How high could the New Orleans Pelicans pick in the 2019 NBA Draft?

New Orleans Pelicans NBA Draft (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
New Orleans Pelicans NBA Draft (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With 23 games remaining in the 2018-2019 season, the New Orleans Pelicans are jockeying for NBA Draft positioning near the bottom of the standings. How high could their pick be when they make their first round selection this summer?

The New Orleans Pelicans are 6 games out of a playoff spot and are currently sitting in 13th place in Western Conference. While the playoffs aren’t technically out of reach for the Pelicans, climbing back up to postseason contention only to more than likely lose in a First Round matchup to the Golden State Warriors seems unnecessary. With 23 games remaining and the playoffs pointless and unlikely, focus could be shifting to the NBA Draft.

As it stands, the New Orleans Pelicans are most likely to select 8th in the 2019 NBA Draft. With the new draft lottery odds, the Pels have a 6% chance to win the #1 overall pick. While selecting in the Top 10 is already an exciting opportunity, could the Pelicans realistically end up with a better pick than #8 aside from shockingly winning the top pick in the lottery?

As NBA teams try to nonchalantly race to the bottom of the standings, certain teams will figure out how to tank more efficiently than others. The Pelicans are at a disadvantage here, as they have yet to actually actively embrace a full tank. This New Orleans team, despite all the drama, isn’t just going to go quietly into mediocrity. It’s admirable and keeps the team fun to root for, but creates a paradox in which the team wants the best pick possible but also doesn’t want to lose games.

Because of this, the Pelicans will have to rely on actual, real basketball factors to rise up the draft board as opposed to intentionally not putting themselves in the best position to win night after night as other teams are likely already doing. In the current standings, New Orleans barely has a “better” record than teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards. These are teams the Pelicans could realistically have a worse record than once the season ends.

Below the Wizards and Grizzlies are teams like the Hawks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Knicks, and Suns. These are all teams with records so bad that they might already have the bottom five spots in the standings locked up. Looking at it this way, the Pelicans’ pick likely won’t end up any higher than 6th.

On the other hand, the teams currently on the back-end of the draft lottery (picks 9-12 specifically) like the Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Miami Heat are all close enough in overall win percentage to the Pelicans that New Orleans essentially has a realistic draft pick range between 6th-12th in the 2019 NBA Draft.

One big thing to consider is the Pelicans’ strength of schedule for the remainder of the season. With 23 games left this year, the Pelicans’ schedule currently ranks as the 13th most difficult among the 29 others, which is good for tanking purposes (even if the Pels aren’t really trying to tank).

In comparison, the teams the Pelicans can leap on the draft board in the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies have the 25th and 20th most difficult remaining schedules, respectively. Based on this alone, it’s reasonable to assume the Wizards and Grizzlies might win a couple more games than the Pelicans going forward simply because their matchups the rest of the way are just that much easier.

The bad news is three of those teams currently picking between 9th-12th, the Timberwolves, Heat, and Mavericks all have remaining schedules that are 3 of the 10 most difficult in the league, meaning they’ll likely lose more games than the Pelicans moving forward. All of this more or less cancels out to say that in their range of realistic draft positions from 6th-12th, the New Orleans Pelicans might very well hover around their current slot of 8th based on the strength of schedules of the teams directly above and below them in the standings.

Still, picking 8th in the 2019 NBA Draft still would be a great opportunity for the New Orleans Pelicans. They’d probably miss out on the exciting trio of Duke prospects of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish, as well as the promising point guard from Murray State, Ja Morant. However, the Pelicans could still find great value around 8th, including players like Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson, Indiana’s Romeo Langford, or North Carolina’s Nassir Little.

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When the NBA Draft rolls around, it will be exciting to see which player the New Orleans Pelicans are able to add to their current core of contributors.  Of course, there’s a chance the Pelicans could end up with a top 5 pick if a team that high (like the Knicks) decides the send New Orleans a draft pick as part of a trade package centered around Anthony Davis, but for now, the current projected draft pick of #8 looks just about right for the Pelicans.