Exit one franchise cornerstone, enter another one for the New Orleans Pelicans (then Hornets). The organization won the 2012 NBA Draft lottery, and with it selected a now polarizing figure, Anthony Davis.
The 2011-12 season was not kind to the New Orleans Pelicans*. The dynamic tandem of David West and Chris Paul were no longer terrorizing the NBA, both players having departed New Orleans to get fresh starts elsewhere. Eric Gordon led the team in scoring, but only played 9 games. They only managed to score 89.6 points per game in a shortened lockout season and went just 21-45.
There were four teams entering the Draft Lottery that had better odds of winning the rights to the first pick than the New Orleans Pelicans (13.7 percent). The Cavaliers entered the Draft having won the previous lottery, and this time went in with marginally better odds than the Pels, at 13.8 percent. The Wizards had a 19.9 percent chance of winning, and the Bobcats had an overwhelming 25 percent chance of winning after a tumultuous 7-59 campaign.
Despite mathematical probability opposing New Orleans in the Lottery, they won (but not without controversy, Stern owned the team, they were in trouble.. etc). Let’s not lie to ourselves here, the team didn’t do the best job of incorporating talent around Chris Paul. They drafted horrifically in the years succeeding the 2005 NBA Draft and made some less than favorable trades. However, they had now a legitimate opportunity of hitting the reset button with the consensus number one pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Anthony Davis. By chance is this situation sounding familiar to you, or is it just me?
Davis was nothing short of a monster in college, averaging 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and a whopping 4.7 blocks per game on 62 percent shooting. Davis finished his freshman season at the University of Kentucky compiling 186 blocks, which was fourth best all-time for a single season (David Robinson being the highest, 207—but he did that in his junior year).
What was even more impressive is what he did on the national stage against Kansas in the NCAA Championship. He shot 1/10 that game, which you know isn’t ideal, but registered 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 6 blocks. He scored just 6 points that game and completely controlled the tempo and outcome.
There was a reason for excitement in New Orleans, this kid was a sure fire talent that had the potential of reinvigorating a franchise. And they also owned another lottery pick, thanks to a trade that sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers. They misfired on this selection, but at the time, it was very defensible.
New Orleans went with Austin Rivers out of Duke with their 10th overall pick. In hindsight, a bad pick, but Rivers was a lottery pick in essentially every mock draft back in 2012. His stats showed some promise but weren’t exactly stellar. In his lone season of collegiate basketball, he averaged 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 43 percent from the field and 37 percent from distance.
What really made Rivers stand out was his knack of making the biggest shots in the clutch, he wasn’t afraid of the moment and that “mamba” like mentality helped lift him into lottery conversations.
His game didn’t translate well to the NBA level; he underwhelmed in his 2.5 seasons in New Orleans. He’s a weird combo guard that couldn’t score efficiently, but also wasn’t much of a playmaker either. His career averages with the Hornets/Pelicans of 6.9 points on 39 percent shooting and 2.3 assists illustrate that.
Rivers was ultimately traded to the Boston Celtics as a component of a three-team deal that sent Quincy Pondexter back to the Pelicans where he started his career and Jeff Green to the Memphis Grizzlies for Tayshaun Prince. He would then be traded again to the Clippers in a deal orchestrated by his father, Doc Rivers—who would four years later trade his son to the Washington Wizards. Thanksgiving dinner just got really uncomfortable.
Anthony Davis lived up to the billing, Rivers didn’t. But it wasn’t exactly like this Draft was loaded with talent. Draymond Green and Khris Middleton did go in the second round, but there was no way you could justify picking one of those players with the 10th overall selection at the time. Speaking of the second round, the Pelicans didn’t do terribly this time around.
With the 46th overall pick, they selected Darius Miller out of Davis’ alma mater, the University of Kentucky. Miller played four seasons for Kentucky and was an instrumental piece to their championship team. He would take a few years to develop into a solid rotational piece, but it was worth the selection. This was definitely the team’s best Draft since 2005, could they build off of this momentum, or would history repeat itself?