A Look at the 2016 NBA Draft Options Through Pelican Eyes

Published: February 24, 2016

The 2016 draft looks like it will be average. Not great, not terrible. There are some high ceiling freshman wings, some quality bigs, and a few intriguing international prospects. The point guard class isn’t fantastic, but there are a few quality starters to be had, and in a league where shooting has become a premium, there are a couple of gunners too. But make no mistake, while DraftExpress or other sites like it, will allow you to wade through tons of prospects, the Pelicans are looking through a much smaller lens.

Having some knowledge of how this front office is thinking, including what they were thinking up to and through the trade deadline, I can confidently say that you can cross off a few prospects already. That is, if the Pelicans even keep the pick. Smart money would say that the Pelicans will look to move the pick for someone that can help them win games in 2016, but if they do keep the pick, it will be because they see a guy on the board that can help them sooner, rather than later.

Here is what the Pelicans will take, if they keep the pick

a) A productive college junior or senior

b) A mature international prospect who has played professionally

c) Ingram or Simmons

That is it, and that is all. So, don’t bother watching the videos of Jaylen Brown or Henry Ellison. Skai Labissiere scouting report? Waste of time. Get excited about Jamal Murray like I have? It will only disappoint you when the Pels don’t take him. Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry have no desire to wait until 2019 for a young guy to develop. Oh, and for those of you hoping that Benson gets rid of one or both of those guys to keep them from rushing the process… Why do you assume Benson values 2019 over 2016, anyway? Where do you think this motivation to win soon is coming from?

The pick will be traded, or it will be used on somebody who can help soon. Ingram and Simmons are the lone exceptions, and that it is because they are possible transcendent talents that can’t be passed up. That is, unless the Bulls put Jimmy Butler on the table, or the Pacers want to blow it up and part with Paul George. If that happens, then bye-bye draft pick. But outside of the Pelicans beating the odds and jumping into the top-2, they will use that pick to add a young vet or a rookie who can help right away.

So, who are the guys in this draft class who can do that? I’ll tell you right now that the cupboard is not stocked with a bunch of guys who fit that mold, and most of the guys who do are projected to go in the teens or 20’s, not where the Pelicans will likely be picking. Trading down, maybe for a quality rotation player and a later pick, is a solid option in that scenario, I suppose. Or, the Pelicans could take the most sought after prospect when it is their turn to pick and look to trade him later.

But if they do make the pick, and they do keep the young guy, here are the ones who they will be interested in and how they can fit with the current roster.

Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma

Hield’s numbers are fantastic this year, and if he were a Freshman, he might be the #1 pick in the draft. But let’s not forget that he is a man amongst boys as a 22 year-old, three-year starter in college. He is a little undersized for a shooting guard, but his length can make up for that, and he has showed more ball handling ability this season. For the Pelicans, Hield’s leadership, passion, durability,and effort will be immensely appealing after watching their 3 highly paid guards limp, sulk, and passively go about these past few seasons.

I have watched Hield nearly a dozen times this year, and I see college JJ Reddick with better defense. He scores because he has an amazing stroke and a quick release, and quite frankly, because he is smarter than everyone else on the floor. He takes advantage of young, undisciplined defenders who don’t locate him on the break or off of a scramble when his team gets an offensive rebound. What I don’t see is an amazing first step that allows him to get by defenders. I also don’t see a guy physical enough to finish in NBA traffic.

Because of this, his ceiling is somewhat limited. Make no mistake, Reddick with better defense would be a very good player, but it also took a few years and CP3 for JJ to become the guy he is now. Defensively, he will try, but he won’t be Klay Thompson. He doesn’t have the size or the lateral quickness to be elite on that end, and the best you can probably hope for is that he doesn’t hurt you there. Put him next to Holiday and a defensive 3, and there won’t be any issues on the perimeter, but again, don’t expect a lock down guy.

At the end of the day, you want shooting around Anthony Davis, and Hield’s numbers this year (49% from deep on nearly 9 attempts) say that he can be elite on that end. But I would proceed with caution. First of all, he was an average 3-point shooter over the three years prior to this one. Secondly, I don’t love his stroke. He pushes the ball too much for my liking; It’s not a natural, smooth stroke. I think his shot could get blocked more in the pros, and I also wonder if he can maintain his accuracy with the line a few feet further back. But get out and run (which Gentry wants to do), and he could be lethal – a rich man’s Anthony Morrow. Not a star, in this writer’s opinion, but it’s hard to see how he fails.

Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame

If Alvin Gentry wants a true point guard who can fly up and down the court, Jackson is the best guy in this class. He is a blur with the ball, and could get the Pelicans running the way Nash and Barbosa did for Phoenix when Gentry was there. Passion, IQ, leadership, intensity? Jackson possesses them all in spades. The biggest downside is he isn’t a combo guard, he is a pure point, and it would be hard to play him 25 minutes per game with Holiday. As much as the two PG lineup is used nowadays, show me the elite team that starts two point guards or plays them together for an extended period of time. It’s all about getting length on the wings, and being forced to play Holiday at the 2 would be a risk, to say the least.

But if Gentry wants to get out and run with AD, maybe putting a point guard next to Holiday and/or staggering those two for the full 48 minutes, is the right way to go. Jackson makes others around him better, but he also has to be respected as a scoring threat himself. He is a guy you have to contest on the outside, and he is strong enough and create enough to finish in the paint as well. I know you all want a comparison, so from what I have seen (7 games watched), I liken him to a bigger, more explosive, Ty Lawson. You know, back when he was good. Imagine Lawson with 90% of Westbrook’s intensity and athleticism. That’s Jackson.

I think Alvin Gentry would fall in love with him the second he put on the film, and might not let him go the day he comes and works out. Jackson will be 22 by the time the 2016-17 season kicks off and has all the intangibles the Pelicans could use. Honestly, the only thing preventing him from being a perfect fit is the fact that the brass sees Jrue Holiday as their clear cut #2 building block, and its not clear if Holiday and Jackson could play big minutes together. But if they take a chance and go small in the backcourt, convincing themselves that Holiday could guard most 2’s in this league, Jackson could be the pick.

Denzel Valentine, G, Michigan State

Valentine will be the guy that will be the hardest for the Pelicans to pass up if he is on the board and Dell doesn’t have any legitimate trade offers for the pick. He is smart, hard-working, versatile, a winner, and a leader. Even if he didn’t go to Michigan State, he would remind most people of Draymond Green, and his tendency to rack up triple-doubles this year isn’t doing anything to hurt that comparison. He is more of a guard/forward than a forward/center, but he has position versatility, and what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in intelligence.

He doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay in front of explosive wings, but the NBA is about 5 guys playing defense on a string more than it is about one-on-one D, and Valentine will pick up any system quickly. On offense, he might be your shooting guard or small forward on the program, but he can handle the ball as much, if not more, than your point guard. Off the ball, he can knock down the three, or even crash the offensive glass if you need him to. The one knock is that he doesn’t get to the FT line nearly enough, but this year when he does, he knocks them down (82.6%).

Valentine will likely kill it in the tournament, kill it in interviews, and when the Warriors win the title again, people who are projecting him in the teens will start asking – “Wait, why isn’t this guy in the lottery, again?” But to answer that, if the Pelicans keep their pick, he just might be.

Other Possibilities

Furkan Korkmaz, SG, International

Here is a guy who has two years of professional experience and a beautiful stroke. I am not going to lie and say I have watched him a ton, but I know some people working for the Pelicans have. He is young (will turn 19 right after the draft), but having been around pros helps a guy mature faster overseas than he does playing college ball in America. If Dell trades down and picks up a rotation guy who can help now, I could see him taking a chance on Korkmaz.

Caris Levert, G, Michigan

An experienced college player who could step right onto an NBA court tomorrow and score. He has an uber quick release and is proficient from the wings and corners, where the Pelicans need the most help. His length also gives him the ability to cover some 3’s, while his lateral quickness allows him to defend the 1 and the 2 as well. He won’t go high because he doesn’t have tremendous “upside”, but he has the shooting and maturity that the Pelicans want right now.

Guys the Pelicans Could Trade the Pick For

Even if the Pelicans are hell bent on trading the pick for a veteran, it won’t be as easy as it has been in the past. The reason that they were able to make the Jrue Holiday trade work was because they were one of the few teams who had all three of the following components: 1.) Cap room to make an uneven trade work 2.) A high pick 3.) The desire to get good quickly.

That won’t be the case next season, as almost everybody will have significant cap room, and there are very few teams who want to get younger. If a quality player who is already under contract is put on the market, there will be 10-15 sharks circling, and again, almost all of them will have cap room. And which teams out there are trying to get worse or younger? Many of the teams have been doing that for years and now seem to be in a rush to become respectable, like Philly, Orlando, Milwaukee, Sacramento, etc. And the teams who might be willing to do it, like Houston and Portland (who might not have their own picks), don’t have any players who would be worth the 7th or 8th pick – that they would be willing to part with, at least.

