is the most likely guy to fit that criteria if he is truly over his leg issues. Or maybe that guy can be had in a trade and isn’t on this roster yet.

Regardless, a direction is needed. When Barnes, Green, and Ezili arrived, the Warriors had a vision, and they had a core that was hungry. They were tired of losing and tired of being overlooked. They had a chip on their shoulders, and then the Warriors straightened that feeling in the locker room that felt that way too. Barnes went from a can’t miss prospect to a guy who had his game and mental makeup picked apart. Green was a winner who did any and everything to help his team, and he couldn’t get a sniff in a first round that saw guys like Austin Rivers, Maurice Harkless, and Marquis Teague drafted despite accomplishing little to nothing in college.

At the end of the day, is it likely that the Pelicans can duplicate what Golden State did? Of course not. But there are worse blueprints you can follow than a team on pace to be the greatest of All-Time, and when you figure to have similar picks and a coach familiar with the thought process of their decision makers, it is a viable path to take. More than focusing on the specific players, the Pelicans need to use this upcoming draft to identify the types of players they want to put around Anthony Davis.

They have tried the talented, often praised and rewarded young vets. It clearly didn’t work, so it’s time to move in another direction and the 2016 NBA draft might offer that exact opportunity.

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