Pelicans

It’s a Bright Future in the Big Easy

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How quickly things can change in a matter of five months.  In January, Anthony Davis demanded a trade and the entire league went on notice.  While he said he would only re-sign in Los Angeles or New York, other teams were expected to pursue the Big Easy star.  After many failed attempts to persuade then-GM Dell Demps to send him to pair with LeBron James, the Lakers and Pelicans tabled discussions until the summer when other offers would flow in.

Then the draft lottery happened and everything changed.  New Orleans moved all the way up to the top pick, accelerating their rebuild and opening up options for what they would be willing to take back in any Davis trade.  The Lakers also moved up, landing the fourth overall pick which made their pool of assets that much more attractive.  When the Celtics refused to include Jayson Tatum in the deal the Lakers were able to seal the deal.

Now LA will head into next season as one of the favorites for the championship.  But where do the Pelicans stand?  Perhaps better than where they were when this saga started.

The easiest place to start is with the players we have already seen play.  The Pelicans add to their young roster two former number two overall picks in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram as well as Josh Hart, another second year player who has shown some promise.  While they each have their red flags, all three players look to be good compliments to the current and future Pelicans.

Possible Stardom

While his third season in the league came with some ups and major downs, Brandon Ingram has shown flashes of a star in the making.  Coming out of Duke as a heralded two-way player, Ingram arrived with high expectations.  So far, there is a lot of promise.  Ingram upped his scoring average to 18.3 points per game this season with shooting splits of 50-33-68.

While these clearly need to be improved upon to boost efficiency, it’s a good start for someone who will be just 22 before next season begins.  He has also shown the ability to defend well in the right system, and being paired with two elite defensive guards in the starting lineup will only help in this regard.  If he is able to recover from DVT and this does not become a persisting issue, he will be up for an extension before long making him pricey.  However, being the third or fourth option on offense should give Ingram the chance to shine and fulfill that potential.

Ball is Life

It is easy to make jokes about Lonzo Ball’s shooting percentage or his father, but Ball has been impressive since coming into the league.  He has had his own injury issues and his numbers do not jump off the page, but digging a little deeper gets exciting for new team.  His career averages of 10.0 points, 6.4 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game is a decent start for an all-around contributor.  Ball’s numbers dipped slightly this season, but that can be attributed to a chaotic situation and injuries.

He will be mentored by Jrue Holiday, a fellow former Bruin who has a lot of the same skills that the 21-year-old is looking to hone.  Ball is a 6’6 point guard who has shown flashes of elite defense and passing as well as above-average rebounding for a point guard.  He will not be asked to be one of the first three options on offense, but he will be able to open up avenues for everyone around him to score.  And obviously Lonzo-to-Zion lobs will be the highlight of the League Pass season for a lot of fans.  New Orleans was at its best when they had two stellar defensive guards in Rondo and Holiday.  In Lonzo Ball, they may be able to replicate that success quickly.

All Hart

The final player in the deal is Josh Hart.  He does not come with the hype of the other two aforementioned players, but he is still valuable, however.  Hart looks to be a shoe-in rotation guard who will contribute off the bench for years to come.  Over the first two years, he has started over a third of the games he has played in, posting averages of 7.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game.  He looks to be a spark off the bench for a playoff team, providing a steadying hand and scoring when the starting guards need rest.

Possibilities with the 4th Pick

1. Using the Pick

As nice as the above-referenced players’ potential is, the true value of this trade is the flexibility.  This starts with the number four pick in tomorrow’s draft.  The Pelicans will be able to build their roster with two top five picks or pursue an immediate contributor.  Rumors abound of all the directions they may go in with building around Williamson.

If the Pelicans decide to stay put and use this fourth pick, Jarrett Culver makes a lot of sense.  Culver is a 6’7 shooting guard who profiles as a potential star in a 3-and-D role.  Even if he does not meet these lofty expectations, adding shooting to this projected lineup would be much appreciated.

2. Trades

Fans love rumors and the players that could be available for trade with this pick will entice team-building enthusiasts.  Nothing is concrete, but there are a lot of situations that make sense.  Atlanta has been active in trying to move up.  Packaging picks 8 and 10 to possibly bring in Cam Reddish could benefit New Orleans.  This would allow them to add even more talent to their package of assets.

If New Orleans does not like any of the players in that range, they could pursue a more known commodity. The Bulls want in the mix for Darius Garland and Coby White.  Adding Zach LaVine to the Pelicans could get Chicago in the mix for the player of their choice.  Expiring contracts combined with this pick opens up additional options.  Depending on levels of desperation, it is worth looking into the availability of Myles Turner, Clint Capela or Bradley Beal.

LaVine seems like the most likely outcome of shopping this pick.  However, David Griffin has proven to be a crafty front office leader who gets the most out of his assets.  Do not be surprised if something surprising is announced on draft day.  Griffin has shown himself to be aggressive and creative when people count him out.

What the Future Holds

David Griffin earned his salary and reputation with his first move.  Looking into the future, the Pelicans will have the Lakers’ 2021 pick if it is in the top 8; otherwise it will be unprotected the following year.  The Pelicans get the option to swap picks with the Lakers in 2023. They will be able to take the 2024 first rounder or defer it to 2025.  This leaves the Pelicans in control of both their assets.  It also limits the Lakers’ trade options with most of their draft picks spoken for over the next half decade.

New Orleans is preparing to draft their third “face of the franchise”, following the Chris Paul and Anthony Davis eras.  Both eras failed due to organizations making short-sighted moves that they deemed as “win-now” but ended up being win never.  Zion Williamson will be walking into an ideal situation.  There will be veteran leaders, young teammates thirsty to prove themselves, and an organization loaded with assets.

Depending on what they obtain from the 4th pick, this could be the young darlings threatening the playoffs. What they get when the Lakers’ other picks begin to convey will be the cherry on top.  No one seems to win when moving on from a generational talent like Anthony Davis.  But for once, they may find this was the first step toward a brighter future than they could have imagined.

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