Who Makes Sense at 51 and Does it Even Matter?

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Published: June 20, 2018

For years I have tried to crack the code to finding a gem in the second round. I looked back atthe history of the second round and the profiles of the guys who overachieved and tried to project who fit that mold in the current draft class. By using some simple formulas, I have had some hits (Malcolm Brogden, Josh Richardson, Paul Zipser, Wayne Selden) and have predictably had some misses when trying to project the diamonds in the rough (Tyler Harvey, Michael Qualis, Branden Dawson).

Now you all know me, and how humble I am, so this is hard for me to type but…. My track record in identifying a potential second round gem is better than anybody else out there. Literally, anyone. We all have a special set of skills, and this might be my only one, but it is what I am good at. So I am going to give it a try.

Here’s the problem, though. As I identified in my 2015 piece, there are really two different second rounds in the draft. The top 10-12 picks of the second round see 3-4 players a year become solid role players or better while the second half of the second round is usually a wasteland. As I wrote in the linked piece above, you usually only get about 1 player picked 50 or later become a starter caliber player every five years. And maybe you get 4 players from every five year period become a solid role player. So, basically, you have about a 2% chance of getting a starter/6 th man type. And a 8 10% chance of getting a 7 th -9 th man type.

And since I wrote that article in 2015, Abel Nader has been the only guy taken 50 or later that looks like he can be a role player at the NBA level. The Pelicans obviously recognized the overwhelming odds of getting a quality player after 50 just last year, as they sold the pick to the Pacers – valuing a couple hundred thousand dollars over the slight odds of getting a diamond in the rough on a cost controlled contact.

Perhaps the same will occur this season, and Dell Demps will sell the pick. As one of only three teams in the NBA without a G-League team, it might be harder for the Pelicans to develop a raw guy. They are looking to win, and win big right now and roster spots are valuable. It would be hard to carry a guy they can’t use on their roster, so that leaves two options: Trust another teams G League team to develop a player or stash the guy overseas. Or, maybe they get a guy who is NBA ready right now. Though the odds are long, it’s possible.

Because of the last two drafts, people feel like they know Dell’s second round philosophy and are starting to pencil in underachieving, raw McDonald’s All-American’s into the 51 st slot. But what some people don’t know is that Dell was poised to take Derrick White at 31 last year before the Spurs snagged him two picks earlier. White was a senior and a guy the team thought could contribute immediately. When the Spurs took him, Dell pivoted and took another guy he loved in Frank Jackson, knowing Jackson wouldn’t play his first year.

So, the Pelicans can go either route depending on who is there. Or, they can sell the pick again. With that in mind, let’s look at some guys who fit with the Pelicans roster and timeline, and who might be undervalued based on what history has taught us.

Underclassmen

Malik Newman – E’Twaun Moore was drafted 55 th overall. Why? Because he wasn’t big enough to play the two and he didn’t have the handles to play the point. He was a good scorer without a position and that scared off a lot of people. Newman is just 6’3” and is definitely not a point guard. But the guy can shoot. 83% from the line, 41.5% from three this year at Kansas. And he had some of his best performances in the biggest games. He dropped 28 against Seton Hall in the second round of the tourney, then dropped 32 against Duke in the Elite 8 and 21 against Villanova in the Final Four.

Kostas Antetokounmpo – You can’t get much more raw than Kostas, but if the Pelicans are ever going to catch Golden State, it will be because they hit on an ultra long wing that can clog passing lanes and help AD protect the rim while also being able to hang with smaller guys on the perimeter when he gets switched. Finding that at #51 is almost impossible, but if any guy that late has a chance to give you that, it’s the Greek Freak II.

Justin Jackson and Bruce Brown – I will put these two together because there are so many similarities. They are both guys who would have been sure fire first round picks had they not gotten hurt in their sophomore seasons. They both had tremendous freshman years that saw them as potential lotto picks in early 2018 mock drafts. They are both long for their positions and have the potential to be very good defensive players while giving you explosiveness and shooting on the offensive end. Injuries are scary, but you are rolling the dice at #51 regardless. Might as bet on guys who have top-15 talent when healthy.

