New Orleans Pelicans NBA Draft: Should the Pels look for fit or potential?

Zion Williamson & Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson & Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans have the 10th pick in the upcoming draft. Should they select a player based on fit or potential?

The Pelicans front office is in an interesting position this offseason. The team is searching for their third head coach in as many years. The starting five from last season is likely to be shaken up and could see as many as three-fifths of that unit leave town via trade. There’s a lot riding on this coming season for the front office as it would be hard to believe extensions would be handed out if the Pels finish around .500 again.

The draft will play a major role in setting the stage for the upcoming season. The Pels lottery dreams were extinguished quickly, as it was revealed New Orleans would draft 10th. This led naturally to some speculation that the team would consider using that pick as part of a package to add a star-level player next to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. So far, no reports have surfaced that suggest the front office is steering in that direction.

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As of right now, it appears the Pelicans will be using this draft pick themselves. And why shouldn’t they? If things break right and the team improves on last year’s record, this should be the last time the New Orleans Pelicans’ own pick lands in the lottery for some time. This could be the last best opportunity to add a young piece to a roster loaded with potential.

So should the front office target fit or potential?

New Orleans Pelicans NBA Draft: Drafting based on potential

That’s where it gets tricky. As I mentioned the team has young potential all over the roster but so far has little to show for it. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin has mentioned the need to add shooting to a roster that was devoid of it last season. Clearly, the team can look at this skill during pre-draft workouts and decide how much weight to place on a player’s talents.

Generally speaking young players out of college are viewed as having more potential while older players are seen as more finished products that can only get so much better. I’m not here to suggest the entire NBA is for thinking this way, there’s a reason this is the conventional wisdom. Rather this way of thinking is a good way to split prospective draftees into two buckets.

The young players with potential are seen as having better odds of becoming star players to build a team around. That potential means teams are willing to take more chances on these players and select them higher in the draft. New Orleans will be too far away from the top tier to bring a can’t miss prospect to the crescent city but sometimes some gems slip through the cracks.

In this past draft, Cole Anthony slid all the way to 15th overall. Now you may be saying, why make a big deal about a player who didn’t even make All-Rookie? Anthony was a top-five recruit going into college, a down year at UNC caused him to drop in the draft. He finished this year top-five in points per game and assists among rookies, not bad for a middle of the first-round pick.

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The downside to drafting a player based on their potential is that those players typically need time to grow and develop. Take Jaxson Hayes as an example, he was seen as a raw prospect who could become a decent starter in the league if given the right tutoring. Well after two seasons, Hayes has become a rotational center for the Pels and someone I’m very high on for the future.

New Orleans Pelicans NBA Draft: Looking for fit

The opposite of drafting for potential is drafting for fit. It’s the classic does your team take the best player available regardless of position or do they take the best player at their position of greatest need. Obviously, if the answer to both questions is the same player, it’s very easy to make a draft selection.

Drafting for fit is what I think New Orleans should do in this draft. That can mean a few different things though. Do they want the best shooter available? What about the best defender still on the board? To me, the Pelicans should draft shooting over everything in this draft. I believe the NBA has tilted to an offense-first, second, and third league. The more shooting you have on the floor the better.

The New Orleans Pelicans were not a good three-point shooting team last season, they finished 26th in three-point percentage as a team. In a league where more often than not the winning team makes more threes, that can’t happen again. Bring the shooting to the Pels regardless of position and let the new coach figure out the rotations.

There should be quite a few guys available at the tenth pick who can bring the shooting with them to New Orleans. The player I’ve most often seen linked to New Orleans for this need is Corey Kispert out of Gonzaga, another option could be Moses Moody out of Arkansas,

Or if the New Orleans Pelicans want to really wing it they could let it fly with Cameron Thomas out of LSU. Now I know he isn’t projected to go this high in the draft and the Pels could likely trade down and grab him while also adding another asset to the treasure trove but Thomas can flat out score. Think of this as the Cam Johnson selection Phoenix made a couple of years ago. That selection was widely ridiculed at the time but Johnson has been a big part of the Suns turn around.

Any scoring that can be added with the tenth pick will be a welcome sight for me. Teams need players who can go get you a bucket, there’s no more room for defensive specialists. Even Lu Dort has become a respectable three-point shooter. If you can’t score today you won’t see playing time.

While all fans want their team’s draft picks to turn into star players not everyone can be an All-Star. Sometimes you just need to draft the right player to fit around the key cogs of your team. I view a successful draft pick as someone who can be a part of your main rotation. Get me someone who will make it to their second contract rather than the guy who has amazing dunks in the layup lines.

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