So while this might be Demps preferred path, it won’t be easy. And if a star like Blake or Boogie is being shopped, a team like Boston has everything the Pelicans have to offer, and then some. Instead, Dell will have to hope that either he jettisons up to the top of the draft and can trump what others can offer or trade for guys that others might not covet as much. With that in mind, here are the possibilities (in order of likelihood), that Dell could move the draft pick for come June.

5. Jimmy Butler

If the Pelicans land the 1st or 2nd pick, I would say there is a better than 50/50 chance that Butler will be a Pelican next season. The Pelicans would certainly push for it, and would prefer the immediate impact of Butler over waiting 3-4 years for Simmons shot to develop or Ingram’s body to fill out. The Bulls, meanwhile, have had some behind the scene issues with Butler and Hoiberg, and probably know Butler is not a #1 on a great team. Moving him for cost controlled guys who could be in time would be something they would likely consider.

4. Brook Lopez/Thaddeus Young

Imagine the Pelicans get the #7 pick and offer that plus Asik for Brook Lopez – Wouldn’t the Nets have to say yes, considering how barren their asset chest is currently? Or what if the Pelicans made it a bigger deal and included Tyreke, while also asking for Thad Young? Nets would still have to say yes, wouldn’t they? Meanwhile, the Pelicans get a big to put next to AD that other teams would actually have to respect offensively, while replacing “super sub” Ryan Anderson with a guy that can fill that role at 2/3rd’s the price (when you consider Ryno’s next deal). A Jrue/AD/Young/Lopez core, with Q-Pon coming back, still gives you $10-$15 in cap room to play with to add more wings, and while playing Thad, AD, and Lopez at the same time would be hard, it wouldn’t be impossible. You could go with a Thad/AD frontcourt at the end of games against smaller teams, and an AD/Lopez one against bigger teams. The key would be to find one 3-and-D wing, either via another trade or in free agency. Do that and keep Lopez healthy, and that would be a very dangerous team.

3. Goran Dragic

The Miami Heat are going to be in an interesting situation this summer, as they firmly believe they are in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes. They also have entertained the idea of Dwight Howard, and might even be eyeing guys like Westbrook and Blake Griffin in 2017. Meanwhile, Dragic hasn’t worked out like they hoped, mainly because he just doesn’t fit with Dwayne Wade. They can’t sell Dragic for pennies on the dollar, because of how much they gave up for him, but if they were able to re-coup a lottery pick while shedding his salary, it might be the best of both worlds for Pat Riley and the Heat. Meanwhile, Demps has already tried to trade for Dragic once before, and Gentry had him in Phoenix. A Dragic/Holiday pairing on offense would be a dream for the Pelicans, and with Quincy returning, they might be able to get away with it defensively. A trade of Evans and the pick for Dragic would allow the Heat to be major players both this year and next, while giving the Pelicans a player under contract for another 4 years to add to a Holiday/Davis nucleus. Dragic’s age (30 next year) is not ideal, but he doesn’t have as many miles on his tires as most 30 year olds, and it is reasonable to believe he can play at a quasi All-Star level for the next 3-4 years. Especially in Gentry’s offense.

2. Victor Oladipo

The Magic are one of the teams that want to get older, so it might seem strange that Oladipo is here, but they might be forced to move him given their current situation on the wing. They obviously desired playing time for Aaron Gordon, and they moved Tobias Harris to do so. Sooner or later, they will have to open up playing time for Mario Hezonja as well. Couple that with them possibly paying Evan Fournier this summer, and you could see why the Magic might want to move Oladipo before deciding whether they want to give him $100 million in his next contract. For the Pelicans, Oladipo could slide right in next to Holiday and give Erman the terrorizing perimeter defenders he needs to make this defense respectable. Offensively, Oladipo likes to run and he moves well off the ball – and underrated part of Gentry’s system – but the outside shooting just isn’t good enough yet. But we have seen what Fred Vinson has done with Tyreke, and if the same could be done with Oladipo, he could become a star in New Orleans.

1. Dario Saric

Dell has had his eye on Saric for a while, and Dario is ready to come over to the states. He will be 22 at the time of the draft, and has played professionally for 5+ seasons, so he can step right into the league and contribute. Imagine a scenario where the Sixers get their SF of the future in Simmons or Ingram, and there is a PG at #7 they like, such as Jamal Murray or the aforementioned Demetrius Jackson. A Saric for the pick swap would make a ton of sense, and would both get the Pelicans a guy who can help immediately while also having him on a rookie contract for the forseeable future. Saric’s passing, shooting, and position versatility would be a dream for Gentry’s offense, and he checks off so many of the boxes Demps covets as well.



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