Billy Preston – To me, this is by far the most interesting guy in the draft. Preston was an elite five-star prospect who ran into some compliance issues with the NCAA and never played a single game at Kansas. So now teams really haven’t seen him play in over a year, but if he enters the draft coming out of high school last year, he probably is a top 20-25 pick. He is uniquely skilled – a 6’10 guy who can play with power or take guys off the dribble. He can handle in the open court and pass extremely well. Imagine a taller, smoother Draymond Green offensively. He is the ultimate boom or bust guy.

Upperclassmen

Jevon Carter – Point blank, this is the guy I would bet on if he was there at #51. Based on my research, you need to find a guy who gives you something at an elite level to have any hope of watching him stick. Like Josh Richardson, Carter can give you elite defense from day one. He reminds me a lot of a young Patrick Beverly and having a guy like that while Rondo coasts through the regular season could be extremely helpful. He is also a good shooter and a leader.

Yes, he is “older” but so what? Take the guy who can play over the guys who can possibly play years from now if everything breaks right.

Kevin Hervey – Dell Demps loves Jae Crowder, Draymond Green, and Demarre Carroll and has been actively looking for the next guy like that for years. Again, the odds are long that you can find that at #51, but if I were to bet on one guy it would be Hervey. If he shot 4-5% better from three, he would be a late first round pick. If Kawhi shot a little better from three, he would have been a top five pick. The Spurs felt they could improve him in that one area, and did. If the Pels feel they can make Hervey a 36-37% three-point shooter, they could find a diamond in the rough. Hervey can defend, he can rebound, he has solid vision, and he can score the basketball. Most importantly, he has the attitude and work ethic of the guys mentioned above, and that will make it very hard for Dell to pass on him.

Allonzo Trier – Another guy without a true position, Trier is a smooth scorer who can also make plays for others. Think: A very poor man’s James Harden, as he has the ability to get to the rim and also has a beautiful step back jumper where he can create space against bigger guys. I don’t think there is any way he can be a starter in the NBA, but he fits the profile of a great bench scorer who can carry a unit for 6-8 minutes a half while your stars rest.

International

Arnoldas Kulboka – This is perhaps the best pure shooter in the draft, and might be the best shooter to enter the draft in the last 3-4 years. His stroke is pure and if you are looking for guys who can space around AD and Boogie, Kulboka fits that profile. He lacks the quickness to defend on the perimeter and the strength to defend in the paint, so he will always be a liability on that end, but when you look at the shots Boogie and AD got Miller and Moore, you can only imagine how dangerous Kulboka could be offensively with those same looks.

Isaac Bonga – Again, I totally get the philosophy of just gambling on high upside wings who are long. If you hit on that, it can change your franchise because it is the hardest thing to find, the hardest thing to trade for or acquire in the NBA. So, why not spend all your lotto tickets on the big jackpot? Bonga fits that profile and maybe you stash him overseas for a few years and hope his game matures. His free throw numbers show that he has potential as a shooter and he also has playmaking potential as well.

Issuf Sanon – Another guy who is 2-3 years away that you can stash overseas, Sanon is another combo guard with big upside. He can handle the ball, has good vision and a good stroke that should see him become a good shooter as he adds strength and range. He is ultra competitive and can finish around the basket. If you are looking down the line for a guy who can give you minutes as Rondo heads off into the sunset, Sanon could be that guy if Frank Jackson never develops.

Conclusion

Look, the Pelicans will likely sell the pick and even if they keep it, the odds of the draftee ever contributing for the team are very, very small. But history says that it is possible to find a guy here, and if you do, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Personally, I take Jevon Carter if he is there but I wouldn’t blame the team for taking a chance on a wing with potential. And as a betting man, I think they take Hervey if he is there. Or they sell the pick. We will know soon enough.

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